Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
I was invited to another football gathering, this time for the Giants' playoff game. Having used my secret joke-weapon last year, I decided simply to read the newspaper quickly in search of any interesting information I could use in conversation and hope for the best.
In light of the 1 PM kickoff, I tried not to stray too far from home this morning in search of an unvisited church, so I drove a relatively short distance and crossed only one major body of water before stopping at a church with a 10:30 AM Mass. As I approached at about 10:20 AM, I saw a large stream of people exiting the 9:00 AM Spanish Mass and figured that the English Mass might be relatively empty. My speculation proved correct; clearly the English Mass here is not considered as important, and I even wonder if some day they may flip-flop the schedule to give the Spanish Mass the choicer time.
The church is almost as simple as they come: a rectangular auditorium-style structure with a red brick facade and a flat roof. The cornerstone reads "1953," which I must note (as I often do) is well before Vatican II. The narthex, underneath the fairly large choir loft, is smallish. A glass knee wall in the loft prevents worshippers exasperated with the state of modern liturgy from jumping into the pews below. The light wooden pews are split into two sections by a center aisle and are flanked by side aisles. The stained-glass windows, set into green-painted concrete block walls, are plain colors with no designs or patterns. A greatly simplified baldachino rises over the original high altar, but the tabernacle has been moved onto a large wooden stand underneath the statue of the Sacred Heart at the right. The usual statue of Our Lady is at the left, with a banner that I believe depicted Our Lady of Guadalupe. A freestanding marble altar is at the center of the sanctuary. The celebrant's chair is directly in front of the high altar, underneath a mostly traditional crucifix with red highlights. I say "mostly" traditional because the figure of Christ on this one has His head held high and is not really hanging the way Jesus must really have died, so at a quick glance one might see a Risen Christ. In the right corner are the server's chairs, and a few chairs and music stands for a small choir (today, a quintet) are at the left. Racks by the main doors hold copies of OCP's JourneySongs hymnal, and I even thought to take one as I entered.
The Mass started as the choir leader introduced the entrance hymn, "Joy to the World." Everything was a cappella. Two servers, two readers, and the priest passed very slowly down the right aisle and up the center aisle, long enough to sing all three verses plus the first verse again. The priest simply recited, "Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord have mercy" as a penitential rite without any invocations or even the "May almight God have mercy on us..." prayer and then dove straight into a recited Gloria.
The first reader went to the small ambo, at the right, and gave the first reading. The responsorial psalm for the day was recited. Then the second reader went to the ambo and gave the second reading before returning to his place. After that, believe it or not, I witnessed something I had never seen in over seven years of wandering about: the priest said, "Let us turn to our neighbors and discuss the readings we just heard." The priest left his seat and went into the corner with the servers to discuss the readings, while a few others in the congregation started discussing them too! This lasted about five minutes. Other than two people directly behind me, who did not tap me on the shoulder, I wasn't really close to anyone in the congregation of 50 to 75 people, so I just sat and wondered. Finally, the priest went to the ambo, sang the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel, and proclaimed the Gospel.
The priest, who resembled a client of my company's, entered the nave to preach the homily from the center aisle, beginning with the question of "What were the names of the three camels?" and the observations that the Bible does not tell us everything, but only the important things, and that not everyone was as overjoyed with the news of the newborn King as the Magi. Particularly, King Herod was somewhat disturbed. This led to the story of a priest who was serving in a South American country and wondered why money appropriated for a new bridge and road repairs had not been spent for that purpose. The unspoken truth, of course, was corruption, but no one wanted to challenge the authorities. When the priest did speak out, he found himself targeted for assassination. At that point he very publicly took a month's vacation in a nearby country. When he returned, the pastor of his parish died shortly afterward and the outspoken priest became pastor. At Christmas, the corrupt politicians took the front pews at Mass and the priest "let them have it" by accusing them of being hypocritical in not having attended the previous pastor's funeral Mass but being sure to be in important positions at that Mass, among other things. Somehow, this priest managed to escape death, but this was an example of a man who laid his crown on Jesus' head, unlike Herod and the corrupt politicians, who kept their crowns for themselves. Herod was scared because he knew that he had only one crown, and two kings and one crown created a problem for him. We must lay our crowns on Jesus' head no matter the cost.
A deacon entered at this point; he was wearing his stole underneath a chasuble, but I could see that it was in a deacon's configuration. We recited the Creed, and the first reader led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from the ambo. Members of the congregation presented the gifts. A collection was taken by two ushers using long-handled wicker baskets as we sang the offertory hymn, "We Three Kings." The chalices and ciborium were of metal. The wine was presented in a metal flagon that I believe was removed immediately, but I wasn't actually paying close attention to that detail. The preparation of the gifts finished early, and the deacon and the priest sat in their places until all the verses of the hymn were complete. The congregation started to stand after the Orate Fratres invitation was complete, beginning at the right side of the nave and continuing through the response moving to the left until the whole congregation was standing by the offertory prayer.
We recited the Sanctus, and the priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. Instead of the Memorial Acclamation, the priest chanted something like "Body of Christ, broken for us" after the first consecration and "Blood of Christ, poured out for us," after the second consecration, to which the congregation responded, "Amen." Almost the entire congregation recited the concluding doxology, which ended with a recited "Amen."
Many of those in the congregation joined hands for the Lord's Prayer but one worshipper was not really near anyone else and managed to escape. I had prepared myself for a sign of peace that was lots worse than what actually happened, but the priest did wander into the front three or four pews, followed by the readers, and exchanged greetings with those there. We recited the Agnus Dei.
Two extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion came from the pews and assisted the deacon and priest in distributing in the typical stations across the front of the Church as we sang all of "O Come, All Ye Faithful." When that was finished, the choir sang "O Holy Night" on its own. After Communion, a second collection was taken. The entire hymn took quite a while, well past the completion of the other activities, and after a short silence the congregation started a round of applause.
Eventually, the deacon made a brief announcement about a parish council meeting, and the priest offered the closing prayer and imparted a simple blessing before leaving via the center aisle with the servers and readers. The deacon remained in the sanctuary for some reason. The closing hymn was "Go, Tell It on the Mountain," which somehow sounded lacking without musical accompaniment. Although the choir and about half a dozen other people sang all the verses, everyone else left after the first verse when the priest was already in the rear. He greeted those leaving early but did not wait there for those who finished the hymn, including an itinerant worshipper who was able to leave by the main exit instead of slinking out a side door as usual.
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I sat around the football party trying to learn as much as I could about the game in between snacks when a nice young lady entered, and the host introduced me to her, hoping to get something started.
"And this is my pal, Andrew. You may know him from Internet-- he writes a weekly column."
"Really? What's the topic of your column?"
"Oh, I write about liturgical trends in the Catholic Church."
"That sounds interesting. Where can I find it?"
"It's at www.widos.info."
The young lady acquired an annoyed look and immediately dumped her drink on my head, shouting, "I know your so-called 'column'-- you made those dumb remarks about the Jets last year! I'll save you the trouble of making a fool of yourself again!" and stormed from the room.
With a gin and tonic dripping from my head, I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. "You just don't have any luck with the ladies, do you, Andrew?"
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In Bloemfontein, Botswana, Mass is offered at Sacred Heart Church on White's Road. Across the nation and all around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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