Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Pt 2:4-9
An overcast sky slowly made way for a partly cloudy day, so another railroad trip seemed prudent. I boarded the usual 9:15 AM railroad train and allowed it to deposit me in the heart of a large city. I mulled over the same second railroad possibilities as last week but elected to switch to the subway instead. On a lark, I headed toward a church that I figured would have a 11:00 AM Mass. It did-- in Italian. My Italian is rather rusty and incomplete, so I decided to roam the streets of the city until I came upon a church that would have a 1:00 PM Mass. Those are becoming rare these days, so I thanked God for his mercy on an itinerant worshipper and entered at 12:30 PM.
The church is somewhat hard to describe; it does not fit into the usual conventions. In 1967, experimentation was rampant in many areas; church architecture was no exception. Perhaps the best way to describe this building is that the architect drew a bunch of wavy lines, and wherever they fell, the walls arose. The ceiling is quite low in the rear, but rises to a dramatic high point at the front left of the sanctuary, where a large circular vault-style tabernacle is located. The right rear corner of the nave is somewhat larger than the front rear, so that the wooden bench-style pews are somewhat longer in the rear than in the front. The pews are grouped in four sections with aisles all around. They have racks underneath, but the missalettes and hymnals are kept on carts by the doors. Since I arrived way early, compensating for other weeks when I arrived in the nick of time, I was able to remember to obtain the green plastic binder containing Today's Missal and Music Issue from OCP. One thing I liked about the pews is that the top of the bench was wide enough for resting a hymnal hands-free. At the left is an imposing, dark, circular, stone ambo. To the right are a small lectern and the organ. The cantor did not use the lectern but instead placed himself behind a music stand to the left of the organ and somewhat behind the lectern. What appears to be an exit also appears to double as a confessional as it has a light over the door and the empty bracket for a priest's nameplate. Other, more traditional-looking confessionals are located at the rear right. They may be suitable for confession in either form as they have only two doors each-- one for the priest and one for the penitent. Then again-- maybe not. The walls are of concrete milled vertically. The Stations of the Cross are carved into the concrete on the left. Towards the front left are a host of tiny, square, abstract, stained-glass windows. In the high corner about three tall, narrow, stained-glass windows run from floor to ceiling. The squarish, grey, stone altar bears a carving of a fish on its front. Behind that are the celebrant's chair and servers chairs; above them are a huge cross and a giant picture of a lamb. Tall, potted plants are located to either side of the chairs. I tried to find the Easter candle but was unable to do so. A metal holy water fount is on a stand near the lectern.
When I arrived, the choir from the 11:15 AM Spanish Mass was lingering in practice. This is understandable, as the organ is there and it is a convenient time, but I still find it distracting. It also encourages others to chat instead of praying. Many of these practices arise of innocence and naivete, but it would still be nice if alternative arrangements could be made. Maybe an inexpensive synthesizer in a classroom could substitute for practice sessions? After I waited some time, just before Mass, the cantor announced that the parish was looking for "leaders of song." A reader made a brief introduction, and then the cantor announced the entrance hymn, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." A seminarian who functioned as a server was the cross-bearer; he was followed by two readers, two extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and the priest in the procession through the center aisle. The priest introduced the seminarian, explained that he would give a talk on vocations after Communion, and then led the invocations of Form C of the penitential rite. We sang the Gloria to Owen Alstott's Heritage Mass setting. (The cantor announced it by page number in the missalette, and it did seem to match the printed music there.)
The first reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading before returning to a seat in the front pew. The cantor led the responsorial psalm for the day from the music stand. The second reader went to the ambo and gave the second reading before also returning to the front pew. We sang the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel to a familiar setting. For some reason, the priest chose to proclaim the Gospel and preach his homily from the small lectern rather than the ambo; I can't imagine why except that perhaps the lectern is located closer to the center of the church than the ambo, which is at the extreme left (maybe the priest feels more conservative than that).
The homily was centered on 1 Pt 2: 9-- the concept of the "chosen race" and "royal priesthood." The priest explained the only race that matters is the human race. By baptism, we become part of the "chosen race"-- and that is something that no one can take away from us, which is why we are baptized only once. He stressed the importance of the the priesthood of the faithful and definitely tried to differentiate it from the ordained priesthood but may not have succeeded. He explained that later in the Mass he would say, "Pray, brethren that our sacrifice be acceptable..." Even if a priest offers Mass by himself, it is a community action and not an individual action. He repeatedly wondered if we take the Mass seriously and criticized those who arrive late for Mass, especially such a late Mass. He also said that he is very critical of all governments but I forget exactly why.
We recited the Creed, and the second reader went to the lectern and led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. Four ushers took a collection using long-handled metal baskets. Three members of the congregation presented the gifts; one was carrying what looked like papers in a plastic binder-- perhaps these were prayer intentions. The offertory hymn was "We Have Been Told." The chalice and ciborium were of metal. At the Orate Fratres prayer, only two or three people stood before the priest's invitation was complete, most began to stand at that time, but it was more like a stadium-type wave than an assembly standing in unison. Even so, one could tell that some effort was made to catechize this congregation; at least the revised GIRM wasn't being totally ignored.
I believe the Mass setting at this point was Mass of Remembrance. I suppose I could have asked, but that would have been out of character for me. Maybe when I find a wife, I can send her to ask. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. The seminarian sounded bells at the consecration. We sang the Lord's Prayer to the most common setting. I think they switched back to the Heritage Mass for the Agnus Dei.
At Holy Communion, two extraordinary ministers, the seminarian, and the second reader assisted the priest in distribution. For a moment I thought the priest was going to sit, but he took an extra position on the side aisle. The chalice was not offered. The Communion hymn was "Gift of Finest Wheat." After Communion, the priest offered the closing prayer and asked us to sit while the seminarian gave his talk.
The seminarian went to the ambo and explained that he was 36 and would be ordained a deacon in the summer and a priest next year. He declined God's offer the first two times but finally relented the third time (whatever that means; he didn't elaborate). He sounded lots like most younger priests today; more conservative and principled than his elders. His voice in particular reminded me of a zealous young priest from my own diocese. He told us of his preparation for the priesthood in apostolic activities such as religious education classes. He said that two of the three priests in the parish are from Nigeria as they study for degrees and wondered who would replace them when they were ready to return to their native country. None of us should "stifle" the call to priesthood or religious life if someone seems as though God may be calling. After his presentation, he received a round of applause from the two hundred or so in attendance (in a church that could hold perhaps 1000).
The priest imparted a simple blessing and departed via the center aisle with the seminarian, readers, and lay ministers as we sang "How Great Thou Art." I slipped out the doors and walked a block to the subway for the ride home. Despite riding three different subway trains for an hour and another railroad train as I carried my church bulletin, no holy young ladies answered the call to married life; they must all have become nuns many moons ago.
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In Benedict, Maryland, Mass is offered at St. Francis de Sales Church on Benedict Avenue. All across the nation and around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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