Week 319

First Sunday of Advent

Reading I
Is 2:1-5
Responsorial Psalm
Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading II
Rom 13:11-14
Mt 24:37-44

"Look at this!" my mother shouted from the other room. "They're singing 'The Sounds of Silence' at this Mass on TV. What kind of Mass is this?"

As I get older, getting me out of my chair isn't easy, but when someone dumps material for this column in my lap, I jump. I wandered over to the television set-- and, as newspaper columnist Dave Barry always adds, I am not making this up-- where a congregation of people with joined hands were singing something in Spanish to the tune of the Simon and Garfunkel hit. The joined hands were the tipoff. A prayer followed, and everyone raised their hands. "Yep," I said. "That's the Our Father. Someone must have adapted it to the tune." Leaving my mother with her jaw hanging, I put my hand underneath my own jaw and returned to the computer; indeed, a Google web search of "Our Father" and "Sounds of Silence" quickly produced a document which confirmed my suspicions. The significance of this is left as an exercise for the reader.

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The skies opened this morning, and water, water was everywhere, so most worshippers around here probably used their automobiles to get to Mass this morning. Following their example, I took the car to about the same hilly region I visited last week and looked for another parish. After about two hours of wandering around in circles, I landed in a parish with a 1:00 PM Mass. It was fairly straightforward, and nothing will top what I already sprung on the audience, but keep reading anyway. Even in week 319, something new happened.

The building appears to be latter-20th century architecture, probably 1960's to be more precise. It is a simple rectangular auditorium with square pillars falling along the edges of the two middle sections of wooden bench-type pews. The two outer sections of pews abut the side walls, which have large, traditional stained-glass windows depicting various saints. In between the windows are square, painted plaster casts of the Stations of the Cross. The high ceiling has a slight peak. A cry room is located in one corner. The metal tabernacle is at the right in a niche that must have been a side altar; a clue to this is a pair of statues in the left niche, one of the Blessed Mother and the other of St. Joseph. Originally each of these must have stood over its own side altar. At the center of the sanctuary is a small dark brown brick niche where the celebrant's chair is located. That chair is somewhat substantial, while alongside it are metal, upholstered chairs for the deacon and servers; those look as though they could have come from a catering hall. The white, marble altar is at the center of the sanctuary and was covered today with violet linens. The wooden ambo is at the left, and a much smaller cantor's lectern is at the right. Copies of a brand-new Heritage Missal from OCP were in the pews.

I took a seat in the leftmost section of pews, three rows of which were roped off on account of fallen plaster. A choir of about two dozen elementary school-age children were in the front three rows at the left, alongside an organ that would remain covered for this Mass. This choir was led by a woman with a guitar. They opened the Mass with the hymn "Jesus, Come to Us," which like all the hymns today was not listed on the hymn board. (The board listed "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus," "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," the Kyrie, and "The Advent of Our King.") Two servers, the reader, a concelebrant, and the celebrant participated in the procession through the center aisle. The priest used Form C of the penitential rite. The Gloria was omitted for Advent.

The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The choir, which remained standing for all the readings, sang the refrain of the responsorial psalm, but one of its members recited the verses. The reader gave the second reading. We sang the Alleluia and the choir led the verse before the Gospel. The priest went to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel. After this, the choir returned to its place in the front three rows.

The homily was fairly straightforward. The priest told us that we should take time out this Advent to spend some quiet time in prayer; one way to do this would be to take part in Eucharistic Adoration, held every Monday from 12:30 PM to 7:30 PM. He mentioned Saturday's front cover of the New York Times, which showed a picture of shoppers in Geneva, NY struggling to be the first to enter a shopping mall as it opened for business on Friday morning and explained that we have to be careful not to collapse from exhaustion on Christmas Day. He also noted that one of the other priests did some shopping Friday and got some good bargains.

We recited the Creed, and here I saw yet another priest not satisfied with the words as found in the Missal; instead, he said, "For us and our salvation..." Can't we just say what's there instead of what we think ought to be there? After the Creed, he blessed the Advent wreath, and he invited one of the members of the choir to light the first candle as the remainder of the choir sang another refrain of the opening hymn. Then the reader led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from the cantor's lectern.

A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as we sang the offertory hymn, "One Bread, One Body." The chalice and ciboriums were of metal. At the Orate Fratres prayer, only one person stood at the correct point; everyone else remained seated until after the congregation's response was complete. The priest then noted that he should have invited everyone to stand, as a paragraph in the bulletin said would take effect today. However, he incorrectly instructed the congregation, and next week the people will likely be standing before the priest begins the prayer rather than after he is finished. Sigh.

The Mass setting for the remainder of the Mass was Owen Alstott's Heritage Mass. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer. The choir remained standing during the consecration. We recited the Our Father (please don't tell anyone here about the "Sounds of Silence" setting-- thanks) and I didn't see anyone joining hands. The sign of peace was okay, but a few people near me felt the need to move around a bit.

At Holy Communion, two lay ministers and the concelebrating priest assisted in distribution. An odd touch was that the concelebrant and one extraordinary minister had already retrieved ciboriums from the tabernacle by the time the celebrant announced, "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world," and at that point they held their chalices in the air like the celebrant. It just looked strange, somehow. The choir was served first and then sang the Communion hymn, "Save Us, O Lord." Two stations were located at the center aisle, and the side aisles had one station each. The chalice was not offered.

After Communion, I looked down at the spot to my left where I had placed the bulletin on which I had written the names of the hymns and discovered to my chagrin that the bulletin was gone! In all of 318 weeks, no one ever did that. The prime suspects are two people who were sitting directly behind me-- fans, perhaps? They should have waited until after Mass and I'd have been happy to autograph the thing for them. Harrumph. As I recovered from this wanton act of lawlessness, the reader gave several announcements from the cantor's lectern, and a second collection was taken. The priest then thanked the choir, resulting in a round of applause, gave the closing prayer, and imparted a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "Every Valley." The servers, reader, and priests left via the center aisle, and most people stayed to the end. I had to stay a few minutes late to reconstruct my stolen notes on a second bulletin, but after that I headed for the car and another trip home alone.

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It was too much to bear, so I joined my drinking buddies to drown my sorrows in a glass of tangerine juice. "I just can't understand it. The Our Father to the tune of a Simon and Garfunkel song!"

Eddie came over and gave me a slap on the back. "Don't let it worry you," he said reassuringly. "The Church has been co-opting secular stuff since the beginning. Even the day of Christmas was selected because it was on the same day as a pagan holiday."

"But where does it end? When does the Mass become co-opted itself?"

Jimmy piped in, "Yeah, what next, Madonna tunes?"

Just then I saw a man at a table in the corner by himself. He had been hanging his head, but suddenly his head lifted, his face suddenly brightened, as if a light bulb had sparked over his head, and he scurried out the door. I asked the bartender who that was.

"Why that's none other than Ned Johnson-- the music director at St. John's across town."

Suddenly my face darkened, and my head lowered to the table.

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In Goshen, Connecticut, Mass is offered at St. Thomas of Villanova Church on North Street. All across the nation and around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.

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Same Sunday in 2003
Same Sunday in 2000
Same Sunday in 1999