I drove around a neighboring state a bit off the beaten path until I found a small church that was to have an 11:00 AM Mass a few minutes from the time I approached it, so I stopped, parked, and entered. The church is "L"-shaped, probably expanded at some point after 1948, the date on the cornerstone. The layout is otherwise simple, with two sets of wooden pews in each section of the nave, focused on a sanctuary in the corner. The metal tabernacle is slightly to the right of center, possibly having been moved. A freestanding altar is at the center, with a small wooden ambo at the left. The altar rail is fully intact. A baldachino rises above a traditional crucifix. The stained-glass windows have small icons of saints near the top. Racks in the pews hold copies of Seasonal Missalette, This Is the Faith, by Canon Francis Ripley (one in every rack), and small pamphlets about the Ten Commandments and two other topics I don't recall now. The choir loft, in the rear, is still used.
Mass began with the hymn, "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," as two servers, the reader, and the priest emerged from the sacristy at the corner of the "L" and went directly to the sanctuary. The priest began by noting that he had been "mending" for two years but was glad to be back. We recited the Confiteor and then sang the Gloria to the Heritage Mass setting. The priest offered the "standard" opening prayer (as opposed to the "alternative" opening prayer).
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The choir led the refrain for the responsorial psalm for the day while the reader recited the verses. The reader gave the second reading, and then the priest made his way to the ambo to proclaim the Gospel.
In the homily, the priest did not focus on the solemnity of the day but took us across the whole story of Jesus' conception and birth, noting along the way that Jesus' disciples were not the most educated folks but rather fishermen. He pondered why God would want to come from His comfortable spot in heaven to suffer among us and concluded that the only explanation could be love. He correctly told us that the sin of Adam and Eve was so great that the gates of heaven were closed until Jesus' death. His shedding of blood at His circumcision was only the start of His salvific life.
We recited the Creed, and the reader led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from the ambo. The priest stood to the reader's left. Members of the congregation brought the gifts forward. A collection was taken by ushers using handleless wicker baskets as we sang "Hail Mary, Gentle Woman." The chalice and ciborium were of metal. The congregation did not stand until after the Orate Fratres invitation was complete.
We sang the Sanctus to the Heritage Mass setting. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. A server sounded bells at the consecration. The priest had started the Eucharistic Prayer by announcing that he would use Eucahristic Prayer III and Memorial Acclamation III; I don't recall now if we used acclamation III or IV but I do recall wondering if he had consulted with the choir before deciding, as some settings don't work unless acclamation I is used. We sang the Great Amen.
We recited the Lord's Prayer but no one attempted to join hands. The sign of peace was quick and not prolonged. We sang the Agnus Dei to the Heritage Mass setting.
At Holy Communion, an additional priest emerged to assist the reader in distributing at the altar rail. The celebrant remained in his chair, and we should cut him slack because he was using a cane. The chalice was not offered. The choir (about half a dozen people) came down from the choir loft and received first; after that, we sang "I Received the Living God."
After Communion, the priest made a few remarks about how good it was for him to be back and thanked us for our prayers. He offered the closing prayer and imparted a simple blessing. We sang "Angels We Have Heard on High" as he left with the servers and reader via the center aisle. He was gone by the end of the first verse, so most people left, but a few diehards remained to sing the second verse, including an itinerant worshipper who returned to his car with the sense that the new year would not be much different from the old year.
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In Secretary, Maryland, Mass is offered at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Main Street. No matter where you go in the nation and around the world, be sure to look for a Catholic Mass.
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