"See that fellow down there? Last pew in the front on the left."
"What about him?"
"He's not from this parish. We are but a small parish; we know everyone around here."
"I bet he's that guy who goes to a different parish every week and posts an article on Internet. Why else would a stranger come here in the dead of winter?"
"Well, if he is, I'm not singing today. I'm not about to have my singing picked to pieces."
"I'm outta here."
"Yeah, he can go write about some other choir. Not us."
"I think he's kind of cute."
"With that bald spot? You're crazy! Look at him all you want; we're leaving."
"Yes, I suppose you're right; how nice could he be without a full head of hair?"
* * * * * * *
Yesterday, I set forth once again on my weekly journey, driving an hour and a quarter to a small parish in a summer resort area of the diocese. I had already scratched the 9:30 AM Mass there, as the organ was not in use at that Mass, so the choice was between the 8 and the 11. Figuring the 11 had a better chance of having a choir, I decided to attend that Mass and arrived at about 10:45 AM. The building, which sports a 1922 cornerstone, is rather simple. The wooden pews are split into four sections by a center aisle and a wide break about halfway back; side aisles are also present. The pews are long enough to hold about eight people each and were almost full by the time the Mass began. Racks on the backs of the pews hold the OCP Today's Missal as well as the Heritage Missal we saw in week 59. The arched, stained-glass windows depict various saints. A larger-than-life, traditional crucifix hangs against a background of dark, wooden millwork on the rear wall of the sanctuary. Over the crucifix is a circular, stained-glass window depicting the patron saint of the parish. The square, metal tabernacle has been moved to the left of the sanctuary, which necessitated moving a statue of the Blessed Mother to the right of the sanctuary; that statue now shares that space with a statue of St. Joseph. A small, wooden ambo is at the right of the sanctuary, slightly ahead of the free-standing altar. The presider's chair is at the left of the sanctuary, facing the congregation; the servers' chairs are behind that, facing the altar. The walls and arched ceiling are almost all white.
While we waited before Mass, and after I copied the hymns from the hymn board, the priest, who serves the parish solo, was preparing the altar. Probably about five minutes before Mass, the pews were only half full; the priest then asked, "Where is everyone?" adding, "I didn't see them at the other Masses, so I figured they might be at this one." He was a bit premature, but the concern was not entirely unjustified, I suppose.
First, the cantor approached the ambo and gave a few announcements before beginning the opening hymn, "Glory and Praise to Our God." She and the organist served from the right side of the sanctuary; the choir loft was vacant for some reason, and I saw no other evidence of a choir. I suppose the 8 AM Mass might have a choir, but that would be very unusual. Two servers and the priest emerged from the sacristy, adjacent to the sanctuary, and took their places, more like what would be seen at daily Mass.
Next, the priest blessed some water and sprinkled us with it, as it was the final day of the Christmas season, the Baptism of the Lord. He recalled another Mass where he heard a small child exclaim, "He got me!" and expressed hope that the Lord would "get" all of us too. The cantor sang "Water of Life" as the priest passed through the aisles. After this, he proceeded with Mass as usual, from the opening greeting. He used Form C of the penitential rite. This was followed by the Gloria, sung to a setting I am unable to identify (but not the one that was used at last week's Mass-- this one's long note was on "highest").
A reader then proclaimed the first reading from the ambo, going by the Lectionary. He remained to read the verses of the responsorial psalm; the refrains were led by the cantor from a microphone alongside the organ. Unlike their counterparts from week 52, the reader and cantor were dressed appropriately (the reader wore a suit and tie), so they could read, "Worship the Lord in holy attire," without guilt. The gentleman was replaced by a second reader for the second reading. The verse before the Gospel was sung.
After proclaiming the Gospel from the ambo, the priest remained there to give his homily. He dwelt considerably on the words of God, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." He mentioned that God loves us even when He isn't really pleased with us, and that baptism is really a critical event in the life of a Christian, as the heavens were "torn open" and not just slightly broken apart; at baptism, grace showers down in torrents from God. The priest also emphasized that baptism confers upon us responsibilities and duties as well as blessings, and we would do well to respond to God's graces by fulfilling those responsibilities well.
The Creed was recited, and then the Prayer of the Faithful was offered. A very long list of names of sick parishioners (22 are listed in the bulletin) was recited towards the end. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as we sang the offertory hymn, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." The priest used a glass paten and chalice.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer. This week, unlike last week, the servers sounded the bells at the consecration without any prompting from the priest. When he came to the part about praying for the sick and the dead, he digressed considerably and appeared to recite the entire list of names (but first names only) that was included at the Prayer of the Faithful.
The Our Father was recited. About half the people seemed to be joining hands, but those near me were not particularly interested, and I saw no need to insist. At Communion, two lay ministers assisted the priest in distribution; the chalice was not offered. Three stations were located at the front of the center aisle, with the priest in the middle. My guess as to the reason for three ministers is that some people might insist on a priest, and he needs to be available to both lines (or perhaps one side or the other would feel slighted by not getting the priest); otherwise, two ministers would have been just fine for such a smalll church, and the additional minister only complicates things by disrupting the lines. The Communion hymn was "Here I Am, Lord."
The priest closed by offering the Prayer After Communion and imparting a blessing using the "Prayer over the People" form. He and the two servers then left via the center aisle, and he greeted those in the congregation as they exited via the main doors. The closing hymn was "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Some people left before it ended, but most endured the entire hymn. The organist continued to play until well after the Mass concluded.
Elsewhere, I looked at a newly-finished church that doesn't look too bad; we'll be taking a closer look at that one in the next few weeks (definitely by the end of Lent). Not too far from there, ground has been broken on another new church building for a parish that has been having most of its Masses in the parish hall. With some luck, that one will be finished before the end of this series, and we'll be able to get an inside view of that as well. (Yes, this series will end-- but when, well, even I don't know!)