This morning I set out the door at about 7:30 AM for a relatively new parish an hour and a quarter from where I live. It was a mission of another parish until recently; after the split, both parishes constructed new buildings. I arrived at about 8:45 AM for the 9 AM Mass but saw a guitar on a stand. Presumably, it was not a decoration. Then I noticed that the seats had no kneelers. Strike two. (I'd be willing to kneel without the kneelers, but it's still a discouraging sign.) I decided not to look for strike three and drove fifteen minutes further to the other parish, which had a 9:15 AM Mass. Meanwhile, we can pray that the first parish gets kneelers before I hit the end of this series.
The building appears to have been constructed within the past five years or so, although I did not see a cornerstone to confirm this. A large vestibule was included and sits behind glass so that the rest of the church is visible from there. The building is a "T" style with the ends of the T being wider than their length. The wooden upholstered pews are split into four sections, with a center aisle and aisles on a 45-degree angle that make for an unusual arrangement. The side pews are at right angles to the center sections and face the sanctuary, which comes forward into the pew area. The roof peaks at a single point in the center of the building. The rear of the sanctuary has a round arch lined with light wood moulding. The tabernacle is to the left in a much smaller but matching arch, clearly visible from the whole building. The altar is ahead of the ambo; both are wooden, with the altar having a carving of a lamb on the front. A traditional crucifix hangs on the rear wall of the sanctuary. Most of the arched windows are clear, but a large, circular, stained-glass window depicting an event in the life of the patron saint of the parish highlights each of three walls. The ceiling is of light wood planks (pine, perhaps) and the walls are generally white. The Stations of the Cross are depicted by white sculptures attached to the walls. An organ and piano are to the far right of the sanctuary. No hat hooks are present.
About thirty seconds before the start of the Mass, additional lights were activated. From the cantor's lectern, the cantor welcomed us to the parish and introduced the opening hymn, "Sing A New Song," which was sung to an organ accompaniment. Two servers, a deacon, and the priest participated in the opening procession through the center aisle. The deacon read the invocations for Form C of the penitential rite, and the Gloria was recited. Then the children in the congregation were assembled near the sanctuary and given a blessing by the priest before being led to another location for a children's Liturgy of the Word as a short interlude was played on the piano.
A reader proclaimed the first reading; I presume he read what was in the new Lectionary, as the GIA Gather hymnals in the pews do not have readings at all. The bulletin, however, helpfully gives the page number in the red St. Joseph's missal, which I saw that some people brought with them to Mass. The cantor sneaked behind the sanctuary and emerged through a door on the left to sing Psalm 86 (as it appears in Gather) from the ambo to a piano accompaniment. Immediately afterward, as a second reader proclaimed the second reading from the ambo, the cantor sneaked back the same way to sing the verse before the Gospel from the cantor's lectern. The setting for the Alleluia was my favorite, also used in week four and used in my own parish for a time when I first moved into it but not at all since then. As the deacon read the Gospel, the servers stood on either side of him holding candles.
The priest then stepped behind the ambo to give a reasonably good homily. He focused on the parable in the Gospel about the wheat and the weeds; his main point was that we can too easily get discouraged by trying to get rid of all the weeds (sins) in our lives. Instead, we should concentrate on cultivating the flowers (virtues) in our lives so that the weeds will have less nourishment and room to grow. If all we do is pull weeds, they will simply return, and the flowers won't grow well either. The homily took no more than five minutes.
The Creed was recited, and then the Prayer of the Faithful was offered. After the written intercessions were read, and the priest added one of his own for the welfare of children, he allowed us to say aloud any intentions we wanted the entire congregation to pray; about three people did so, but in the nearly packed church, their intentions were almost inaudible. Then he concluded the Prayer of the Faithful with an intention for the Kennedy and Bessette families and a Hail Mary instead of the usual conclusion. A collection was then taken by passing baskets back and forth across the pews. The offertory hymn was "Shelter Me, O God," sung to a piano accompaniment.
Soon after the hymn, the children began filtering back into the pews. The priest, using a metal chalice and ciboriums and a glass flagon, appeared to ad-lib the Preface as it seemed unusually short (I could be wrong), and he made the notable one-letter change of "ever-living God" to "ever-loving God." The latter is not wrong, but I do wonder what the point is. The Sanctus and Memorial Acclamation were from Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation and sung to the organ. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer, with, among other small changes, the change of "shed for you and for all" to "shed for you and all peoples" in the words of consecration. The Great Amen was sung to a setting unfamiliar to me.
At the Our Father, which was recited, the priest invited all the children to gather around the altar with him and join hands in a large circle. He spent a few moments explaining the Our Father to them, emphasizing the "our" and the fact that Jesus taught us the prayer, among other things. He did not actually instruct everyone else to join hands, so despite the good attendance at this Mass, I was able to escape simply by not making any motions at this point; apparently, those to my right and left were not enthusiastic about the practice either, although others in the congregation liked the idea. As in week twenty-seven, the "Deliver us, O Lord" prayer was omitted. The priest went directly into the sign of peace, instructing the children to shake hands with everyone on the aisles as they returned to their seats.
The Agnus Dei was also sung to a setting unfamiliar to me. Six lay ministers went to the altar to assist the priest and deacon in the distribution of Holy Communion. The Communion hymn was "Table Song," sung to a piano accompaniment. The cup was offered; two stations were at the center aisle and two at the side sections, which were not quite as full as the center sections, so the ministers serving there moved to the center before the end, creating the "dual-station" method.
After Communion, the deacon read two announcements from the ambo. The priest then asked if anyone had anything to say to him or any questions to ask. When nobody did so, he said chuckling, "Still shy, eh?" Then he offered the Prayer After Communion, after which he went to the center of the sanctuary, called the children forward again, and asked if any of them had a birthday today. I don't think any did, but I'm not sure. He blessed us all with a simple blessing. The closing hymn, sung with the organ, was "How Great Thou Art." This hymn received the best participation of all; the others were rather weak at best. Most people remained for both verses, perhaps because the priest stood before the altar with the servers and deacon until well after the first verse was complete.
In the bulletin, we see an unusual column. Many bulletins have a "From the Pastor's Desk" or "From the Pastor" article; this one has a full page titled "From the Pastoral Associate," concerning praying with and for the sick.
Before returning home, I passed two other parishes in summer resort areas. A traffic jam was created by the end of a Mass at the first. Mass was in progress at the second and was standing room only, so I could not even obtain a bulletin. At least I see that some folks do attend Mass when they're away from their usual parishes on vacation or whatever; empty pews in some places can mean full pews elsewhere.