Week 43

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Today's parish is about a 40-minute drive from where I live, on the outskirts of some large, old estates. I had no information about the Masses at this parish, so I decided to take a wild chance and try the 9:30 AM Mass. As it happened, my luck the past week was rather poor, so I had plenty in stock, and the Mass was a plain old organ Mass (hard to find at 9:30 AM). Every now and then things happen for the best.

I lapsed into bad habits; everyone else was entering via the main doors, so your countercultural writer chose to use a side door that took me away from whatever cornerstone may be present, and I did not record the date. The building appears to date from the 1970's or 1980's, though. It is a modified "T" configuration, probably designed that way originally rather than expanded. The light-grained, wooden pews are arranged more or less conventionally, with center and side aisles, except for angled sections on the inside corners of the "T" that give the effect of "in-the-round" seating. The floors in the aisles are of stone; those in the pews are of hardwood. The ceiling, which rises rather high to a peak over the sanctuary, is of beige with dark brown trusswork. The walls are also beige with huge, fairly abstract, stained-glass windows at either end of the side sections. The cut corners of the T also have what would have been side altars to Mary and Joseph had the building been constructed earlier but I guess now qualify simply as "shrines" of some sort, with pictures, statues, and candles.

The sanctuary comes forward into the pew area and has the frame of a canopy over it; its rear wall was apparently of dark beige marble. A semi-risen Christ is still nailed to the large crucifix (the corpus does not actually hang but is not fully raised either). The tabernacle is to the right of the sanctuary. The stone altar was covered with blue linens, and candles were decked with blue bows and ribbons for the feast day in honor of Mary. A statue of Mary was on a ledge (I'm not sure now-- part of an altar rail?), also apparently for the feast day near the modest baptismal font, at the front right corner of the sanctuary. I think the church did not have a cantor's lectern; everything seemed to be done from the ambo, which was covered with a blue banner pertaining to Mary for the feast and thus not otherwise describable. The organist served from an area to the rear and to the left of the sanctuary. A piano is also there; I saw no special seats for a choir, but they may have been there somewhere.

In the racks in the pews are many Paluch Seasonal Missalettes, plus scattered old GIA Worship II missals and GIA Glory and Praise hymnals, although all of the hymns at today's Mass came from the missalette.

I arrived at about 9:25. The church was only about half-full at most, so even though I selected a location at the dead center of a pew that could hold perhaps ten people, I had that pew all to myself. A couple came and sat to my right but must have seen something unsettling about me and decided to relocate to a different pew. The cantor welcomed everyone to the parish and announced the first hymn, "O Most Holy One." The first verse was sung in both English and Latin as five servers, three lay ministers of Holy Communion, the reader, and the priest participated in the procession through the center aisle. The servers wore cassocks with blue capes; the cantor and lay ministers wore white robes.

It took 43 weeks, but it had to happen sooner or later, and today was finally the day for it. The priest used Form B of the penitential rite. ("What 'Form B?'" I hear from the audience. "We thought they had the Confiteor (Form A) and Form C!") Well, the rarely used "Form B" is the one that begins like Form C (with its three invocations) but instead has only two invocations, the second of which is, "Lord, show us your mercy and love," to which we reply, "And grant us your salvation." Why this has never gained favor is a mystery to me.

After that, the Gloria was sung; the organist started before the priest finished the end of the penitential rite, and the cantor shook his head in disgust but managed to recover. The servers each had a set of bells and rang them all throughout the entire Gloria. This may have seemed like a good idea but somehow was just noisy in actual execution.

The reader stepped to the ambo and proclaimed the readings as well as the psalm, although the organist provided soft background accompaniment as the psalm was read. The verse before the Gospel was sung in a way familiar to me. The priest then read the Gospel, more or less as it appears in the missalettes. His homily started with a recollection that St. Thèrése of Lisieux once said that she had never heard a moving homily about anything to do with Mary. He then worked his way through the history of the feast, noting that it was a really big occasion at one time, and also saying that not observing it on a Sunday takes some of the lustre off it. He spoke of how wonderful the Magnificat is and how in it Mary deflects all the glory to God and in particular praises him for fulfilling his promise to Israel, which shows her knowledge of Scripture. Finally, the priest summarized by noting that having a simple life, like Mary, is a blessing, after he kind of denigrated all manner of modern conveniences, including Internet, saying that none of those will matter in heaven.

After the Creed, the usual Prayer of the Faithful was recited, and a collection was taken using long-handled metal baskets. The offertory hymn was "Sing of Mary;" the second verse of four was intentionally skipped. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal, and the priest waited until after the hymn to prepare the gifts.

The second Eucharistic Prayer was used. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were all from the Mass of Creation. The priest gave a more-dramatic than usual reading of the prayer, although I would not describe it as over-dramatic, even though he seemed to have his eyes closed through most of it. The servers rang all the bells at the consecration.

The Our Father was recited; only a row of people ahead of me joined hands. The remainder of the congregation was too scattered to attempt anything as ambitious as that. After the Agnus Dei, two additional priests joined the celebrant and three lay ministers to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion. The cup was not offered; stations were in the locations to be expected, and distribution went rather fast. I thought that perhaps with so many servers, patens would be used at Communion to catch any falling particles, but this did not happen. The Communion hymn was "Hail Mary, Gentle Woman."

After Communion, a second collection was taken. One of the priests who assisted in distributing Communion took the ambo and noted that the cross-bearer, like other older servers in recent weeks, was leaving to attend college and would be missed because he served so well, filling in whenever he was needed and doing a good job in general. The server received a round of applause. Then the reader made two announcements.

At this point, the priest thanked those who prayed for UN recognition in international law of the confidentiality of sacramental confessions, as only three weeks ago it looked as though things were rather bleak in this area. He then offered the closing prayer and a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above." Afterward, the time came to visit several other parishes to collect bulletins.

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