Work last week found me commuting to Manhattan Tuesday through Saturday, so I decided that an unlimited 7-day bus and subway card would be useful. Since I could ride the buses on that card today as well, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and selected a parish accessible by bus but a bit too far to walk easily. (I probably could have done it in a little over three hours.) I walked 40 minutes and caught a bus that took me an additional 35 minutes to a transfer point. Here I realized that the bus I wanted to board would run on a parallel street somewhat to the north of the church I had in mind (rather than on the same street as the church). It was ten minutes late, but even had it been on time I would never had made the 10:15 AM Mass there if I had to walk from the other street. How dumb of me. (That's in case anyone out there is still taking me too seriously after 69 weeks.) Fortunately, my Plan B was to walk from the transfer point to a different church with a 10:30 AM Mass if the first bus was late, as I was supposed to have only two minutes to catch the second one. Then I realized that the second bus would go almost right past that church, so not everything goes badly. I rode that bus an additional five minutes or so after it finally arrived and walked about three minutes to the parish for today. (Moral: Always have a Plan B-- even God had a Plan B.) I figured the 10:30 AM Mass might be the choir Mass, as that's a good guess in the absence of additional information, and the 9 is marked "family Mass" two Sundays a month. On that count I was wrong; perhaps the following Mass has a choir.
I slipped into bad habits again and forgot to check the cornerstone, but my guess is that this is a late 1950's or early 1960's building. It is a "T" style, with the side sections being rather large and long. I think it was always a "T" and not an expansion, as the side altars to Mary and St. Joseph are in the side areas rather than in what would be the original area. The sanctuary takes the whole space at the center of the T and has a canopy over the tabernacle, which is on a marble stand at the center of the rear wall on an elevated area surrounded by a railing. (Perhaps these are pieces of an original altar rail that was removed at some point; an original altar may have been beneath this canopy as well.) Over the tabernacle on a dark wood background is a very large, traditional wooden crucifix. The freestanding marble altar is at the center of the sanctuary; at the front left is a dark marble ambo with metal trimming and the words "Docete Omnes Gentes" on the front (as in week 60, a church perhaps built around the same time). The pews are wooden; those in the side sections go straight across, while those in the main section have breaks in the center and one about halfway back. Each holds about 16 people comfortably. A baptismal font occupies a spot on the center aisle near the break, shaving a corner off the rear front section. The walls are painted blue on the top and have dark wooden paneling on the bottom. The ceiling, which is slightly arched, is white with recessed fixtures and some circular chandeliers. The stained glass windows are high and narrow with slight arches themselves at the top and are somewhat simple (but not abstract) depictions of various saints. A choir loft is in the rear, and a piano is at the front of the right side section along with individual seats, probably for a folk group. A few large columns line the side aisles in the main section.
I arrived at about 10:10 AM and took a seat at the center of a pew about ten rows back in the right front section. I copied the hymns off the board and scratched my head as I counted five of them. It was like finding a shirt with three sleeves in the street and wondering about the underlying significance of such a garment. The pews have only the 1993 (thick) edition of the Gather hymnal; the OCP Today's Missal books are in racks near the doors, but as you all know by now, I simply never think to look for anything like that on my way into the church, even though I had visited this parish several times before for daily Mass and should have realized the situation there. I realized my error about five minutes before the Mass (as others brought missalettes into the pews) but decided that I had a good spot and did not want to risk losing it, so I just decided to manage without a missalette.
The cantor began by welcoming everyone, particularly those visiting the parish. Thanks! He then read several announcements, and concluded by inviting us to take a moment to greet those around us. At least he didn't say "introduce." The opening hymn was "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling." Four servers, a young reader, and the priest participated in the opening procession through the center aisle. The priest gave us a hearty "good morning" and welcomed the fifth grade students and their families to the Mass (which was probably better attended than usual as a result). He used Form C of the penitential rite with prepared invocations. The cantor led the Gloria to the setting from the Mass of Creation, which I suspected even before I verified it in the hymnal, as it does have a consistent sound with the other compositions in that setting.
A girl who must have been a fifth-grade student went to the ambo and gave the second reading, which sounded as though it came from a children's Lectionary. It did differ somewhat from the reading in the missalette of the woman ahead of me (yes, I stooped as low as to look over her shoulder). The cantor, who had followed the girl to a point behind the ambo before she began, went to the ambo and led the hymn "We Praise You" instead of the usual responsorial psalm. Since the hymn is not inspired Scripture, going out of the way to use the ambo for it is rather odd. A pregnant pause followed as everyone must have wondered what happened to the first reading and if it would now follow the second reading and psalm, but the priest simply motioned for everyone to rise, and the cantor, back behind the cantor's lectern, led the verse before the Gospel.
The priest proclaimed the Gospel, again apparently from a children's Lectionary. After that, he invited all "his friends" to come to the sanctuary and gather around him. When nobody stepped forward, he added, "I showered this morning." Then about a hundred children congregated in front of the altar facing the rest of us, and the priest gave them a homily with his back turned to us. He began by explaining leprosy and its consequences. Then he motioned to Eric, one of the servers, who had been positioned all by himself near the ambo as a way of graphically depicting isolation. If Eric were a leper, he would feel really lonely and depressed. Jesus didn't treat people that way, though, and wanted to love everyone even though some don't want to be loved. The priest went over and gave Eric a hug as a way of showing how Jesus would treat those who are alone or isolated. After this, the children were told to return to their places "very quietly." (They had become somewhat noisy on their arrival in the sanctuary.) Then the priest led a round of applause for Eric for his role as a visual aid.
The Creed was recited, and a typical Prayer of the Faithful was offered. A collection was taken using wicker baskets with no handles, passed across the pews from one end to the other. The offertory hymn was "Amazing Grace." Four fifth grade students presented the gifts. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal. The Sanctus was from the St. Louis Jesuits' setting. I had wondered if the priest might use a Eucharistic Prayer for a children's Mass, but instead he offered the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation (I). The Memorial Acclamation appeared to have been from the "Eucharistic Prayer II" setting by Marty Haugen in the Gather hymnal. The Great Amen was sung to a setting I was unable to identify.
The Our Father was recited, and I noticed no joining of hands, but with so many people it would have been more difficult than usual to spot. The Agnus Dei was sung, again to a setting I am unable to identify. Two additional priests and four lay ministers assisted in the distribution of Holy Communion. Two stations were located in the front center, another two were at the break in the main section, one was at the right side section, and two were at the left side section. (I think they had one lay minister too many, actually, but at least the priests didn't sit or leave.) The chalice was not offered. The Communion hymn, sung to piano accompaniment, was "We Remember."
After Communion, the priest reminded everyone about a reception for the fifth graders following Mass as well as the Renew 2000 program. He then offered the Prayer after Communion and imparted a blessing using the "Prayer over the People" form. The closing hymn was "Glory and Praise to Our God." Notable here is that as this began, the two priests who assisted with Communion returned from the sacristy and joined in the closing procession, afterward greeting people at the main doors along with the celebrant. Almost everyone remained until the hymn was concluded.
I hurried back to the nearest bus stop and checked my timetable, which indicated that the next bus was 45 minutes away. The transfer point was no more than 25 minutes away on foot, so I headed back there. On my way I passed another church and checked its 11:15 AM Mass, which seemed to have a nice choir and an organ. Wonderful-- that will be the subject of a future article. I also saw a sign that indicated that fire laws prohibit standing in the church. Interesting. Maybe that will keep someone from removing the kneelers someday. I'd love to be a fire marshal in a situation like that! After that, a 40-minute bus ride and a 40-minute walk home followed.