Ps 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
I grabbed my printed copy of Mass schedules and removed about four pages to take with me on the railroad train so that if Plan A failed, I'd be able to develop a Plan B in short order. Plan A failed, so I had to consult the list and located a Mass that was to begin at 11 AM. I arrived at about four minutes to 11 at the target parish, which had a sign posted in a glass case on the wall; it read "11 AM (SOLEMN MASS)." That sounded good, so I took a program sheet from an usher and selected a seat towards the right front in one of the short sections of pews abutting the side wall. (These tend to work better for lonely single folks and itinerant worshippers.)
The church is on a street corner and is grey concrete on the outside. A plaque on the corner indicates that the building was dedicated in 1898. The inside is mostly marble and is largely intact. In fact, I didn't see any evidence of renovation. The original altar remains along with its tabernacle and reredo capped with a biretta-shaped cupola. Beneath that cap is a small crucifix draped with a white cloth; someone apparently thought that showing the corpus during the Easter season was inappropriate, so the corpus was turned to the rear. (Of what will they think next?) A freestanding altar is at the center of the sanctuary, while a small cantor's lectern is at the left and a small reader's stand is at the right. A balcony-style ambo is in the nave at the left front alongside one of the massive marble columns that line the ends of the middle sections of pews. The white, marble altar rail survives as do the side altars with statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the left and Mary, Mother of God at the right. The right side altar is now used as the primary tabernacle; this was not apparent to me until Communion time, as the original main tabernacle wasn't given the typical "flower stand" treatment. The only clue was the positioning of the sanctuary lamp (towards the right) and two tall candles beside the right side altar (the candles at the left side altar were not lit). The Stations of the Cross are depicted by large tapestries along the sides of the church; the rest of the walls are brown and gray marble. Racks in the pews hold copies of GIA's red Worship hymnal (third edition, with readings, old Lectionary). A choir loft is mounted high over the main entrance doors and houses a gigantic pipe organ; the choir (in white surplices) served from there today.
The church was mostly dark until the moment Mass began; at that point, the lights suddenly came on (all along the top of the ceiling are studio-type lights carefully aimed and positioned) and everyone stood without any prompting from the cantor. I guess this is supposed to make it like a "little Easter Vigil" as every Sunday is a "little Easter." None of the hymns were announced; we were expected to use the programs. The cover indicates that the "organ voluntary" was Symphonie III: Adagio by Louis Vierne (1870-1937) and the Introit was Cantate Domino, a Gregorian chant based upon Psalm 98. The Processional hymn was "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise." The cantor, five servers, seven extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, a reader, and the priest participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle. The priest lagged noticeably behind; he may have been leaving time for the entire opening hymn to be completed. The servers took seats at the left of the sanctuary, while the reader and lay ministers took seats at the right of the sanctuary, near the tabernacle.
The priest gave the greeting and the introduction to the penitential rite. The cantor led Form C without any invocations. The Gloria is listed on the program by number only; this leads to a version by John Rutter in the Worship hymnal. That may have been what we sang; it sounded familiar.
A reader went to the small lectern at the right and gave the first reading. The cantor led the psalm for the day from the cantor's lectern. After the reader gave the second reading, we sang a good portion of the hymn "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus" in place of the usual verse before the Gospel as the altar was incensed and the priest ascended the steps to the high ambo. The servers accompanied the priest to the base of the ambo; a note in the program instructs us to remain standing after the Gospel until after this procession returns to the sanctuary.
The homily was rather lengthy and probably could have been honed and condensed somewhat; I foolishly neglected to wear the watch my boss gave me for my birthday and don't know exactly how long the homily was, but it seemed like fifteen or twenty minutes. The priest focused on the meaning of love as Christ intended it: total, selfless, sacrificial love as He demonstrated it time and again to His death on the cross. Love as Christ intended it wasn't just some vague sort of great feeling; it was, as the priest explained by way of example from several other passages of Scripture (the Samaritan woman, washing of feet, Mary Magdalene and the disciples after the Resurrection), the love of a servant and shepherd that crossed all known boundaries. I got lost somewhere about two-thirds of the way through, but one other point I liked was that in order to call ourselves Christian, our faith has to affect everything we do, in business, at work, at home, in politics-- everything. We have to bring Christ's love and message to everyone we meet in this sinful world very much in need of that message. We have to change the world. That point probably compensated for a lot of the lengthiness of the homily and some of the other flaws in the Mass. If more of the laity would understand and implement that point, things would be so much better in the world. Laity ruined the world-- laity can help fix it.
We recited the Creed; I think the priest left out the word "men" and said "for us and for our salvation" instead. Sometimes I think I'm cursed with this sharp ear of mine. The reader led the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from the small lectern. As a collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets, the choir gave an "offertory motet" of "A New Commandment" by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585). The offertory hymn was "Beloved, Let Us Know." I don't recall ever hearing that or the entrance hymn even though they are in the same Worship hymnal used at my own parish until 2001 or so (they've since switched to the new Gather-- and don't forget that I attended the same 11 AM Mass almost every week at my own parish for eight years; that's about 400 Sunday Masses). The chalice and paten were of metal; a glass flagon was used for additional wine, as this is a very remote location where modern means of social communication are not available and several years are needed for Vatican instructions to be received.
The priest incensed the altar and handed the thurible to a server to incense the congregation, which stood at this point. The priest must have become confused because he skipped the Orate Fratres prayer as well as the offertory prayer. He proceeded directly to the introductory dialogue before the Preface. We sang the Sanctus and Great Amen to the Mass of Creation setting. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. We sang the fourth Memorial Acclamation.
We sang the Our Father; again, it was listed by number in the program; the hymnal shows it as being by Robert Snow, but it sounded like the one I hear almost everywhere. We sang the Agnus Dei to Richard Proulx's Community Mass setting.
Holy Communion was distributed by a lay minister to the servers and other lay ministers gathered around the altar before the priest received; they did wait for him to receive, however, before consuming theirs. The Communion "motet" was "O Sacrum Convivium," again by Tallis. The Communion "anthem" was "And I Saw A New Heaven," listed as composed by Edgar L. Bainton (1880-1956). The Communion "meditation" was "Jerusalem, My Happy Home." The "dual-station" method was used for both species of Communion, which leads to people scattering all over the front of the church. Those from the side pews were passed through the middle sections to receive in the center aisle. Only after Communion, when the ciboriums were returned to the tabernacle, did I realize that the side altar's tabernacle was being used instead of the main taberacle.
The priest made a few short announcements, mainly to let "visitors" know that this is an active parish and of the many activities conducted here. (Did someone tip him off?) He mentioned that the parish was close to its goal of $250,000 for the annual appeal. He then recalled a time twenty-five years ago when he was at another parish and everyone wanting to be married asked for one of the other priests, except for this one couple who agreed that he'd be okay-- and lo! and behold, that couple was in the church today. He called the two forward and gave them a blessing; they received a round of applause.
The priest imparted a simple blessing for the rest of us and then departed via the center aisle after the cantor, servers, lay ministers, and reader. The recessional hymn was "Sing With All the Saints in Glory." All four verses were sung; almost everyone remained until the end. The "organ voluntary" is listed as "Toccata, op. 53, no. 6."
Afterward, an itinerant worshipper walked three blocks to a subway station and began the journey home alone.
* * * * * * * * * *
On the Florida panhandle, Mass is offered at Our Lady of Grace Church on Roosevelt Blvd in Beverly Hills. If you're looking for a Catholic Mass, you can travel almost anywhere in the nation or around the world and not be disappointed.
* * * * * * * * * *