Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
1 Tm 2:1-8
Lk 16:1-13 or 16:10-13
The weather was nice today, so a railroad trip seemed in order. Plan "A," as usual, fell apart, and thus a Plan "B" quickly needed to be created. (I also had a Plan "C" but did not need to use it.) I called my mother and had her consult my printed list (which I had left home figuring it would not be needed today), and we located an 11:30 AM Mass within a suitable distance of the railroad station. After a short subway ride, I arrived a few minutes early and located a seat on the far right side.
According to the web site, the cornerstone for this second church was laid in 1878. The church is grand and ornate, with huge marble pillars lining the sides. Unfortunately, liturgical tinkerers gained the upper hand at some point and decided that modifications were necessary. The sanctuary was pulled forward and the pews in the transepts were rotated 90 degrees to face it. Some of the altar rail remains in front of the side altars. I never found the sanctuary lamp, but I believe the right side altar contained the active tabernacle; the original main tabernacle was covered by a white board. The pews are in four sections, with a divider splitting each of the center sections. No worship aids are in the pews, but I did see a few copies of WLP's Seasonal Missalette on a table on my way out. The Stations of the Cross are depicted by large rectangular paintings on the side walls; these paintings were very dark and appeared in need of restoration. A freestanding altar is in the center of the new sanctuary, and a new ambo is at the left to the front. The original balcony-style ambo remains at the left but was not used today.
The first alarm sounded as I entered and saw a choir of about twenty to thirty people cluttering the original sanctuary, along with a pianist. This just does not look right. It makes the choir the focal point instead of the altar-- here we have a severe case of the occupants clashing with the architecture (though I shouldn't give them any ideas; they might decide to raze this building and construct a modern version). After a few minutes, the choir began "O Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit," listed on the program as a "Call to Worship." The second alarm sounded when the cantor introduced herself by name and announced "As is our custom..." That phrase is a dead giveaway of "liturgical goofiness ahead." That deadly phrase was followed by, "Let us turn to greet one another." At least we didn't have to introduce ourselves.
The "Hymn of Gathering" was "Make Us True Servants." At least a dozen people were in the entrance procession with the priest; I don't recall seeing any servers. After some opening remarks, and a mention of an impending baptism at the Mass, the priest used Form C of the penitential rite. I think he skipped the Gloria-- at least I don't recall hearing it. It didn't ring a bell right away since it is not used at daily Mass, but during the opening prayer bystanders could no doubt see the six or so lines emanating from a point over the top of my head as always happens in comic strips when a character suddenly realizes that something is amiss.
A reader went to the new ambo and gave the first reading before yielding to the cantor, who led the singing of the pslam for the day (but with the response "Alleluia," which I must quickly add is listed as an option for today on the USCCB web site). The setting for the Alleluia is credited to Michael Joncas. Then a second reader went to the ambo and gave the second reading. We sang the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel; the setting was reused from the psalm response. Then the priest carried the Book of Gospels to the new ambo and proclaimed the long form of the Gospel.
The homily was rather disappointing to say the least; it started with a story of a woman whose father asked her to come see him. She had no time that weekend, so he laid a guilt trip on her by asking if she'd attend his funeral. When she replied in the affirmative and complained that he wasn't being fair, he said, "Let's skip the funeral then and you just come see me now." This led to a suggestion that we don't have our priorities straight. Somehow, we wound up at a point where he suggested that the issues of women's ordination, abortion, and gay marriage wouldn't be such problems if people would simply love as God loves and all our divisions would simply melt. I was tempted to leave at that point but swallowed hard, although I started to feel more like someone straining to get a closer look at a bad accident than a worshipper at a Catholic Mass. According to the priest, the message of the Gospel is something that politicians need to hear, our church leaders here and in Rome need to hear, but most of all we need to hear.
A baptism followed; this too was marred by odd changes to the rite. Although the form of the actual baptism was valid, before that was what should have been a renewal of baptismal promises. I kept waiting for the part where we reject Satan, because as a sinner I actually find that a bit challenging now and then when I consider what it really means. It never came. In fact, what I heard didn't really constitute a summary of our faith, despite the priest's statement, "This is our faith." I felt like saying "That may be your faith, but that's about it." After a round of applause to welcome the baby into the Church, the baptismal party remained at the center of the church while the Prayer of the Faithful was recited, led by one of the readers. I clearly heard the priest introduce it by saying, "Let us bring our needs before our Mother in heaven," and somehow I'm sure he didn't have the Blessed Virgin Mary in mind.
"Canticle of the Turning" was the offertory hymn. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets; I reduced my usual donation to a dollar, which was probably generous under the circumstances. At this point things slid even further downhill. When the priest blessed the bread and wine, I clearly saw him elevate leavened bread from the bread basket that sat alongside a glass chalice and two large glass flagons. As everyone-- especially priests-- ought to know, the use of leavened bread is illicit in the Roman Rite. At the Orate Fratres prayer, no one stood until the congregation's response was complete. I also think I heard some replacing the masculine pronouns with "God."
The Sanctus was from David Haas' Mass of Light. (At least they didn't use Mass of Creation for a change.) Almost everyone in the congregation remained standing for the entire Eucharistic Prayer despite the presence of working kneelers. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer; I noticed the priest say, "And so we bring You these gifts." Yes, "Father," was left out. I think we can tell what sort of parish this is. The only saving grace is that no one in this area need suffer (unlike in other areas)-- many reasonably orthodox parishes are within walking distance or an easy subway or bus ride. The Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen were from an "Ignatian Festival Mass" by John Uehlein.
We sang the Our Father to the most common setting, and many folks joined hands, but I had positioned myself well, and I was not threatened as I had a short pew to myself. The "Deliver us, O Lord" prayer was skipped and everyone went straight into "For the kingdom..." The sign of peace wasn't too bad; I've seen lots worse in that department. We sang the Agnus Dei to David Isele's Holy Cross Mass setting.
For Holy Communion, those on the sides were invited first and walked to the rear before proceeding up the center aisle, where the "dual-station" method I dislike was in place. The Communion hymn was "Jesus, Wine of Peace." A post-Communion hymn was "Let There Be Light." A second collection was taken; I decided that a contribution was inappropriate.
The priest imparted a simple blessing and left via the center aisle as we sang the "hymn of sending forth," "Blue Green Hills of Earth." Almost everyone remained to the end and a round of applause broke out. I searched vainly for a suggestion box but the pastor wisely decided not to make one available because it probably would not have been large enough anyway to hold the piece of my mind that would have been deposited there. The Mass ran about an hour and five to ten minutes. I managed to slip past the priest at the exit and ran toward the bus back to the railroad station. At 12:50 PM, I passed an orthodox parish with a 12:30 PM Mass and was tempted to stop there, as I had doubts about the validity of the Eucharist at the other parish-- leavened bread is valid, but I started to wonder what other ingredients may have been in there. In fact, I was bothered by this enough that I decided to attend another Mass at 7:30 PM not too far from where I live. That was not outstanding either, and the priest even tipped over the chalice after the consecration-- something I never saw in all my 42 years. I know he's human and it was an accident, but some days nothing seems to go right. Now I head for bed, wondering what liturgical nightmares await there. (Some day I should write about those!)
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In Seal Beach, California, Mass is offered at Holy Family Church on Church Place. There and everywhere, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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