Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
2 Tm 1:8b-10
This is going to be one of the most difficult articles to write of all those I've done so far. Nevertheless, I'll do my best to do today's parish justice. I decided to head for a large city near me and look for another big, old church. I checked my schedule and my map and found one that showed a 10:00 AM Mass. I arrived at ten sharp but decided to take a look inside, figuring that perhaps I'd get lucky and the Mass would start late. It started late, all right-- maybe ten minutes late. Apparently, there was no rush; when I got to the main door, someone was pulling someone else in a wheelchair over the threshhold, and this took a considerable amount of time. After I made it inside, I saw that the priest was milling around the sanctuary area, chatting with people; he seemed in no hurry either. I saw a small band at the front right but decided to stay anyway as I wasn't in any mood to wander around any further, and since it was Lent I thought that God had ordained some additional penance for a deserving sinner.
What I slowly realized as this service progressed was that I had stumbled on no mere family Mass, folk Mass, teen Mass, or rock Mass. No, this was something more-- something I had never witnessed in 330 weeks of itineracy. Under normal circumstances, in fact, this parish would either have been closed some time ago or would be slated for closure in the next round of closures being considered in this area. That is the good news; a beautiful 1940-era church has been saved from sale or destruction by handing it over to a community that will preserve it as a functioning Catholic church. For that community celebrates a Mass not found in just any old parish; what I would see today was my first Charismatic Mass.
Naturally, I have heard lots about such Masses and I probably would not have deliberately attended one for fear of being caught up in some sort of rapture. Still, God had some mercy on me; He gave me a way to attend one without having to fear much of anything. The church has four sections of wooden pews; massive, gray, stone arched colums fall along the sides of the middle sections, and the two side sections abut the walls. Almost no one sat in those side sections, and the left section didn't even have any hymnals or missalettes, so I found a safe spot in the right side section almost all by myself and resisted the temptation to leave for something more conventional.
The church does not appear to have suffered much renovation; indeed, it could stand a bit of maintenance, actually. The domed, metal, tabernacle is at the foot of a large canopy with a curtain behind it. Above the tabernacle is a traditional wooden crucifix. A freestanding altar is way in front of that (some rows of pews may have been removed to accomodate this). The choir loft is unused (as was the organ it holds). The original confessionals are at opposite ends of the transepts.
The entrance hymn was "Lift Up Your Hearts." Three servers, a multitude of lay people too numerous to count, and the priest participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle. Perhaps 100-150 people were in the pews at that point, another 50 or so would wander in during the next hour. A woman stood waving flags near the band during the hymns. After the entrance hymn was another unannounced hymn of some sort-- and then there was what must have been speaking in tongues but sounded like unintelligible babbling to the uninitiated such as me. It was after reflecting upon this for a few moments that I realized what I was seeing; at first, I simply ascribed it to wacky musical direction (after all, I've seen so much of it over the years). At many points in the Mass, some of this speaking in tongues broke out along with some hand-clapping. The band led Form C of the penitential rite, with the invocations in English and the response in Greek. The Gloria was omitted for Lent. The priest offered the alternative opening prayer.
An impassioned reader went to the wrought-iron ambo and gave the first reading. The band led a musical setting of Psalm 33 from the Breaking Bread hymnal (which was in racks along with Seasonal Missalette and a less formal hymnal in plastic looseleaf binders). Then the reader returned to the ambo to give the second reading. The priest stood for several moments at the center of the sanctuary holding the Book of Gospels high as the band led the verse before the Gospel. He proclaimed the Gospel from the ambo.
The homily, given from the aisle in front of the sanctuary, may have taken as much as half an hour, but that's a guess as I had no way to measure time apart from my internal clock. (I had my cellular phone, but it's always off during Mass.) The homily was actually fairly good, and the priest is a compelling preacher. I can easily see him doing half-hour programs for EWTN without a script. He made many chapter and verse references to Scripture but had to ask those in the congregation (who must have brought Bibles) for help because he kept getting them wrong. (Maybe he doesn't need a script, but some notes or a quick outline would go a long way.) It does put the lie to the notion that we aren't a Bible-based church, though. His first point was that if we are having trouble converting those around us, it may be simply that we are not completely converted ourselves. He spoke a lot of the Transfiguration and made the point that until that time, no one could see God and live-- but Peter, James, and John did. Another point was that we have to expect to suffer for our faith. The priest also made an obligatory mention of Father John Bertolucci and related a story that the television evangelist had once told.
We recited the Creed, and then the priest led the recitation of the intentions of the General Intercessions. At the end, the dreaded question, "For whom or what else shall we pray?" was asked, and several folks offered barely audible intentions; some talked over others or cut each other off. As I've noted before, I find this rather unseemly. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as we sang the offertory hymn. I believe it may have been titled "Holiness." The word "righteousness" also appeared in it frequently. It was in a hymnal that I couldn't find in the pews near me. Three women brought the gifts to the altar. Two large glass cruets of wine were immediately poured into what looked like six metal chalices.
I think the Sanctus may have been from the Mass of Remembrance. The band played whatever it was a bit more slowly than I usually hear it so I may be wrong. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. The refrain from the hymn "We Remember" was pressed into service as a memorial acclamation. I'm not sure what setting was used for the Great Amen.
At the Our Father, I expected almost everyone to join hands. I was right. I was also right in my choice of seats, for no one was anywhere near close enough to me to try to grab my hand. Every now and then I win one. Some people were even joined across the aisles. Sigh. I'm not sure what setting the Agnus Dei was.
I lost count of how many extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion assisted; suffice to say they were numerous. The Communion hymn was "Loving and Forgiving." The band sang something after that as well if I'm not mistaken.
Next came the testimony and witness segment of the service. The priest went into the pews with a wireless microphone while several of those in the congregation stood, presumably indicating their desire to testify. The first gentleman told us of a convict on death row who blasphemed God and rejected the efforts of a priest to reconcile him before his execution. Finally, at the last minute, the convict repented and made his confession to the priest. Others made briefer testimonies of healings and the like, and finally a woman told of how happy she is and praised God.
The most tedious part was the announcements. After fifty minutes, five minutes of announcements can hurt, but after two hours, what seemed like ten or more minutes of chatty announcements constitutes severe penance. I may not have been the only one who was restless; the congregation seemed to be very noisy by this time (in contrast to a very disciplined, reverent silence that marked the beginning of the distribution of Holy Communion). The priest actually took care of a couple of these before another gentleman went to the lectern at the right to finish the job, with lots of help from those in the pews. He pointed out some of the principals of the announcements, asked them to stand, and they were applauded. One announcement was that the community had received approval to continue in the church for five years. Another announcement was that Cardinal Arinze had been invited to the parish and might visit.
This liturgy would not have been complete without welcoming newcomers. Once again, I praised God for my location in the shadows as the priest walked around the church to greet those who had never been there before. He was accompanied by a lady holding a colorful sign on a stick; it read, "WELCOME." If you think this is corny, you are not alone. On the other hand, each newcomer was given a large white envelope. I started to wonder if those envelopes might contain cash or checks, but I managed to hold down my right arm as well as the rest of my body until the temptation had passed. History will have to lament the reserved, introverted writer who would not do his job, stand, and learn what the envelopes contained.
Finally, after almost two and a quarter hours, the priest offered the closing prayer, imparted a blessing using the Prayer over the People formula, and then left via the center aisle to the closing hymn, "They'll Know We Are Christians." The band played the entire hymn, but the Mass sort of broke up somewhere in the middle, and the band played on even after the verses of the hymn was complete. A bedraggled, exhausted, hungry, itinerant worshipper left and began the long drive home, never to see that parish again in this age.
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In LaSalle, Ontario, Mass is offered at Sacred Heart Church on Sacred Heart Drive. There and everywhere, you're almost sure to find a Catholic Mass.
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