Week 60

Third Sunday of Advent


I decided that an assistant might be helpful in this endeavor, so I located a young man in his twenties and gave him a crash training course. "Pay close attention to everything you see," I instructed him. "I want a complete report when you return-- and make sure you check the cornerstone!"

"Oh, I will," he assured me. "Absolutely nothing will keep me from doing a good job, and my eyes will be riveted on the Mass."

"Good. Do well and you can help every week. Now, go west, young man!" With that, I sent him on his way into the cold, cruel world of modern liturgy.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, I headed east, with several parishes in mind but not knowing exactly where I'd land. After stopping again at my sister's house, I decided to try the 10:30 AM Mass at a parish where the advance scout reported seeing guitars at the 9 AM Mass a few weeks ago. Surely the organ would assert its "pride of place" at the following Mass. I looked in the door and saw guitarists playing just before the start of the Mass. Nope, I guess not; I think I'll add this to the list for Lent. An 11:00 AM Mass was about ten minutes away in the adjacent hamlet, and the scout said that the 9:30 AM Mass there had guitars too, so maybe God would have mercy on me. As it happened, I did have some better fortune in the second parish.

I arrived at 10:45 AM and walked around to the main entrance, where a 1957 cornerstone sat and practically stared me in the eye. The building looks to be from that era-- just before the starker buildings of the 1960's but still rather streamlined compared to earlier designs. It is a simple rectangle with a peaked roof. The light-grained, wooden pews are divided into two sections by a center aisle and lined with side aisles. Each pew can hold about 16 people comfortably, and I guess the church had about thirty or so rows. The floor is of light green carpet. Rectangular, stained-glass windows depict scenes from the life of Christ. The sanctuary is rather small and barely has room for the free-standing wooden altar in addition to the original altar, on which still sits the domed, metal tabernacle. Underneath the canopy of the sanctuary is a blue curtain behind a larger-than-life traditional crucifix. The presider's chair and two servers' chairs are directly in front of the altar; other chairs are off to the sides. A wooden ambo bearing the legend "Docete Omnes Gentes" is to the left, ahead of the altar. On the right is a small chapel of some sort underneath a low ceiling (someone probably has thought of moving the tabernacle there). The ceiling is of dark wood boards; somewhat lighter wood is on the walls. Four Christmas wreaths hung on the rear wall of the sanctuary, and a medium-sized, fully-decorated Christmas tree was to the left of the ambo.

I took a seat about halfway back at dead center of a pew and waited quietly for the start of the Mass after I copied the hymns from the hymn board. The sounds of soft organ music were most reassuring. About half a dozen people were in the choir loft along with the organist, who appeared to double as cantor. The Mass began without any words at all; at the sound of the organ, everyone stood spontaneously. The opening hymn was "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Two servers, a reader, and the priest made the entrance procession through the center aisle. The priest used some rather unusual invocations for Form C of the penitential rite, including the last, "Lord Jesus, you live forever," which doesn't really have much to do with contrition or penance, actually. The Gloria was omitted according to the prescriptions of the Missal for Advent.

The reader took the ambo to proclaim the first reading as it appeared in the OCP Today's Missal booklet, which was in the racks in the pews along with Music Issue. The cantor led the refrains of the psalm, but the reader recited the verses as the organ played in the background. The reader also gave the second reading without any problems. The Alleluia was sung as well before the priest went to the ambo to proclaim the Gospel.

The homily began with an emphasis on the instruction to "be happy" from the second reading, which led to a lengthy reference to the novel Brave New World, in which youngsters are essentially told to "be happy or else," and people line up communion-style for a pill that drugs them into being happy if need be. I think that somehow the priest contrasted the world of this satirical novel to today's world (which in many ways isn't that much different) and finally explained that the Christian must find joy even in suffering, rather than going to all lengths to avoid suffering as the people of the novel do.

The Creed was recited, followed by a Prayer of the Faithful. At this time I noticed some loud, crying children (it semed like more than one, but it's not always obvious) who continued to be a distraction through the remainder of the Mass. If the children and babies didn't have immortal souls in need of redemption, I'd say to bring in the dogs from week 58. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as we sang the offertory hymn, "Christ, Be Our Light," which again began without any introduction or announcement. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal.

The Sanctus was probably from the St. Louis Jesuits' Mass (again, ending in "Hosanna on high"). The priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer; the Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen were sung to settings unfamiliar to me. The Our Father was sung to the most common setting; only a few people towards the front joined hands. The church was no more than half full, so that may have had some bearing on the lack of joining.

The Agnus Dei was from the Mass of Creation. Unlike a priest I saw at daily Mass in Manhattan last week, who discarded "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world..." in favor of "Holy food for holy people," this priest basically stuck to the Missal. Three lay ministers assisted the priest in distributing Holy Communion; two stations were in the front and two stations were at the rear, on the center aisle. The chalice was not offered. The Communion hymn was "Maranatha (I)" by a "G. Westphal," according to the missalette, which also has another hymn of the same name by a different composer.

The priest offered the Prayer After Communion and then imparted a solemn blessing. No announcements were made at this time or at any other time during this Mass. The closing hymn was "Let the Valleys Be Raised;" although two full verses were sung, all but five or so people had left before the end. Most were gone by the end of the first refrain.

* * * * *

When my protegé returned, I asked for his report. "So what happened at your Mass?" I prodded him. I saw he had a glazed look on his face and I knew that something was wrong.

"Mass?" he wondered quizically.

"Yes, Mass. How about the cornerstone? What year was it?" I asked impatiently.

"She's wonderful..."

"Oh, oh."

"She sat next to me, and just gave me fond looks all through the Mass. When we got to the Our Father, she looked at me, and I took her hand and held it tight..."

"YOU WHAT?"

"Then, at the sign of peace, she gave me a big hug! After Mass, we went to lunch and had such a lovely conversation that I proposed to her. She said 'yes!' I went back to her place, and she played "Anthem" on her guitar for me. It was so lovely..."

That takes care of the idea of hiring an assistant. Good help is so hard to find these days!

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