Week 375


Reading I
Is 52:7-10
Responsorial Psalm
Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Reading II
Heb 1:1-6
Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14

The fog was thick this morning, but not too thick for an itinerant worshipper to break through it and make his way to a parish about an hour and a half from home. I managed to find the church in time for the 10:30 AM Mass, which was not particularly full, so I parked and went inside.

The cornerstone reads "1957" and the building has "1957" written all over it. It is essentially a large auditorium with a curved roof and large transepts. The metal tabernacle is in its original location underneath the baldachino at the center of the sanctuary, behind a freestanding altar. Over the tabernacle is a large painting of the Risen Christ. The sanctuary is actually at the intersection of the transepts and the main part of the nave and is surrounded by a marble altar rail. The celebrant's chair is directly in front of the altar. A wooden ambo is at the left and a small cantor's stand is at the right. Traditional confessionals remain. The tall stained-glass windows are simple but not totally modern and depict various verses from the Bible. Between the windows are marble and plaster plaques depicting the Stations of the Cross. In the rear is a large choir loft that was used today by the organist and a small choir, with instrumentalists to give the Christmas liturgy extra class. The wooden pews are in two sections in the nave and two in the left transept. The right transept is separated by glass and contains individual upholstered seats; it appears to be a rather large cry room. Racks in the pews hold copies of the second edition of Gather, with readings from the new Lectionary. Portable racks by the doors hold copies of the 2006 Breaking Bread, which was not used today. The church was fully decorated, with wreaths on the walls and a small tree in front of every window. The sanctuary was filled with red flowers and plants.

Mass started with the entrance hymn, "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Two servers, three extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the reader, the deacon, and the priest participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle. The priest (wearing a formal chasuble) began by instructing us to say "Merry Christmas" to those near us (childish, but at least we didn't have to introduce ourselves). The deacon (wearing a formal dalmatic) led the recitation of Form C of the penitential rite. We sang the Gloria to a Christmas setting that uses the refrain from "Angels We Have Heard on High." I think by this point I had noticed a fellow carrying a camcorder; he had turned to grab a shot of one of his children. If we weren't all rabble at heart, in need of a Savior, I'd get really upset.

The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The cantor led the responsorial psalm for the day from the stand at the right. The reader gave the second reading, and then the cantor led the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel. The deacon went to the ambo and announced that he would be proclaiming the Gospel from the Mass at Midnight. After that, the priest went to the ambo and gave his homily.

The priest emphasized the angel's reassuring "Do not be afraid" to the shepherds (meaning they were "scared to death") and challenged anyone who is afraid of Jesus or His message not to be afraid, because it really is good news. He reminded us that Pope John Paul II "of happy memory" used that theme at his installation as Pope and later remarked that even he was surprised that "be not afraid" got him and the Church so far for so long.

We recited the Creed, and the deacon led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. The offertory hymn was "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." Two collections were taken in succession using long-handled wicker baskets; one was the regular Sunday collection and the other was the Christmas collection. This ran into the Orate Fratres prayer, for which the congregation stood as soon as the priest began the invitation.

We sang the Sanctus to the Mass of Creation setting, which sounded better than usual on account of strings and horns. The priest offered the first Eucharistic Prayer, including the entire Roman Canon of saints. Instead of a proper Memorial Acclamation, we sang the refrain from "O Come, All Ye Faithful." We sang the Great Amen to the tune of the refrain from "Joy to the World."

We recited the Lord's Prayer in a straightforward manner. The Agnus Dei followed to the Mass of Creation setting with creative tropes.

An additional priest assisted the celebrant, deacon, and three extraordinary ministers in distributing Holy Communion at locations in the left transept and across the front. The chalice was not offered. The Communion hymns were "Silent Night, Holy Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

After Communion, the priest went to the ambo and started thanking what seemed like everyone who had ever set foot in the church and was interrupted many times for applause. He then went to his chair to offer the closing prayer and impart a simple blessing before leaving via the center aisle with the servers, extraordinary ministers, reader, and deacon to the hymn, "Joy to the World." After two verses, those remaining offered a round of applause. The Mass ran about 65 minutes. The itinerant worshipper slipped out a side door, thankful that things weren't lots worse, but still wishing that they could be better somehow.

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In Pittsfield, Maine, Mass is offered at St. Agnes Church on Detroit Avenue. In every corner of the nation and all around the world, be sure to look for a Catholic Mass.

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Christmas 2004