This week, we travel an hour and a quarter by automobile to a hilltop parish in a relatively quiet section of the diocese, just past the more suburban areas and just before the more rural areas. My last visit here for Sunday Mass was on Passion Sunday a few years ago at 7:30 AM, and I recalled a few things that dampened my expectations somewhat. What stands in my memory most was the reader who gave such a dramatic proclamation of the psalm for that day that she seemed on the verge of tears. I certainly won't make fun of that; after all, it is a rather solemn day-- but it did leave me scratching my head a bit. There was also, of course, the day I poked my head in the door and saw guitars at the 9 AM Mass. With that in mind, I figured the 10:30 AM Mass would be worth a try, as it would probably be the choir Mass. I hoped that maybe I'd be fortunate and not hit anything too bad.
The church is square, but one corner is cut for the sacristy, and the opposite corner is cut for the main vestibule, so the pews are arranged in a semi-circle around the sanctuary, which has a stuccoed, white rear wall with an image of the risen Lord carved into it. A smaller, traditional, wooden crucifix hangs over the sanctuary. The marble altar is somewhat small with a kind of circular shape to it. A small marble ambo is at the left; it has a square bottom and a raised stand on a stem. Between the ambo and the altar is a very high-backed chair for the celebrant. The cantor's lectern is at the right, along with a small, square tabernacle. The wooden pews are split into six sections, with the longest ones in the rear probably holding fifteen to twenty people. Racks in the pews hold GIA Worship III and Gather (the thin edition) hymnals. A raised section to the far right for the choir faces the rest of the pews. The walls are of dark brown brick, and the peaked ceiling is of dark wood. I think the windows were clear glass, but I don't recall with 100% certainty now-- perhaps some stained glass was present.
I arrived at about 10:15 AM and selected a pew about halfway back, trying to sit near the center. I was concerned at first because I saw a piano all by itself and could not locate the organ, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a huge set of pipes mounted over the rear wall of the sanctuary. (For a moment, I thought I had entered a church with no organ!) Later, I spotted the organ near the choir section. I looked at the hymn board and was impressed that it was larger than most, with the settings for the Gloria, Sanctus, etc. listed along with the hymns. The choir took its place, and immediately noticeable was that the choirsters all wore white robes with a blue "V" trimming. I imagine choirs in lofts are less likely to need robes, but perhaps robes are more appropriate when the choir serves at ground-level. It did make things look kind of serious.
The cantor went to the lectern and announced the opening hymn, "Two Fishermen." (Why do I do this? That's one reason. I have never heard that hymn, even though it's in that same Worship hymnal used at my own parish for at least the last ten years.) We sang all four verses of the hymn. Two speakers for the Bishop's Annual Appeal (I think-- it was a long procession), four servers dressed in white cassocks, ten lay ministers of Holy Communion, an older server (perhaps an acolyte) dressed in a Roman collar, a deacon, and the priest (who is the retired pastor) participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle. The server, deacon, and priest all walked alongside one another. After the opening greeting, the deacon led the invocations of Form C of the penitential rite. Then we sang the Gloria using the "New Mass for Congregations" setting by Carroll T. Andrews.
The reader went to the ambo and proclaimed the first reading as it appeared in the missal; the older server stood by his side as he did this. He then returned to his place in the pews. The cantor went to the ambo to lead the psalm, which was the paraphrase of Psalm 25 from the Gather hymnal rather than the more typical one in the Worship book. Unlike the music in the rest of the Mass, this was done to piano accompaniment. The reader then returned to the ambo, again with the server by his side, to give the second reading. This was from the new Lectionary, as it differed slightly from the reading in the old Worship missal. From the lectern, the cantor led the Alleluia verse before the Gospel as the deacon very slowly carried the Book of Gospels the short distance from the altar to the ambo. He then proclaimed the Gospel (I think using the old Lectionary).
The priest then stepped to the center of the sanctuary and asked if anyone had any "good news" to share. Several people shouted out birthdays and anniversaries, and one person mentioned that her mother had just returned from the hospital but was recovering nicely from pneumonia. Each of these pieces of news was noted by the priest, and a round of applause followed each one. Then, instead of a homily, the pastor went to the ambo and gave a talk on the Bishop's Annual Appeal. A notable point that he made is that this is the only fund-raiser for the parish each year; in a previous assignment, the pastor gave him the task of running the parish bingo three nights a week, which he absolutely hated, as he feels bingo has no place in parish life, and the smoke was so bad that he had to burn his clothes after he returned to the rectory. He was also relieved that, unlike the struggling parish where he was previously pastor, this one was affluent and could afford to be generous. I often wonder how often priests are really gritting their teeth as they preside over practices they dislike; this confirms some of my suspicions in that department. At the end of the talk, the pastor received a round of applause and two lay people who work on the Appeal also spoke briefly, and they too received applause. Finally, the pastor concluded the talk and returned the Mass to the former pastor.
The Creed was recited, and then the Prayer of the Faithful was offered, with the priest asking for personal intentions from the congregation. Several people offered their intentions before the priest concluded in the usual way. The deacon announced that one collection would be taken; this was done using long-handled wicker baskets. At this point, the choir offered an anthem on its own; unfortunately, it was not posted on the hymn board, and I am unable to identify it. It was, however, sung rather well. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal, and a glass flagon for additional wine was also used.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Land of Rest setting found in the hymnal. The priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer. The Our Father was sung. A contingent of people a couple of rows ahead of me was joined all across the pew, but I saw little other evidence of enthusiasm for that practice.
As the lay ministers approached the altar to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion, some carried glass serving chalices to be used for the Precious Blood. The deacon retrieved additional Hosts from the tabernacle. Six stations for each form of Communion were located in the obvious locations; those holding the chalices in the center were back-to-back, as the space was somewhat limited. The Communion hymn was "I Want to Walk As a Child of the Light."
I noted in a side comment last week that few choirs could sing "Ave Verum" better than the one in my own parish. With great joy I am happy to report that I have found a choir that would give the one in my own parish a run for its money. After Communion, this choir sang "Ave Verum" on its own; I was really moved and felt almost as if I were home again. This just goes to show again what a difference an hour and a half makes at a parish-- had I been here at 9 AM, I probably would have been rather dissatisfied with the guitars. I wondered if the choir would be applauded-- although I do not advocate applauding choirs, it seemed that the choir's work was far more deserving than the other things that were applauded during the Mass-- but the beautiful hymn was allowed to stand on its own merits.
The priest then gave another reminder to make a pledge for the Bishop's Annual Appeal and made one other quick announcement before the closing prayer and a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "I Danced In the Morning." The closing procession passed through the center aisle as it entered. About three-fourths of the congregation left before the second verse of the hymn was complete.
Afterward, it was time for more scouting. I visited a neighboring parish that has an 8 AM, 9:30 AM, 11 AM, and 12:30 PM schedule on Sunday mornings. I caught the tail end of the 11 there, expecting to see a choir and organ, but I looked inside and saw guitars. That was a surprise, as I had figured the 9:30 to have guitars. Well, okay; maybe I'll just go earlier there. I then went a bit further to another parish to get a bulletin; I missed the end of the 11:15 there but saw an auxiliary bishop in the vestibule, which is interesting to some extent. Then I returned to the previous parish to check the 12:30, fully expecting either a piano or organ. I peeked inside-- guitars again! It looks like either the 8 or 9:30 there. Could it be an all-guitar schedule? Stay tuned; sooner or later, we will learn the answer!