Week 59 Bonus

Immaculate Conception


"Why is he taking the podium today?" began the murmurs from the crowd as the itinerant lecturer began his ascent up the steps. "It's Wednesday, not Sunday. Today is the day for 'buy one, get one free' at Carvel, not another long-winded Mass description. Someone grab him before it's too late!" A few members of the audience made a mad scramble to attempt an interception, but they all collided in a pile at the bottom of the steps, and it was, indeed, too late; the talk began. It was, after all, a holy day; so why not?

* * * *

One reason I normally dispense with these articles on holy days is that the bit of silliness that drives me elsewhere is not practiced on holy days during the week for some reason or other. That could be a bad sign-- it might mean that someone is not taking the holy day seriously; actually, holy days should be observed as if they were Sundays. However, I will not be the one to complain about that particular omission and will simply breathe a sigh of relief as opposed to my usual sighs of exasperation. In any case, most of the Mass was very good, given that today was a holy day during the week, so I figured that I'd take the opportunity to relate a fairly good experience.

With only a slight measure of apprehension, then, I was prepared to embark on an arduous journey of twelve minutes or so on foot to my own parish for the 9 AM Mass. This is the usual time for one of the two daily Masses; the other is at 7 AM. That one would have been unacceptable as no homily is given at that Mass even on a holy day, despite the requirement of canon 767. Other Masses were at 12:10 PM today and 7:30 PM yesterday and this evening. Actually, the Sunday schedule should be used, but this one isn't as spartan as others I've seen.

I had to abandon my original plan, however (so what else is new?), when my mother asked me where I was headed today and was thrilled to hear that I was going to our own parish, as she had not yet attended Mass. "You'll have to drive with me, though," she quickly added. "I'm not walking!" Reluctantly, then, I drove the three or four minutes to the church. It bears a 1959 cornerstone (actually, "MCMLIX"), although my mother insists that it was not complete any time near then. (She says that she had to be married in my father's parish in 1961 because the church was not finished even then.) The basic design is a rather simple rectangle with a peaked roof. The outside is of light brown brick with detailed, arched stained-glass windows depicting scenes from scripture. About a dozen steps lead to the main entrance, which faces a major four-lane street. Inside, the dark-brown, wooden pews are divided into four sections by a center aisle and a break about two-thirds of the way back. (I think we have about 40 rows all together.) Each pew holds about 16 people comfortably; perhaps a few more can be accomodated on Christmas and Easter. The inside is mostly of grey stone, with some sections of white paint; the ceiling is dark brown wood. In the rear, a small cry room is at the left of the vestibule underneath the choir loft, and a statue is located to the right in a small, gated niche. The sanctuary, marked by an angled arch with a keystone-type border, is largely unchanged from its original configuration apart from the addition of a free-standing, wooden altar. The original white, marble altar including a square, metal tabernacle remains, as does a plain, green marble altar rail. (The center gates, however, have been removed.) The somewhat ornate wooden ambo is at the left, ahead of the newer altar, and a small cantor's lectern is at the right. A large, traditional, wooden crucifix hangs over the tabernacle underneath a wooden canopy. The pillars of that canopy bear stacked figures of angels. At the top of the canopy is a depiction of the parish's patron saint. The rear wall is painted a sort of creamy color with swirls of darker brown. To the left is a side altar with the usual statue of the Blessed Mother; at the right is another side altar dedicated to St. Joseph.

I arrived at about 8:50 AM and took a seat on the center aisle, figuring that the Mass would not be too well attended and I'd not be keeping anyone getting a seat. Actually, almost a regular Sunday crowd appeared, which is good, I guess, although the limited schedule should be considered too. (Usually about 50 to 100 of us show for the 9 AM daily Mass.) When the cantor appeared, I opened the Worship III hymnal to the hymn listed on the hymn board, figuring that a bit of preparation is always a good idea. She began by giving the theme of the Mass and then announced the opening hymn, Immaculate Mary. Of course, that was not the one listed. Unfortunately, nobody took the holy day seriously enough to update the boards, I guess. Sigh. Two servers, a reader, and the priest participated in the entrance procession down the center aisle. Usually, the lay ministers of Holy Communion participate too, but I guess because it was "only a holy day..." Form C of the penitential rite was recited, and the Gloria was also recited. (Again, the choir usually sings the Gloria at Sunday Mass, but since we can't impose on fellow Catholics by asking them to observe our own holy days...) Things improved from there, though, I think mainly because of the priest's devotion to Our Lady.

The reader left her seat in the congregation and went to the ambo to proclaim the first reading, which I presume was from the new Lectionary as it and the other readings differed from those in Worship. (I guess we're waiting for the new daily Mass Lectionary before replacing these.) The psalm for the day was beautifully sung, as usual. Then the reader, who had stood to the side, returned to the ambo to give the second reading. Following that, the verse before the Gospel was sung to a setting familiar to me.

After the priest read the Gospel, he gave a rather interesting homily of Sunday Mass length. He first explained exactly what the Immaculate Conception is-- that Mary, in light of the great work Christ would do, was preserved free of original sin from the first moment of her conception. He continued by relating some of the interesting dramatizations that he recalled from the television movie on Mary that aired a few weeks ago: things that had to be imagined but made sense given what little we know from Scripture of Mary (who is largely silent but always present at the crucial points in Jesus' life and the Church's history). One example from the TV program was how she scolded the apostles for their absence at Calvary: "Where were you? He needed you!" The priest also mentioned that some of Scripture seems kind of "sanitized" at points-- Mary and Joseph were probably very, very emotional at the time Jesus was missing before they found him in the temple, and their exchange with Jesus was probably not entirely calm and level-headed. Despite Mary's humanity, however, she always had total faith in God, and she always placed herself totally at His service, as we hear in today's Gospel.

The Creed was recited, and then the usual Prayer of the Faithful was offered, with the cantor reciting the intercessions as usual at our parish when a deacon is not present. I expected the priest to end it with a Hail Mary, as he always does at daily Mass, especially on a feast day dedicated to Our Lady, but he simply offered the usual prayer at the end. (That's okay, actually.) The cantor then gave a short announcement or two, including the schedule of the remaining Masses. A collection was taken using handleless wicker baskets passed around the pews by the ushers. The offertory hymn was "Sing of Mary." The chalice and ciboriums were of metal. As the priest prepared the gifts, he incensed the main altar and also walked over to the side altar to incense the statue of the Blessed Mother. After the first two verses of the hymn, the cantor stepped aside and the organist played one verse alone without singing. I thought we were finished, but then the cantor returned and signaled to us for the third verse.

At this point, I knew the priest had had a bit of a talk with the cantor and organist, because this is more than we would ordinarily get on a holy day during the week. He signaled to the cantor and then sang the "Sursum Corda!" dialogue before the Eucharistic Prayer; the cantor led us in the responses. The priest also sang the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer (he does sing well). We don't even get that at Sunday Mass, and I've rarely seen that anywhere else either. Then we sang the Sanctus to the setting from the Mass of Creation (that would be normal). The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. The Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen were also from the Mass of Creation; the priest also sang the concluding doxology with organ accompaniment. The accompaniment was probably arranged ahead of time by the priest as it is not the usual practice here.

The Our Father was recited; almost nobody joined hands even though it may have been possible for some. The Agnus Dei was sung, also from the Mass of Creation. Three lay ministers went forward to assist in the distribution of Communion. Oddly enough, the chalice was not offered today, even though it is always offered at the 9 AM daily Mass and at the later Masses on Sundays. Two stations were at the front, and two were at the break, and distribution was utterly conventional. The Communion hymn was "In the Breaking of the Bread," found in the Gather hymnal (the thin edition, not the later, thicker one).

After some silence and the closing prayer, the priest imparted a solemn blessing and waited until after the first verse of "Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above" to leave the altar. Almost everyone remained until the second verse was finished. That second verse often leaves me fighting tears: "All creation echoing: 'Salve, Salve, Salve Regina!'"

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