Sir 3:2-6, 12-14
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17
Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
I was invited to a football party Sunday night but was tempted not to go, as snow was forecast and I don't know diddley-squat about football. At Christmas dinner, my brother-in-law said, "Hey-- you just might meet a decent Catholic girl there-- lots of Catholics are football fans."
"But what will I say, since I do not know football?"
"It's the Patriots vs. the Jets. Just say 'I didn't think Chad Pennington would make it after he left Marshall, since he wouldn't be able to throw to Randy Moss any more.'"
"Wait-- let me write that down," I said, quickly grabbing a scrap of paper.
"If the Jets are losing, say, 'I hope Herm Edwards doesn't mismanage the clock the way he did last month!'"
"Okay-- got it."
"If a pretty girl is there, she'll think you're really a sophisticated football fan-- you can't lose, and you'll impress everyone else there besides."
"I didn't think Chad Pennington..."
* * * * * * * * * *
My original plan was to visit a parish named "Holy Family" but I was too late for that one. As I was meandering down a main highway at about 10:35, I saw a sign that read "St. -- R. C. Church" with an arrow to the right. Always a soft touch for a right-pointing arrow, I immediately swung the car to the right and located the church about four blocks to the right. I saw people entering but figured they may be latecomers to a 10:30 AM Mass until I passed the sign in front; it cheerfully reassured me, "10:45 AM." Rash judgment almost got the best of me there. Sigh. In any case, I was happy that the demons apparently had had too much spiked egg nog and were off-duty the day after Christmas. I parked and hurried inside from the cold, gray day that was threatening a sampling of the heavy snows that had pummeled large parts of the country.
The church is rectangular and bears a 1941 cornerstone. The peaked roof is painted dark brown, while the walls are white. Across the rear wall of the domed sanctuary are five tall, traditional stained-glass windows depicting Jesus (in the center) and the four evangelists. Underneath that is a small marble canopy covering the metal tabernacle, which may be resting on the original high altar (or a piece of it). In front of this is a freestanding altar. What looks like an altar rail is found on either side of the tabernacle; this could perhaps be the altar rail, relocated, or perhaps an additional railing was removed altogether, as none is currently found in the usual location. A large wooden ambo is at the left. The niches for the side altars remain, though today the left niche, with a statue of Mary, was filled with flowers, and the right niche housed the nativity scene. More traditional, tall, stained-glass windows line the side walls; between these are wooden plaques that depict the Stations of the Cross. A figure of the Risen Christ is found on the side wall at the front right, while a traditional wooden crucifix is hung on the rear wall at the left, alongside a confessional that may have been converted from part of the narthex underneath the choir loft. The pews are split into four sections by a center aisle and a break about halfway back. Side aisles are also present. Racks underneath the pews hold copies of NALR's Glory & Praise hymnal. The WLP Seasonal Missalette was available at the door, but I was fortunate enough to have obtained a copy of the carol sheet. To expect me to obtain a missalette besides would be asking the superhuman of one who almost never does such a thing. In fact, I probably wouldn't have obtained the carol sheet had I not really been looking for a bulletin.
Before Mass, the cantor noted what the responsorial psalm would be and asked that we sing the response. I think she went through it once, but I'm not 100% certain now. I saw the hymns listed on the hymn board and looked for a scrap of paper on which to write them but found only the back of my cheat sheet for the football game, so I pressed that into service. As the priest, who reminded me of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, made his way to the rear of the church from the sacristy, he waved to several people in the congregation. Mass began as three servers, a reader, a deacon, and the priest passed through the center aisle. We sang the entrance hymn, "O Come, All Ye Faithful." This, like the other hymns, was on the carol sheet. The deacon led the invocations for Form C of the penitential rite. We recited the Gloria.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The cantor led the refrain of the responsorial psalm, but the reader recited the verses. The reader then gave the long form of the second reading (including "Wives, be subordinate to your husbands."). The deacon went to the ambo as we sang the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel. After he proclaimed the Gospel, he returned to his place, and the priest cautiously moved toward the ambo.
The homily began as the priest noted that he was walking very slowly because he had prayed for strength in his legs for Christmas, so that was exactly what he got, and now Christmas was over. The lesson is that we have to be precise in what we ask God to do for us. The priest lamented that poor St. Joseph probably was afraid to put his head on his pillow at night because God was always disrupting his life in his dreams. He then discussed what we should learn from the feast of the Holy Family. One point he made is that families are not just our blood relatives but all those who God places in our lives as a means of forming us. We need to remember that God forms us and we do not form God. He also noted that one nice thing about grandchildren is that they say hello-- and goodbye. Another interesting point was that fifty years ago, one could walk into a school and tell the children that Joseph was Jesus' foster father and, while everyone would nod in agreement, no one would even know what that meant. Today, one can walk into a school and say that Joseph was Jesus' stepfather and everyone knows exactly what that means. The relationship between Joseph and Jesus is God's way of demonstrating how stepfathers and stepchildren should treat one another.
We recited the Creed, and then the reader led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. We sang the offertory hymn, "Away in a Manger," as the ushers took a collection using handleless wicker baskets. The chalices and ciborium were of metal. A glass cruet held the wine but it was all poured into the three chalices immediately and the cruet was removed. The deacon said the "May this mingling..." prayer aloud. The priest motioned for everyone to stand, so almost everyone stood before the priest began the Orate Fratres invitation.
The Mass setting was Mass of Creation (Haugen). The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer. At the consecration, a server sounded bells. We recited the Our Father; few joined hands. All the correct prayers were offered in the correct order; none were omitted. The sign of peace was straightforward.
At Holy Communion, two extraordinary ministers assisted the priest and deacon in distribution at stations across the front of the nave. I didn't notice any serious imbalance in the lines, even though the parking lot is to the right. The offertory hymn was "What Child Is This?" The organist (who wore a purple robe) and cantor sang two or three other unannounced hymns on their own after that, including "Silent Night."
After Communion, the priest took a moment to note that since the parish had no Saturday evening Mass yesterday on account of Christmas, he saw all the "Saturday people" mixing with the "Sunday people" this morning, and he was pleased about this. He offered the closing prayer and imparted a simple blessing before departing via the center aisle to the closing hymn, "Joy to the World." I sneaked back into the world of snow flurries and heavy traffic to begin the long trek home.
* * * * * * * * * *
I resisted the temptation to use the forecast snow as an excuse to shirk my duty to attend the football party and made my way to the designated meeting place, a basement den with a large-screen television. I took a seat and held my tongue until an appropriate moment to display my newfound football intelligence. As it happened, a pretty young lady was also invited, and I was startled to discover that she was a Catholic who was dying to find a man interested in homeschooling and rearing children without TV in the house. I was a bit distracted by this, but nevertheless I studied the game and finally found a spot to inject my remark when Chad Pennington was on camera complete with a caption identifying him to the ignorant.
"I didn't think Chad Pennington would make it after he left Marshall, since he wouldn't be able to throw to Randy Moss any more," I said as if I were the consummate football expert.
The pretty young lady immediately rose and gave me an intense look. "How dare you make a disparaging remark about my favorite quarterback!" she screamed.
The others in the room-- all Jets fans-- added, "Yeah, whose side you on anyway?"
"Well, if Herm Edwards would stop mismanaging the clock the way he did last month, I'd be proud to say I'm a Jets fan."
The young lady snapped, "Uncle Herm did not mismanage the clock!" as she grabbed her drink, dumped it on my head, and stormed from the room.
Completely off balance, with scotch and soda dripping from my forehead, I fumbled in my pocket for my notes, and when I finally found them, I said, "O Come, All Ye Faithful, Away in a Manger, What Child Is This, Joy to the World!"
"What an utter fraud!" the football fans muttered to themselves as they left, thoroughly unconvinced of my expertise in matters football.
* * * * * * * * * *
In Nazareth, Pennsylvania, Mass is offered at Holy Family Church on West Center Street. There and everywhere, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
* * * * * * * * * *