Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thes 5:16-24
Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
"So are you here because you need your shoes repaired or because you need material for your column?"
"Admit it. You just come here because you get paid by the word."
"Well, not exactly..."
"In any case, I'm not helping you. Give me your shoes and I'll repair them, but that's it. No material."
I handed my shoes to the clerk and left the store dejected, lamenting the fact that I would have to write the column on my own this week.
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A car trip seemed within reason this morning, so I set forth at about the usual time with about the usual result. I landed in a small town with three churches and selected one with a 10:45 AM Mass. Wearing my newly-repaired shoes, I spotted a side door and slipped inside, taking a seat about a third of the way back on the right. The cornerstone reads "1956," but the interior could pass for 1966. The exterior looks more traditional, with a red brick facade, but inside is a simple auditorium with a peaked roof and simple wooden trusses extending from floor to ceiling. Traditional stained-glass windows depict various saints. The wooden pews are split into two sections. The sanctuary has not been modified significantly; a slender, peaked baldachino rises with two pillars over a small marble stand on which the tabernacle (veiled in violet) sits. A freestanding altar is at the center of the sanctuary. To the left is a large, marble ambo. At the far left is a side altar that looks as though it still has a tabernacle on it, complete with candles, but it was not used today. Over that is a statue of Our Lady. A bassinet is located near this side altar. The Advent wreath, with three candles already lit (including the rose candle), was also here. The right side altar, under a statue of St. Joseph, is bare. The white, marble altar rail appears mostly to have survived, though perhaps some of the center has been removed. Traditional confessionals remain at either side of the nave. A decent-sized choir loft is at the rear, and an organist and choir served from that location today.
Mass began with the opening hymn, "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." We sang all four verses as three servers, eight extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the reader, the deacon, and the priest passed through the center aisle in the entrance procession. The deacon led the invocations of Form C of the penitential rite. The Gloria was omitted for Advent. The priest offered the alternative opening prayer.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The reader sat towards the rear of the sanctuary while the choir led the responsorial psalm for the day. The reader returned to the ambo to give the second reading. The choir led the Celtic Alleluia as the deacon carried the Book of Gospels to the ambo. The deacon proclaimed the Gospel and then returned to his place while the priest gave the homily from the ambo.
The priest tried to be slightly entertaining, making several small jokes, and when a baby cried and was removed from the nave, he claimed that he had arranged that in advance. He mentioned that St. John the Baptist was always clear about who he was and who he was not, and it took great humility for him to realize that even he needed a Savior. Likewise, the priest noted that sometimes Christians are seen as arrogant when we preach that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but in fact it is an act of humility to see that we really do need a Savior. The priest also emphasized that we have great reason to rejoice, for as our Savior is coming, we can be confident that God has great things in store for us, and in heaven, all the crying, tears, and sadness will be no more. (This echoes the text of one of the Eucharistic Prayers for children.) The homily was shortened a bit to make room for a high school student to make a pitch for the Religious Retirement Fund, for which a second collection would be taken later in the Mass. The student explained that although religious never really retire, and in that sense the term "retirement" for them is a misnomer, at some point they complete their regular ministries and stop drawing salaries. Despite the collection being taken for eighteen years, the cost of supporting retired religious is rising greatly, and a large unfunded liability still exists.
We recited the Creed. The first collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as the choir sang a hymn or two on its own. "Sing of Mary" was listed on the hymn board, but that must have been for the other Masses. Members of the congregation brought the gifts forward. The chalices and ciborium were of metal. After having a few drops of water mixed into it, a glass flagon was emptied into five smaller chalices and removed from the altar. The congregation rushed to stand even before the priest began the Orate Fratres invitation.
The priest chanted the dialogue before the Preface. We sang the Sanctus and the rest of the Mass propers to a decent-sounding setting that I may not have heard before. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. We sang the third Memorial Acclamation. We recited the Lord's Prayer, and I didn't see any joined hands. The sign of peace was fairly brief.
The Communion hymn was "The Cry of the Poor." Two extraordinary ministers, one for each form of Holy Communion, went to the choir loft to distribute there. The other six ministers, the deacon, and the priest distributed all across the front, which probably messed up the lines significantly.
After Communion, the second collection was taken for the Religious Retirement Fund. The priest offered the closing prayer and then announced that he would bless a type of Christmas bread that I believe he called "oplatek," which is a custom in Eastern Europe. After he blessed it, he invited one representative of each family to come forward to take home a piece, which came in paper wrappers. This took several minutes to complete. Then the priest read several announcements, most of which were in the bulletin. He imparted a simple blessing and left via the center aisle along with the servers, extraordinary ministers (who were seated in the front two rows at the left), the reader, and the deacon as we sang "Soon and Very Soon" and the congregation clapped its hands. I slipped back out the side door, walked around the front to read the cornerstone, and then returned to the car for the hour and a half drive home.
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"April, did you see that nice-looking guy with the freshly-shined shoes? He was all by himself near the front."
"Yes, June-- but he might be a bit too formal for me. He was wearing a tie too. He'd make me dress up for Mass."
"But April, you keep complaining about all the lame-brained men you've been dating. Here's a guy who goes to church-- how bad could he be?"
"It's tempting-- but I'm not shining my shoes every week for Mass. No way!"
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In Greenfield, Iowa, Mass is offered at St. John Church on Northeast Elm Street. Wherever you are, stay close to the sacraments and be sure to look for a Catholic Mass.
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