Is 56:1, 6-7
Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Rom 11:13-15, 29-32
Perusing the descriptions of ladies at a Catholic singles' site, I was interested in one lady who said she likes to do things spontaneously. I figured if I wanted to be able to impress her, I'd better practice spontaneity (as well as how to spell the word!) so I spontaneously decided to improvise a plan this morning as I hopped on board an 8:15 AM railroad train to a popular railroad station. Only after I got to the station did I decide to board a subway train to a church that was next door to one of my company's clients in an area currently undergoing renewal. Only by God's mercy did I arrive there in time for the 10:00 AM English Mass, as I entered at about 10:05 AM, not even expecting to be able to remain but simply figuring to inspect it to see if a return trip was in order. Angels restrained the priest and deacon in the sacristy until I entered, so as I often say, "every now and then I win one."
The church bears an 1899 cornerstone and was constructed for masses of immigrants who have since left the area. The wooden pews probably held 1000 on many an occasion in days past and are arranged in four sections separated by three aisles and a break about halfway back. The side pews abut the walls. A few rows in the front right corner were removed to accomodate a paino, organ, and choir, but that section was totally vacant this morning. In the opposite corner, a few pews were rotated 90 degrees, which simply looks strange but wasn't particularly glaring. The altar rail is intact but was not used today. All three tabernacles remain, but the left side altar is the one where the red sanctuary lamp stands and the Blessed Sacrament was reserved there today. That was the only clue; the other tabernacles didn't have the typical flower stand, screen, or other object to indicate that they were on inactive status. The sanctuary is framed by a Gothic arch. Underneath a large stained-glass window depicting Jesus, Mary, and others is a large, traditional crucifix with Jesus holding His head high (but not really resurrected). On either side of the crucifix are two figures of angels in white clouds. The original high altar is still there, and a freestanding altar with a sculpture of the Last Supper underneath is in front of that. The ambo is at the left, and a small lectern is at the right. Notable at the front right is a stained-glass window that appears to show the death of St. Joseph; many traditions indicate that he was an elderly man who died before Jesus and Mary. Square painted plaques depict the Stations of the Cross. A huge choir loft and pipe organ are in the rear but stood silent today. Somehow, I had the presence of mind to obtain a WLP Seasonal Missalette from racks at the break.
The entrance hymn was "Amazing Grace." I looked around and-- after seeing no one in the choir loft, no one at the organ or piano, and no one at the lectern-- realized that this was merely a recording. In fact, all the music at this Mass sounded as though it came from the same CD by Canadian singer Anne Murray, "What a Wonderful World: 26 Inspirational Classics." (I listened to excerpts at Amazon.) I hesitate to criticize this too much as the parish obviously doesn't have much with which to work, and he certainly could have selected far worse popular music, but I think if I were in charge there I'd slip in a CD of Gregorian chant or some Latin hymns or something like that. No one seems to have much to lose there, as I was among only about twenty-five others in the congregation. A server, a reader, the deacon, and the priest passed through the left aisle, across the break, and through the center aisle in the entrance procession. The Rite of Sprinkling was used without any prayers or music, but after a ten-minute walk, it was still welcome in this church that does not have air conditioning. In fact, the priest more or less sprinkled each of us individually, so I definitely felt the water (unlike the more symbolic sprinkling done in a larger congregation). After that, we recited the Gloria.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. She recited the psalm and gave the second reading as well before leading a sung Alleluia. The deacon went to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel. His homily mainly dealt with the importance of faith and suggested that anything at all is possible if we simply believe it to be possible. He also indicated that we can't be exclusive but must be inclusive like Jesus.
We recited the Apostles' Creed (the priest called it the "short" form) and the reader led the Prayer of the Faithful from the lectern. Two collections were taken in succession (in a congregation this size, probably ten collections are necessary in order to pay the bills). The priest played "Softly and Tenderly" from the CD; its refrain is something like, "Come, O sinner, come home." The chalice and ciborium were of metal. Only one person stood at the correct time, after the Orate Fratres invitation; everyone else remained seated until after the congregation's response was complete.
The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. The deacon knelt during the consecration. I didn't notice any obviously joined hands during the Lord's Prayer. At the Sign of Peace, several of those in the primary cluster in the first dozen or so rows moved around to greet others; this was about as rowdy as a congregation of twenty-five could get in the sweltering heat and humidity.
The deacon distributed Holy Communion by himself; the chalice was not offered. The priest played "I Can See Clearly Now" from the CD. Oddly enough, only about half to two thirds of the congregation received. After the priest cut off the music (one thing I hate about recorded music; it tends to become a "thing" to be manipulated at will) the deacon went to the ambo to make a few announcements, including a prayer for all those who were unable to receive. I think he landed his foot in his mouth and managed to downplay the significance of Communion by stating that Christ is always with us even when we don't receive. While that may be true, it needs to be a highly nuanced statement, and, besides, Mass is not simply a gathering where we try to make everyone feel comfortable. Those who cannot receive Communion-- for practically any reason-- probably should feel a bit uncomfortable unless they are in the RCIA program and have their baptism and confirmation scheduled. If inability to receive is the result of sin, then the situation needs to be corrected somehow, even if correction is not easy. In any case, at least he didn't simply extend a general invitation for everyone to receive willy-nilly.
The priest offered the closing prayer and imparted a simple blessing. As he passed through the center aisle, he shook hands with everyone, including me (I was right on the aisle). I'm not sure which was the last song played from the CD, but it didn't sound too bad. Everyone started to leave by following the priest down the aisle. I confess to feeling less obligation to remain for recorded music, so I didn't wait for it to finish either. The Mass ran about 45-50 minutes, which actually was rather long for such a small congregation-- but no matter. I walked back to the subway to make the journey home. At the railroad station, I made a donation to the Krispy Kreme Recovery Fund by buying a raspberry Frozen Blend. The next to last car of the railroad train must have been reserved for itinerant worshippers as I was the only person aboard for the first half of the trip. About four more people boarded at the halfway point, but they must have attended parishes without bulletins as I didn't see theirs. Maybe one day I should organize a tour group and actually fill a chartered train to accompany me on one of these weekly excursions. Attracting a decent young lady is tough on an empty train.
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Mass is offered in Bear, Delaware at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church on Bear Christiana Road. In Bear, across the nation, and around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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