Week 322 Bonus

Christmas (Mass at Midnight)

Reading I
Isaiah 9:1-6
Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13
Reading II
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

I had this urge to attend Midnight Mass, so I succumbed to the temptation to enter a church I've already visited many times. I'll let everyone off without the detailed description today, but it's a simple rectangular church built just before Vatican II and is typical of its time.

As we waited, the choir sang the following hymns: "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming," "The First Noel," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "O Holy Night," "Magnificat" (Rutter), and "Jesus Child." The sanctuary was dark until just before the start of Mass, when the lights were activated and the cantor went to the cantor's lectern to start. She chilled my heart by instructing us to introduce ourselves to one another by name; as even neophyte readers of this series know, this is perhaps the worst thing one can do to me short of hand-holding or tampering with the matter of the Eucharist. My understanding was that this practice had been suspended for the winter, but this merely shows that my understanding is often lacking.

Four servers, the reader, three deacons, a concelebrating priest, and the pastor participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle. The entrance hymn was "O Come, All Ye Faithful." After the celebrant gave us Christmas greetings, the deacon led the invocations of Form C of the penitential rite. We sang Peter Jones' setting of the Gloria, which overall isn't too bad but seems to take the sentiment "peace to his people on Earth" and turns it into the cliche "peace on earth."

The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading (the Midnight Mass readings were used) before stepping to one side while the cantor went to the ambo and led the responsorial psalm for the day. (I don't recall seeing this at this parish; this must be a new practice as the cantor always used the cantor's lectern if I recall correctly.) The musical setting of the response is credited to Francis Patrick O'Brien. Then the reader returned to the ambo and gave the second reading. We sang the Celtic Alleluia as the deacon incensed the ambo and creche. The deacon then went to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel before yielding to the celebrant.

The homily covered several points. First, he established the theme as "Let God Christmas in us" if I recall correctly, with apologies to the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and teachers of English who would be appalled at the thought of pressing a noun into service as a verb. This phrase would be repeated several times before the homily was finished. Second, are we afraid to let God get too close to us? One translation of Scripture has the shepherds "terrified" at the sight of the angels. Third, one television ad referred to the "C-word;" the priest took this reference and tore it to pieces by having us say the word together at least three times. Third, we should begin to pray every day, even if it's only for five minutes. He pointed to the nativity scene and wondered if by placing the figures in exactly the same spot each year they become somewhat lifeless-- that scene actually contained some very difficult and troubling times. The priest also wondered if we are willing to bring all our gifts to the creche, or if we have limits and tell God, "Only this much and no more."

After we were reminded to genuflect at the point where we normally bow ("Just watch us," was the instruction), we recited the Creed. The priest omitted the word "men" in "For us men and our salvation." The deacon led the recitation of the intentions of Prayer of the Faithful from his seat next to the celebrant's chair (a microphone is there on a stand). These are more or less the same intentions that have been used at this parish for many years now. The cantor read several announcements from the cantor's lectern; some of these announcements are undoubtedly on dog-eared papers of considerable age as they were rather familiar to me. A collection was taken using handleless wicker baskets passed across the pews in what somehow looked to me to be an awkward process, perhaps on account of inexperienced people in the congregation, or perhaps on account of inexperienced ushers (this looked like a shape-up crew). The choir sang "And the Glory of the Lord" (Handel) on its own. This was followed by the offertory hymn, "Angels We Have Heard on High." The chalice and ciboriums were of metal. After the gifts were prepared, the deacon incensed the altar, the other deacons, servers, and priest, and finally the congregation, which stood and remained standing through the Orate Fratres prayer.

No matter how far from home or how close to home I am, it seems that Mass of Creation is inescapable; it was the Mass setting for midnight Mass. The priest and the concelebrant offered the first Eucharistic Prayer. We recited the Our Father. The priest and deacon attempted to omit the sign of peace (reminder: this is a legitimate option), but this left the congregation befuddled or rebellious despite a bulletin announcement that the sign of peace was suspended for the winter on account of influenza season, so a large number of people exchanged a sign of peace during the Agnus Dei, which started almost immediately after the priest's invitation, "The peace of the Lord be with you always."

No extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion were required apart from the seminarian, who went to the choir loft to distribute there. Two stations were located at the front and two were located at the break; the chalice was not offered (again, on account of influenza season). The Communion hymn was "Silent Night." After the choir had received Communion and the hymn was finished, the choir sang "Christmas Lullaby" (Rutter) on its own. The Communion lines were imbalanced, so many people were shunted to the "wrong" line and got stuck at the break because their path back to their seats was blocked by the lines in the rear. The rear took longer to finish, too, even though the break is about two-thirds of the way from the front, so fewer pews are in the rear section. One of the deacons opened a fifth station alongside an existing station about halfway through the distribution, which then imbalanced the lines in the rear as one line had "dual-station" and the other did not.

After Communion, while a second collection was being taken, the pastor went to the ambo and started thanking everyone; he solicited a round of applause for those who decorated the church and a second round of applause for the choir. He tried to get a round of applause for the folk group that served at an earlier Mass, but by then people were starting to fall asleep and just didn't have much energy left. He offered the closing prayer and imparted a solemn blessing before the choir began the Hallelujah Chorus (Handel). About a quarter of the congregation left immediately even though the priest remained in the sanctuary until the hymn was almost complete. He left with the concelebrating priest, deacons, and servers via the center aisle. After the hymn was complete, those remaining offered a round of applause. An itinerant worshipper then began the journey home.

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In Bethlehem, Ohio, you can stop for Mass at Sacred Heart Church on Route 61. There and elsewhere, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.

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