Ps 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
Rom 8:35, 37-39
Last night, I sat and thought I was carefully planning a railroad/subway trip to a church I had never visited. I could have made it easily simply by staying with the railroad, but I managed to destroy the plan as usual. I found myself in the middle of a split subway run waiting for a train that didn't look as though it would appear any time soon, so I exited the subway, walked an hour and a quarter across a major bridge, hopped onto an articulated bus that happened to pull alongside me, and walked another twenty minutes to a church that actually has a nickname. The advance scout peeked at this church some months ago and disparaged it on account of its ridiculous seating arrangement, but I decided to give it a chance anyway, hoping that the renovation was the product of deranged minds no longer with us rather than the current occupants.
I arrived at about 10:50 AM for the 11:00 AM "choral" Mass. One look at the printed program sheet calmed my fears considerably. A traditional metal ciborium (no breadbasket or leavened bread) and cruet on the table for the gifts also made me feel more at ease. But first, we have to address the physical layout. A big plus is that the original altar, tabernacle, and reredo have been retained, along with all the beautiful paintings and traditional stained-glass windows, including the painting of the Crucifixion underneath a small painting of a Host and chalice. A hint that this parish may have been further in another direction than it is now is that the left side altar and its tabernacle remain, while the right side altar is missing, replaced by (I think) an ambry. My guess is that the main tabernacle got the flowerstand treatment for some years (perhaps even a screen) while the left side tabernacle served as the tabernacle-- but it's only the unsubstantiated guess of a well-travelled observer. The sanctuary and a freestanding altar have been brought into the nave. The wooden ambo is at the right, further back than the altar. The organ is at the left front, facing the altar. The wooden pews are in a horribly contrived configuration for the slightly rectangular church-- slanted 45 degrees toward the center aisle, resulting in them being at a 90 degree angle to each other such that one who looks straight ahead faces the opposite set of pews as much as the altar. A few rows of wooden pews on either side are at a 90 degree angle to the altar, and some rows of individual folding chairs without kneelers are in the left rear corner. Light brown marble pillars fall into the nave; one obscured my view of the ambo, although that could have happened even in a conventional arrangement. If only they would put the pews back into the original configuration, this would have be what it must have been originally-- a beautiful, small church. Racks in the pews hold worn copies of Worship, 3rd edition, not revised. Plaques over the columns show the Stations of the Cross.
Now that we have the rough stuff behind us, we can turn our attention to the more positive aspects of the day. Mass began as one of two readers went to the ambo and made a few brief announcements, including the now-common admonition to silence cellular telephones. We sang all five verses of "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" as two adult servers, a reader, and the priest passed through the center aisle in the entrance procession. After the greeting from the priest, the cantor led us in the Greek form of the Kyrie without invocations. We followed this with Carroll T. Andrews' "New Mass for Congregations" setting of the Gloria.
The first reader gave the first reading from the ambo. The cantor led the responsorial psalm to "Meinrad Psalm Tone I" according to the program sheet. The second reader gave the second reading from the ambo, and then we sang the Alleluia to a familiar setting by A. Gregory Murray. The priest went to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel. He moved to the center aisle to give the homily.
The priest told us that he liked the way the readings intersected with his life experience, as he had just returned from a cruise, where food is served practically non-stop. He highlighted the line in the Gospel that shows the disciples telling Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food, but instead Jesus gives them food in abundance without cost. Then he reminded us that we cannot earn our way into heaven; it is a gift of God. The Protestant reformation sprung from a desire to emphasize this, although many Protestants misinterpret that to mean that we do not have to do anything at all. He demonstrated this by selecting a man unfortunate enough to be in a unprotected pew jutting into the center aisle and asking him to stand and pretend to offer him something; the priest recoiled in mock fear, showing us that if we do not accept the gift, we don't get it and nothing happens. We do have to cooperate with God's offer of the gift of salvation. The priest also mentioned that even the penance we receive in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not something that in itself "evens the score" and allows us to regain God's grace; it is more a means for us to become holier and avoid sin in the future.
We recited the Creed; it is printed in full in the program, including the rubric to bow at the words, "by the power of the Holy Spirit..." The second reader led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from the ambo. We sang "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart" as a collection was taken using handleless wicker baskets passed across the pews with the assistance of smiling female ushers. Two members of the congregation presented the gifts after an usher presented the proceeds of the collection. The congregation stood as soon as the priest spread his arms to begin the Orate Fratres invitation instead of waiting until the invitation was complete.
We sang the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Great Amen to Franz Schubert's setting from the Deutsche Messe. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. Not only were hand bells sounded at the consecration, but the church bells were sounded as well, so that even those outside the church would know that Christ was truly present there. We recited the Lord's Prayer, and my final pang of concern was dissolved as no one attempted to join hands. We sang the Agnus Dei in Latin to the "Missa XVIII" setting in the Worship hymnal. That is now the most common Latin version of the Agnus Dei, for what that is worth.
Holy Communion was a bit tricky, mostly on account of the silly seating scheme; lines had to merge before approaching one of two ministers. An extraordinary minister (who might have been one of the servers) assisted the priest. The chalice was not offered. We sang "Shepherd of Souls" during Communion.
After Communion, the priest offered the closing prayer, cracked a joke about being somewhat heavier on account of all the food, and imparted a simple blessing. We sang Salve Regina in Latin (often heard on EWTN radio as a kind of filler between programs), followed by all five verses of "Praise My Soul the King of Heaven" as the priest, servers, and readers passed through the center aisle. About half the congregation remained to the end, even though the priest was to the rear by the end of the third verse. The Mass ran about an hour-- just long enough to cause me to miss the next railroad train home. Instead, I rode the subways for the next hour, clutching my church bulletin in hopes of attracting the attention of a wonderful young lady.
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In St. Louis, Missouri, Mass is offered at the Basilica of St. Louis, King on Walnut Street. Across the nation and around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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