Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Col 3:1-4 or
1 Cor 5:6b-8
This morning I decided to make amends for last week's error and return to the church I missed last week by ten minutes because the published Mass Times schedule was incorrect. The church is rumored to be in danger of closing, so I figured I had better visit it soon before it is too late. I boarded a 9:15 AM railroad train to a large island with quite a few of these big, old churches, exited at about 10:00 AM, and, in a light drizzle, walked about half an hour from the railroad terminal to the destination church. I did something smart for a change-- I took an umbrella. This proved somewhat useful though perhaps not indispensible.
I approached the church at about 10:30 AM and found myself almost alone waiting for the only Mass of the day, scheduled for 11:00 AM. This church stood in stark contrast to what most people probably found today (especially mid-morning) when they went to Mass-- teeming crowds of people jamming into pews, standing in the aisles, and spilling into overflow Masses in lower churches, adjacent school auditoriums, and parish centers. The church holds perhaps 500-700 when full, but by the time the Mass started, perhaps about 75 to 100 people had found their way inside and scattered themselves comfortably in a darkened nave that remained more or less dark for the entire Mass. (I believe almost all the lights were on, so I doubt that it ever gets much brighter inside.)
The church has a domed sanctuary that extends into an arched center section somewhat higher than the sides. It is beautiful and old all around, almost untouched from the time it became a Catholic church in the 1870's. (Previously it was a Baptist church and then a synagogue.) The only concession to modern times is the small freestanding altar at the center of the sanctuary. The reredo and high altar are intact, and the center tabernacle is still in use. A small, traditional crucifix is at the top of the reredo. Two square signs, one in English and one in Latin, indicate that this is a "privileged altar." Traditional, arched stained-glass windows depict various saints. The balcont-style, marble ambo is in a kind of odd location; it is actually in the nave at the left in the front row, totally outside the sanctuary, and ahead of the altar rail, which remains in full. The wooden pews are in two sections; each section is split by a knee wall that holds a book rack and prevents passage across it. The book racks were all empty; the missalettes (Celebrating the Eucharist, Liturgical Press) are kept in a cardboard box on a table by the door. Columns fall into the sides of the pews underneath the lower side roofs. The pews are on a slight platform that is actually a bit dangerous in the dark for itinerant worshippers. A choir loft with a huge pipe organ sits over the rear vestibule. (An Internet article indicates that this organ is currently inoperative.)
The kneeler in the first pew I selected was not fully functional, so I went to the pew ahead of it. The priest lit several candles in preparation; instead of using a long taper, he had a small wooden stick and used a chair to climb on the high altar to light the tall candles on the reredo. He also had a member of the congregation to my left help him move the holy water font from the side to the left front of the sanctuary.
Mass began with a bell; then the priest, a reader, and a commentator entered. We recited the entrance antiphon and then the Confiteor. The priest offered the opening prayer and we all sat.
The reader went to a small lectern at the left of the sanctuary; the ambo was not used today. She gave the first reading and led the recitation of the psalm for the day. We heard the reading from Colossians. The commentator led the recitation of the Easter Sequence. The priest proclaimed the Gospel from the lectern and then gave a homily.
He started by saying that he hoped we had attended the liturgies of the Triduum (which were not offered at this church but rather at neignboring parishes) and explained that we need to take those emotions with us into Easter Sunday, just as Jesus' disciples did 2000 years ago. We were reminded that God never abandons us and loves us even to death, even in the midst of all manner of pain and suffering.
We renewed our baptismal promises as is customary on Easter Sunday in place of the Creed, and then the priest blessed the holy water and then passed through the church sprinkling us with the water. The commentator led the recitation of the Prayer of the Faithful.
As the gifts were presented, a collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets. The chalice and ciborium were of metal. At the Orate Fratres, no one stood until after the congregation's response was complete.
The priest offered the first Eucharistic Prayer. Bells were sounded at the consecration. At the Our Father, no one I saw joined hands; most were too widely spaced anyway.
The priest distributed Holy Communion from the ciborium on his own to a single line in the center aisle; the reader assisted him with the chalice to the left. After Communion and the purification of the vessels, I believe he left the tabernacle open, perhaps signifying that the Eucharist is not reserved in this church during the week.
The priest offered the Prayer After Communion and imparted a solemn blessing before departing via the center aisle. Let us pray that somehow this church can be saved from total closure; perhaps a religious order could take it over, although rumors suggest that the property could be worth $20 million if sold.
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Every Sunday, Mass is offered at St. Helen Church on South West Birch in Pilot Rock, Oregon. Almost anywhere in the world you might happen to find yourself, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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