I went to the shed outside today, hoping that my time machine would finally work so that I could visit a parish in a different era for a change, but I just couldn't get it going. Instead, I drove 35 minutes to a parish with both its own elementary school and its own high school in a large complex highlighted by a church heavily influenced by Spanish architecture. I looked for a cornerstone, but someone must have tipped the sacristan that I was coming, and I guess he hid it where I'd be unable to locate it. I'm not quite sure of the age of the building, because it's slightly unconventional, and some of my usual reference points are missing.
I arrived at about 9:55 AM for the 10:15 AM Mass. I figured that this might be a choir Mass, as the 9:00 AM Mass is labeled "family Mass," and for the second consecutive week my guess was not too far afield. Inside, we see immediately what makes this church different: pews are located on opposite sides of the altar. My guess is that the rear section of pews is an addition, done this way because L and T extensions were not possible. On each side of the altar are wooden pews separated by a center aisle and flanked by side aisles. The rear section has about fifteen rows, and the front section about twenty or twenty-five. Each pew seats twelve people comfortably and perhaps sixteen can be compressed for Christmas and Easter. OCP Music Issue hymnals and Today's Missal missalettes are combined in blue plastic covers in the pews; only the ends of the pews have racks, so the remaining books were scattered through the middle of the pews. The sacristy is located near the front entrance underneath the choir loft.
I sat in what is probably the original (larger) section. From there, the ambo and cantor's lectern are on the left, facing the tabernacle, which is on the right. The sanctuary area is underneath large arches; a large, ornate, double-sided crucifix is suspended over the altar and includes figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John standing at the foot of the cross. The circular ambo consists of perhaps wrought iron or some other metal framework and has some steps leading to it. The ceiling is very dark with dark red trusses (the Spanish influence again). I noticed caps on the trusses that may have held chandeliers at some point, but the only lighting now is a number of small spotlights that are placed behind the trusses so that they are not visible as one looks toward the altar. Traditional stained-glass windows complete the structure.
As I waited, the choir assembled in the choir loft at the rear and for a considerable amount of time tuned its voices to some quick piano cuts. I thought that meant the piano would be used during the Mass, but I don't recall hearing it after that; the organ was used instead. The choir had about ten adults and ten children; the children wore red vests or jackets of some sort. They all sang well; in fact, this Mass was very similar to the wonderful choir Mass at my own parish. The presence of the children, of course, once again belies the assertion that children can't handle traditional sacred music.
A "Reserved" placard was located on a front pew, and again this drew my interest; after I copied the hymns from the hymn board, to the left of the ambo, I looked at the bulletin and saw that two newly ordained priests from this parish were offering Masses of Thanksgiving here this week, which explained this. A cantor began the Mass by introducing the celebrant and noted that he was offering a Mass of Thanksgiving; he was just ordained for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. His parents and family, of course, were in the front pew. Two servers, a reader, two concelebrating priests, and the celebrant processed through the center aisle of the larger section. The opening hymn was "The Church's One Foundation."
The new priest seemed more or less at home and has a nice, pleasant-sounding voice. He began with the Confiteor, and then sang his parts of the Kyrie alone, doing quite well. Priests don't have to be Carusos, but some basic singing should be part of their training. Then the Gloria was sung by the choir (with parts for the congregation) to a setting by Peter Jones. (This one begins, "Glory to God, Glory in the highest, peace to His people, peace on Earth.")
The reader proclaimed the first reading without any problem, and then the cantor went to the ambo to sing the psalm. The response in the missalette is "We are His people: the sheep of His flock," but for some reason the first "His" was replaced by "the" instead. Somebody is messing around again, it seems. The reader returned to proclaim the second reading, and then the cantor sung the verse before the Gospel from the cantor's lectern. After that, she went to the choir loft, just as the cantor in my own parish does. (Eerie in a way.)
The celebrant read the Gospel and then began his homily. He started by noting that the readings were perfect for discussing vocations to the priesthood (the bishop had a flyer on the subject inserted into all bulletins in the diocese). Then he recalled an article in Forbes magazine on Warren Buffet and noted that the article used some disturbing language in profiling him, saying that Buffet "converted" his followers to the value of mutual funds and compound interest and describing Buffet's first twelve investors as "apostles." The priest then lamented the poor values of society typified by this article and said that the Church has to combat this. He said that people see the priesthood as a tremendous sacrifice, and while that is true in many ways, it is also a great gift from God, something that one is privileged to receive. He noted that a study claimed that if every parish produced one priest every fifteen years, we would have no shortage and then joked that since this parish has just produced two priests, it can relax for the next thirty years. He also emphasized that we all need priests. His homily ended with a round of applause.
The celebrant then returned to his place alongside the ambo and introduced the Prayer of the Faithful, at which point one of the two concelebrating priests walked over to him and whispered that he needed to recite the Creed, so he willingly agreed, and the Creed was recited. Then a standard Prayer of the Faithful was offered. A collection was taken using long-handled metal mesh baskets as the choir sang a choir anthem that is often used at my own parish (that eerie feeling again!) but which I sadly cannot identify. Apparently, members of the priest's family offered the gifts.
The ciboriums and chalice were metal, and a large glass flagon was used for additional wine. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were all from the Mass of Creation, familiar to regular readers of this series. A relief cantor appeared to lead the singing in the second half of the Mass; the original cantor remained in the choir loft. The priest used the third Eucharistic Prayer, and each of the concelebrating priests read a portion from the second half of the prayer. The new priest stumbled slightly at the consecration of the Precious Blood and had to go back a sentence or two but otherwise did just fine. All three priests did a nice job of singing the concluding doxology.
The Our Father was recited. After the Agnus Dei, eight lay ministers assembled in the sanctuary to assist the three priests with the distribution of Holy Communion. They received in the usual way. The Communion hymn was "On Eagle's Wings." The hymn board listed that as the second hymn, but the choir anthem must have moved it to Communion time and bumped "You Are Near" altogether; the latter was on the board in the third position. (I imagine that the board was correct for other Masses.) The dual-station method was in use in the center aisle of both sides of the church, and the cup was also offered.
I looked to see if perhaps one minister would distribute to the choir, but it was singing all throughout Communion time, and I saw no evidence of the choir receiving Communion. (That eerie feeling ended; in my parish, the choir gets its own minister.) After the Communion hymn, the choir offered another anthem, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You." The children got some parts of that to themselves, and it sounded nice. One of the priests closed the tabernacle.
The reader made a single announcement, and then one of the concelebrating priests, probably the pastor, took the ambo to congratulate the new priest and say with a smile that the parish cannot afford to rest on its laurels for the next thirty years. He said that his parish is just the type of environment that is fertile ground for priestly vocations, and recalled that many priests have come from there in the past, but since he knows of none in the pipeline just now, all possible encouragement should be given to anyone who might be a good prospect. He led a lengthy round of applause for the new priest, and then said a few more words followed by another round of applause.
The celebrant then offered the Prayer After Communion followed by a Solemn Blessing. The choir leader announced the final hymn, "City of God," from the choir loft. Two verses were sung, and most people remained for both, although a large contingent of three or four rows just in front of me fled after the first verse.
The center of the bulletin includes a children's insert for ages 3 to 6; other announcements note the need for catechists at all grade levels for next year and the beginning of a Ministry of Consolation.
I guess I didn't need the time machine after all; this Mass was quite nice, and I was happy to stumble upon a new priest-- the new ones these days are usually very reverent and less likely to make impromptu changes.