The founder of the company called me into his office for a meeting. He was glancing through a manila file folder with my name on it when I entered. "You wish to see me, sir?" I inquired meekly.
"Have a seat, son," he said in a pleasant way. As I sat, he rose and walked from behind his dark, imposing, spotless marble desk. He removed his glasses and eyed me from head to toe. I could tell he had an idea but couldn't figure for the life of me what it was. "Yes," he said with confidence. "That's it."
"That's what?" I asked, still completely in the dark.
"You were telling me last week about your decided lack of success in attracting young ladies-- and according to my files, it's beginning to affect your work. Our auditors indicated in their latest report that it now takes you an average of 3.085 minutes to run Windows Update on a workstation, whereas in 2001 you needed only 1.881 minutes."
"I'm sorry, sir-- it's all so depressing; it's hard not to stay focused and productive."
"You need a new sport jacket," he said brightly. "I've arranged for you to visit a sport jacket store-- on company time, of course-- to be fitted for one. This will increase your self-confidence, improve your performance, and get you back into the competition for a lovely wife. Report to the main entrance at 1 PM and I will personally accompany you."
I reported to the arranged meeting place and the founder drove me to a local sport jacket store. We entered, and the sales clerk quickly agreed with my mentor. "Sir," he began, "there is nothing you need that a sport jacket can't help you to obtain."
"Including a holy Catholic wife?" I asked skeptically.
He pulled a photo album from a shelf near the long racks of sport jackets. "There is Mr. Williamson--" he said as he pointed to a wedding picture-- "and Mrs. Williamson. He bought a sport jacket from me just two weeks before they met."
"Wow," I said with increasing interest.
"And this is Mr. Jenkins," he continued, turning the page to another wedding picture. "Mr. Jenkins hadn't had a date in years. He bought one of our sport jackets, and in four months he had three ladies who all proposed to him. Now, how about you try this navy blue sport jacket here-- it will look just perfect on you."
"But just last week the clerk in the auto parts store was saying much the same thing about new wiper blades. The car was deserted when I returned."
"Wiper blades? You fell for that line? The guy was just afraid you'd spend all your money on sport jackets and have nothing left for him. Everyone knows that a new sport jacket is the precursor to marriage!"
"Indeed," added the founder. "Now, are you going to take one or are you going to wallow in self-pity all your life?"
In the midst of such strong encouragement, I took a grey sport jacket and a navy blue jacket, fully assured that the days of penance would soon be at an end.
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Sporting a crisp, new, navy blue sport jacket and a pair of dress slacks of similar color, I headed for a part of the region where a number of parishes have yet to enjoy their day in the Internet limelight. I drove an hour and a half, parked in a deserted railroad station, and consulted my printed Mass schedules and local maps. I located a noon Mass at a parish nearby and took a quick look; it looked simple enough from the outside, with a light brown brick exterior and a peaked roof over a rectangular base. Once again, I was fooled by the exterior; immediately upon opening the side entrance I was briefly disoriented as I saw that the sanctuary had been pulled forward the way so many other parishes have done.
Sometimes, this scheme works, but in this church it just doesn't. The sanctuary was made too wide and the building had no transepts, so that left room for only about three or four rows of pews at a 90-degree angle to the main pews. Clearly, this alteration looks forced, as if it had to comply with the non-existent canon that required such renovations. A further architectural oddity is the large wall dropped in the rear of the sanctuary. It was covered in deep purple with white cloths over that, but it still looked totally out of place. I presume it hides something that we're not supposed to see, although it did not look high enough to hide a whole main altar and reredo, and the church probably wasn't old enough to have had anything really elaborate there anyway. Over the odd wall is a circular stained-glass window from the original construction.
The main pews are of wood and split into four sections by a center aisle and a break about halfway back. Racks hold copies of OCP's Breaking Bread, in the usual blue plastic binder, and Today's Missal, which was separate (That's unusual; they're usually in the binder together.) The last two rows consisted of individual upholstered seats. The choir serves from the right front; a piano, drums, and organ are here. A small ensemble served today's Mass. The large wooden ambo is at the left, while a small cantor's lectern is at the right. A freestanding altar is at the center of the sanctuary. It was covered in matching dark purple cloth. Hanging over the altar is a traditional crucifix. The ceiling is peaked but the high point is curved rather than angled. High on the side walls are narrow stained-glass windows depicting various saints. The Stations of the Cross are on wooden plaques about halfway up. Once again, the confessionals on the left were removed and converted into shrines, while the confessionals on the right remained, leaving me to wonder if this had any symbolic significance. The baptismal font and Easter candle were at the break, shortening some pews.
Mass began with the entrance hymn, "Maranatha (III)." The reader, deacon, and priest passed through the center aisle in the entrance procession. The deacon led the invocations of Form C of the penitential rite. The Gloria was omitted for Advent.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The cantor led the hymn "To You, O Lord, I Lift Up My Soul," which the hymnal indicates is based upon Psalm 25-- not the psalm of the day. The reader then gave the second reading. We sang the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel. The Alleluia seemed to be the same setting as would be used later in the Mass. The deacon went to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel.
The deacon also preached the homily; it began as he asked the young women in the congregation to imagine themselves as Mary, trying to explain to their parents that they were pregnant but were still virgins and an angel said that they were to name the child Jesus and everything was okay. Joseph was in a similar situation-- since when do angels make house calls? They must have had tremendous faith. He explained that as Christians, we need to have the courage to stand for what we believe when not saying or doing anything is easier. Next we were told of how the deacon and a parish priest visited New York City on a cold night last week after hearing of some homeless people living in a park. They and some high school students brought food and clothing to distribute, and were prepared to give it all to that group of people but were told by the leader of the group, a Vietnam veteran who had fallen on hard times, that in a nearby railroad tunnel another group of homeless people were also in need, so some of the food should be brought to them as well. The priest led half the students into the tunnel, when he suddenly shrieked. A giant rat had run by his feet. The deacon concluded that in this country, no one should have to live with rats or use a garbage bag as protection against the elements.
The Creed was skipped altogether. Using the refrain from the entrance hymn as a response, we went through the Prayer of the Faithful. At the end, some people from the congregation lit what must have passed for an Advent wreath, although all four candles were white (usually, three are purple and one is rose-colored, for Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent). The candles were not in the wreath at first but were lit and then assembled in the stand. After this, a collection was taken using long-handled metal baskets as we sang the offertory hymn, "The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came." The priest's chalice was of metal, but three smaller chalices were of glass. On the plus side, the glass flagon was emptied immediately into the smaller chalices and removed from the altar. Also on the plus side, the congregation stood at precisely the right moment after the priest had completed the Orate Fratres invitation to pray.
Now we turn to the minus side. The congregation remained standing for the consecration even though the pews had kneelers. The priest offered the Eucharistic Prayer for a Mass of Reconciliation (II). I'm not able to identify the Mass setting used; I went through my small collection of sound clips and couldn't produce a match. We recited the Our Father, but the prayer after it was skipped; the congregation went straight into "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory..." The prayer after that was also skipped and the sign of peace followed immediately. At least I didn't see any hand-holding, though. The congregation persisted in standing after the Agnus Dei.
At Holy Communion, the deacon disappeared (with everyone standing around me, I may have missed some things) and I didn't see him distributing anywhere, while seven extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion assisted the priest at stations in the front and at the break. The Communion hymn was "O, Come, O Come Emmanuel." Immediately before Communion, we were told to be seated. Harrumph.
The priest offered the closing prayer while he and the congregation remained seated. I want to know who told these people that they have carte blanche to rewrite the Mass as they see fit. The cantor gave a few brief announcements, and then everyone stood as the priest imparted a simple blessing and departed via the center aisle. The closing hymn, "Fill Our Hearts," was on a separate sheet stuffed into the front cover of the hymnal. About half the congregation had started to leave before it was complete; the remaining half offered a round of applause. Trying to make a whole from two halves such as these is most discouraging.
I looked for a suggestion box so that I could possibly drop "GIRM" into it again but had no luck finding one. The parish web site has a suggestion form, however; I'm tempted to use that instead. The bulletin has a blurb about how Eastern-rite parishes tack "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory" right onto the end of the Lord's Prayer and adds, "As you know, we follow the Eastern practice." Who said they could do that? In the Roman rite, one follows the Roman practice-- and if they want to be Eastern, they'd better start decorating that church with some icons and improve the rest of the liturgy too; an appeal to Eastern sensibilities is rather ironic in a building conquered by iconoclasts and run by priests using an odd variant of popularized Roman liturgy.
In the "adding insult to injury" department, I tried to locate the cornerstone after I left. I looked all around with no success until finally I spotted it. However, someone decided that a tree needed to be planted in that corner of the building; the tree rests in a wooden box plunked directly in front of the cornerstone such that itinerant worshippers are unable to read the date. On the other hand, as I was driving from the parking lot, I spotted a cornerstone on an adjacent building of similar exterior finish. This read "1957" and I imagine it was built at about the same time as the church. Still-- why such silliness? Canon law should be revised to include an interdict or something for obscuring the cornerstone. Then again, I suppose that is the least of my problems.
* * * * * * * * * *
As I headed out to the car, I noticed a commotion in one corner of the parking lot. A crowd of ladies were gathered around a gentleman with a guitar. A closer inspection revealed that he was wearing a white sport coat and a pink carnation. I looked in his direction and glared; he somehow noticed this and shouted, "You have to do your homework, son-- the devil is in the details!" Another gentleman was a few steps behind me; he was wearing a black sport coat and a yellow carnation and looked kind of sad. "The man is right," he said sadly as he headed back to his car alone. A third gentleman was wearing a pink sport coat and a white carnation. "I'm countercultural," he confessed. He attracted no young ladies either. Perhaps we should have formed a support group?
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In Warden, Washington, Mass is offered at Queen of All Saints Church on Pine Street SE. All across the nation and around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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