Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or
Jn 20:19-23 or
Jn 14:15-16, 23b-26
"Please help," said the e-mail. "I am from Nigeria, one of the exiles who had to flee to France during the Revolution. I am currently staying at the Paris Hilton; pictures of me and my family are attached. We used to worship at the Cathedral in the capital but when the guerrillas invaded all we could take with us was the clothes on our backs. We located your web site, and, after having read your material, have decided that you are a Trustworthy person of good Character and can be trusted to undertake this important mission..."
"Wow. I'm impressed. Of all people, they picked me!" I started thinking to myself. "That's really a sad situation. I'll go along with whatever they ask..."
"When we left Nigeria, we left behind an important instrument in the Cathedral. We would like to recover it and preserve it so that it will be ready for the day when the political situation will stabilize. As things stand, the rebels are threatening to do serious Harm to the Cathedral, and it is in danger as we speak..."
"Important? They must be talking about the organ-- of course, any amount of money-- I'll be happy to help-- where's that checking account number..."
"Our folk group had a wonderful guitar that was left behind. We need you to sponsor a recovery team to go back to the Cathedral..."
"A guitar! Why, this is nothing more than another e-mail scam!"
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I used a simple method to select today's parish-- so simple, in fact, that it narrowed the field to only about three or four parishes. I decided upon one of those and set forth on the weekly journey, hoping that things would go well. I left the freeway where it departed from the original road and stayed with that until I entered a small town somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of the big city. I saw the school but not the church, so I actually drove past, figuring that they were located on separate parcels of land, but quickly I realized that this assumption must have been erroneous, and I backtracked to find that the white sided, L-shaped church was actually rather small and hidden by tall trees that probably help keep it cool in the summertime.
Despite my error, I still arrived about ten minutes before the 11:00 AM Mass. As I passed through the parking lot, I saw a gentleman packing a guitar case into a car and said a prayer of thanks, figuring that I had just missed that at the 9:30 AM Mass. Once again, however, somewhere someone was having a belly laugh at my expense. Once inside, I saw a young lady with a guitar over her shoulder. Maybe the guitar case was empty? Sigh. It was too late to start looking for anything better, so I decided to take my well-deserved lumps. Seeing otherwise nice-looking young ladies with guitars is really depressing, though. She formed half of a duo; the other lady was the lead singer and tambourine shaker. Seeing otherwise nice-looking young ladies with tambourines is really depressing too. An organist served alongside them at the left front, but the poor organ was drowned out practically the whole Mass and might as well not have been used. Still, this remnant of what may have been a larger folk group at some point looked to be reflective of the rest of the congregation, which also appeared to be threadbare. I couldn't see how many people were in the other side of the "L," but I doubt if the church had more than 100 in attendance for that Mass. I counted about 50-60 in the main section. If I hadn't been to so many Sunday morning organ Masses that were just as empty, I'd be tempted to say that the liturgists at the parish drove everyone away.
I couldn't find a cornerstone on the church, and the building is rather simple, so I couldn't really date it too well. The sanctuary is at the intersection of the two sides of the "L." It looks as though the side was added at some point, and the sanctuary may have been extended back a bit. A clue here is that the side niches are still present in what would have been their original locations; a statue of the Blessed Mother is at the left, and what I think is a statue of St. Joseph is at the right. In fact, the side section is nearly not visible from the main section as a result. The sanctuary is now square. The domed, metal tabernacle is at the center of the wall facing the main section, underneath a colonial-style canopy with four pillars. In front of that is a freestanding altar. To the left front of that is an ambo. I can't describe it any further because it was covered with a banner reading "Alleluia!" In fact, I didn't even realize it was the ambo until it was used later in the Mass. I saw no evidence of any crucifix other than the processional crucifix-- even a figure of the Risen Christ was absent. The celebrant's chair and deacon's chair are toward the rear right. Both ends have two sections of wooden pews with white, painted sides. The church can probably hold 400-600 when full. A baptismal font suitable for total immersion and having running water is near the organ; it appears that about five or so rows were removed to install this fixture. A choir loft is over the main entrance but probably is not used any more; I saw a large partition of some sort there but have no idea as to its purpose. The roof is peaked with trusswork and air conditioning ducts that all are painted dark brown. The nave is slightly raised above the narthex, which is a bit unusual and probably complicates things for the handicapped. Racks in the pews hold copies of WLP's Seasonal Missalette and GIA's Gather Comprehensive (1994). Small painted plaques along the side walls depict the Stations of the Cross in between traditional, square, stained-glass windows. A cry room is located at the rear of the side section.
Mass began as the lead singer said "Good morning" to everyone. Apparently not enough people responded, so she scolded, "I'm sure more than one person is here this morning." A few more people responded, so the Mass was able to begin. (I crossed her off my list at that point, whether she had a ring or not. She'd be cranky every morning, since I'm not very awake in the morning.) She then asked us to greet those around us, carefully explaining that a handshake was to be given to those near us, while a wave would be sufficient to those further away. (This must get really tiresome for the poor souls who have to attend Mass there every week.) The opening hymn was "Send Us Your Spirit." A server, the deacon, and the priest participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle. Instead of the penitential rite, the rite of sprinkling was substituted, with some sung acclamations led by the duo. The actual sprinkling was performed during the Gloria, which we sang to a folksy arrangement unfamiliar to me.
I guess the reader failed to show; instead, the priest went to the ambo and gave the first reading. (I'd have had the deacon do this; the principle of subsidiarity probably applies here.) He returned to his chair while the duo led a setting of the responsorial psalm for the day from the Gather hymnal. A noticeable pause of silence was made after each reading, which is probably good and kept the pace from seeming hurried. The priest returned to the ambo to give the second reading (Romans) and returned to his seat again while we sang the Celtic Alleluia and verse before the Gospel. The special Sequence for Pentecost was omitted. The deacon carried the Book of Gospels high around the sanctuary during that and then proclaimed the Gospel (John 14) from the ambo.
The deacon also preached the homily from the ambo. I didn't find much to grab from it. He spoke of how Jesus death and resurrection transformed and fulfilled the Old Testament feasts of Passover and Pentecost. He told us that we needed to take the Holy Spirit outside the confines of the church and into the world (I like that sentiment). He also said something about being "freed from the law" which may well be true in a sense but is too easily misinterpreted in these days of utter disrespect for any law and worship of conscience, no matter how badly formed or misformed. He did say that we follow the law out of love and not from fear, which is right but again needs to be clarified very precisely; I'm not sure he did a good enough job.
Instead of the Creed, we recited a renewal of baptismal promises. The deacon led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from his seat. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as the duo sang the unannounced hymn "You Have Anointed Me" on its own. All the vessels appeared to be of glass; a flagon was used in addition to a glass chalice. At the Orate Fratres prayer, almost everyone stood as the priest began his invitation to pray instead of waiting for the invitation to be concluded.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Great Amen were sung to the Mass of Creation setting. The priest used the first Eucharistic Prayer but the guitarist could not keep her hands off the guitar and played softly throughout the entire Eucharistic Prayer. At the Our Father, almost no one joined hands but it probably wasn't a realistic possibility anyway in the mostly empty church. (At least they didn't pull the "Will everyone please move forward!" line at the start of the Mass.) Both the "Deliver us, O Lord from every evil..." prayer and the "Peace I leave to you..." prayer were omitted; the Our Father went directly into "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory..." and that went directly to the Sign of Peace.
We sang the Agnus Dei to a setting I cannot identify. I believe I counted three extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion; they were given their Hosts before the priest consumed his but waited until after that to consume theirs. I think the priest served a line at the side with the deacon offering the chalice behind him, and a similar arrangement was in the main section. The guitarist received with the guitar still over her shoulder, for what that's worth. The Communion hymn was "We Are Many Parts."
The priest offered the closing prayer and then read several announcements including a mention that the two red Pentecost banners on the sanctuary wall were donated by the Children's Liturgy Group or something like that. He imparted a simple blessing before departing via the center aisle. The closing hymn was "Alive in Christ Jesus." Most people left before the lead singer said "God bless you and have a nice day," which I took to be permission to leave although they sang for several minutes after that as I wandered about outside in search of a cornerstone while avoiding being noticed by the priest standing outside. Then it was time for the hour and a half drive home. The Mass ran about an hour and ten minutes, which is longer than most Masses run with a similar number of people in attendance.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Please help," began the next e-mail. "We are a group of Nigerian exiles..."
"I've heard this one before," I explained to my mother as she looked over my shoulder. "They all look the same. They change some of the details, but the essence is the same."
"It looks so real, though..."
"The last one was a guitar they were trying to smuggle out of the country."
"You didn't fall for it, did you?"
"Of course not! Now, what is this one?"
"... and our Leader was forced to run as fast as she could, leaving her Tambourine behind..."
"See-- this time it's a tambourine. Guitar, tambourine-- it's all cut from the same cloth. And they think I'd actually fall for the idea of sending a rescue team for a tambourine!"
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Look for Mass in Townsend, Tennessee at St. Francis of Assisi Church on River Road. Across the nation and around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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