I kind of wanted a really nice Sunday Mass today, as it was the second day of the Christmas season, so I thought about the Mass schedules I knew in the diocese and recalled one that is advertised as a "choral Mass" at 10:30 AM. That sounded nice, with a ring of formality to it, so I grabbed the station wagon and travelled forty-five minutes to a fairly large parish whose church bears a 1966 cornerstone but could pass for a late 1950's building.
It is a "T" design, with single sections of wooden pews in the short sides; these are at a right angle to the main section, which consists of two wide sections and two stubby sections directly abutting the walls. The three aisles are somewhat narrow for some reason given the size of the building. The pews have painted white backs and dark wooden bottoms. They have no racks; OCP Music Issue and Today's Missal are stacked along the aisles. The walls are mostly white, with stained-glass windows and a high ceiling. The sanctuary is surrounded by an altar rail. Within that area, the large ambo is to the left and the cantor's lectern is to the right. The original marble altar remains, with the tabernacle at its center. A canopy with huge columns covers the altar but just barely so. A dove is at the top of the canopy, and a traditional crucifix is underneath, over the altar. A marble freestanding altar is at the center of the sanctuary, further back than the ambo. The church was fully decorated for Christmas, with large wreaths and other greenery all over the walls. A creche was underneath the side altar at the right.
I arrived at about 10:20 AM and saw most people choosing the main entrance, so I ducked into a side entrance that few others were using. Many seats were still available, so I selected one at the center of a pew in one of the middle sections, which hold nine to ten people comfortably. I realized later that the side sections, which hold four, tops, might have been safer in many ways, but I guess I'm just inexperienced at this sort of thing and will have to remember that bit of information for the next time I encounter a building with short side sections. I copied the hymns from the hymn board and awaited the start of the Mass.
First, the cantor appeared and instructed us to greet those around us. Well, okay, I suppose-- as long as I don't have to introduce myself. Then we sang "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" as two servers, a reader, a deacon, and the priest processed through the center aisle. After the opening greeting, the priest introduced the deacon, a parishioner who is to be ordained a priest for a religious order in the spring. The deacon then led the invocations for Form C of the penitential rite. The Gloria was sung to a setting by Mike Anderson, with a Latin refrain as I recall.
The reader went to the ambo and proclaimed the first reading, which was the new, alternate reading from Genesis as opposed to the one from Sirach. The text was not printed in the missalette (although it was referenced), which is kind of puzzling to me. That saves, what, a whole page? Anyone worried about saving paper shouldn't be using disposable missalettes in the first place. Next, the cantor walked across the sanctuary to sing the psalm ("Happy are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways") from the ambo. Then the reader proclaimed the second reading (again, the alternate reading from Hebrews, and again, not printed in the missalette). I must say that the traditional readings seem to have more to do with the concept of a family than do the alternates, but our bishops are entitled to make some of these decisions, and we have to hope that the Holy Spirit has some purpose in allowing these changes.
The deacon, accompanied by the servers bearing candles, then went to the ambo to proclaim the long form of the Gospel. The servers remained there until the end of the reading. The deacon gave a reasonable homily,
When the priest stood, he motioned for everyone to remain seated, but many had already stood and had to sit again, prompting the priest, who seemed to have a pained look at that point, to remark, "I've never seen a wave in church before," to much laughter. He then asked the RCIA candidates to stand; two people toward the right front (not together) rose. They were given a blessing and were dismissed, leaving via a side exit. Next, the Creed was recited. Notable is that as I looked up after bowing at the words "by the power of the Holy Spirit..." I noticed the priest and some other people were also raising their heads. Hmm-- not bad. (I should note that I rarely look for anyone else to do this, as I simply do not expect it, so I'm hardly preoccupied with it except for myself.) The Prayer of the Faithful was recited, with the deacon leading the invocations. The response was, "Infant Jesus, hear our prayer."
A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets. The offertory hymn was "Away In A Manger." As the priest prepared the gifts, I noticed that he took about half a dozen hosts and appeared to lay them in a row on the altar; later, after Communion, it seemed as though he was moving some pyxs around, and I thought that perhaps some lay ministers would be blessed and given these to take to the sick, but that did not occur, at least not at Mass. (If they were pyxs, no doubt they were for the homebound, and they were collected following Mass.) The chalice and ciboriums were of metal.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation. The priest used the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation (II). I noticed that he changed "He" to "Jesus" several times at the start of this prayer. Sigh. He did sing the concluding doxology, though, and otherwise stuck to the Missal as far as I know.
At the Our Father, the priest, deacon, and servers joined hands, but I didn't see much enthusiasm for the practice in the pews, and those to my left and right, who were certainly close enough to have made an attempt, must have seen the ferocious, frightening scowl on my face and decided to try it on someone more pleasant another day. I was about ten rows back, so perhaps those behind me liked the idea better, but I didn't see.
Six lay ministers approached the altar to assist the priest and the deacon in the distribution of Holy Communion. The choir of about two dozen people or so, serving from the choir loft, sang a hymn on its own at this point. The narrow aisles and side sections made Communion somewhat difficult. Two stations were at the side sections, and one station was located in each of the aisles in the main part of the church-- three in front and three at the break halfway back. The ushers allowed one half row from the left and one half row from the right to alternate in forming a single line to approach Communion. People then returned via the same aisle used for approach. This was somewhat awkward, but I'm not sure I know a better way apart from joining the short side sections to the center sections and widening the aisles. The chalice was not offered; perhaps someone realizes that this would make things even more difficult (and would probably require another six lay ministers besides). The Communion hymn was "What Child Is This?"
Next, the priest offered the Prayer After Communion. The reader went to the cantor's lectern and read a few announcements as everyone remained standing. Then the priest said that he thought the deacon gave such a good homily that he was going to try to get him to stay for the 7 PM Mass so the priest would not have to preach that day; the deacon then received a round of applause. The priest then imparted a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "Joy to the World." We sang all three verses; the priest left at about the middle of the second verse, but almost everyone remained until the end.
Afterward, I stopped at more parishes for scouting and bulletins. At one, a new Mass schedule begins next Sunday; it drops one Sunday morning Mass, leaving three plus a vigil Mass. A sign in the ushers' room orders the ushers to use handleless baskets from now on and to pass them across the pews, letting each person handle the basket in order to emphasize each person's individual, direct responsibility for the support of the parish. I hope our teachings on more important subjects are emphasized as carefully as this! Another sign instructs the ushers not to allow anyone wearing a t-shirt bearing advertising to present the gifts or assist in taking the collections. At another parish, after the Great Amen from the Mass of Creation, a priest and deacon joined hands at the Our Father, but again I saw little enthusiasm for the idea in the pews (although it was a bit hard to judge from the rear of the vestibule). Meanwhile, piano music was coming from within another parish's noon Mass, and guitarists were preparing for a 1:15 PM Spanish Mass at another. Then I dropped my envelope in the basket at my own parish and headed home.
* * * * *
"Next!" shouted the clerk at the returns desk on the busiest day of the year for returns.
"I'd like to return this 'What I did on Sunday' article. It's missing a front bumper," inquired a gentleman who had waited half an hour for service.
"Do you have a receipt?"
"No, I received it as a gift."
"No returns or exchanges without a receipt."
"But it just isn't the same without a front bumper. It just isn't funny enough."
"Make your own front bumper. Or get one from someone else. And who said they had to be funny?"
"Oh, I have one of those from last week," offered the woman behind the man. "You can have my front bumper. In fact, you can have the whole lot of those articles!"
"Yeah, take mine too-- please!" exclaimed another person in line, followed by similar shouts from many others. Soon, the gentleman was awash in WIDOS front bumpers, more than he ever imagined existed on the face of the Earth.