Yesterday, I took a two-hour drive to a parish in a summer resort area of the diocese. My father suggested that such parishes are best visited during the summer, when they might be expected to put their best feet forward, but in the summer they tend to be "standing room only," even with additional Masses scheduled. I hate to think that I'm displacing someone from the area when I pass so many half-empty churches, so I'd just as soon visit during the winter, when seating is less of a problem.
The church is a small, white structure with a fairly high roof and a small steeple alongside a driveway canopy where those on their horses might have dismounted, protected from the weather. The cornerstone reads "1894," which makes this among the oldest churches in the diocese. The inside appears to have been totally renovated apart perhaps from the wooden pews, which are arranged conventionally in two groups divided by a center aisle and lined with side aisles. The pews hold about twelve to fifteen people each, and I think I saw about twenty rows front to back. The walls and ceiling are totally covered with light wooden panels except for the rear wall of the sanctuary, which is of beige tile and has a circular stained-glass window depicting the risen Christ over a small traditional crucifix, which is notable for its hanging, writhing Christ. Many crucifixes show Christ neatly affixed in a perfect perfect T, almost as if He were glued totally to the beams and suffered little if any pain, but I suspect that a crucifix such as the one in this church, small as it is, is more realistic, if a bit harder to accept. I think the processional cross at this church was of similar design.
The metal tabernacle is on the left, where a side altar probably was originally. A baptismal font and ambry are now found in a niche at the right. The square, stained-glass windows are mostly abstract but have a small image at the top of each one. The building has no choir loft, but a recessed area in the rear is reserved for the organ and choir. (The building has no entrance leading to the center aisle; both street entrances are located on the side aisles.) I think about half a dozen people served in the choir yesterday, but the choir merely amplified the hymns and other verses and did not attempt much on its own. No altar rail remains, and only the freestanding altar is now at the center of the sanctuary. A small ambo is at the left immediately alongside the door to the sacristy. Racks in the pews hold copies of the 1993 edition of Gather as well as the Celebrating the Eucharist missalette from Liturgical Press.
In the summer, the 10 AM Mass at this parish was a guitar Mass, so I figured that the 11:30 AM Mass would be the best bet for a regular choir. After stopping to refuel the car, I arrived at about 11:20 AM and took a seat about halfway back at the center of a pew. I was actually correct about seating being less of a problem at this time of year, as the church was only about a quarter full by the time the bell outside began to chime, and it eventually filled only to a little over half its capacity, with many additional places for others who might want to write articles on local Masses for Internet. I looked for a hymn board but found none; instead, the hymns are printed in large type on an inside page of the bulletin. Well, that saved a bit of trouble.
The cantor (perhaps the organist?), serving from the rear, began by announcing the first hymn, "Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven." A server, a reader, and the priest participated in the entrance procession down the center aisle. Instead of the usual penitential rite, the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water was used and included a short hymn sung by the choir. The priest did not pass through the aisles to sprinkle the water but merely stood in the sanctuary as he did so. This was followed by a recited Gloria.
The reader went to the ambo and proclaimed the first reading as it appeared in the missalette. Then the cantor led the singing of the psalm from the rear. After the reader gave the second reading, the verse before the Gospel was sung, and the priest proclaimed the Gospel. The priest, who had rather a raspy, strong voice, then launched a rather lengthy homily that covered many points but stressed forgiveness. Along the way, he discussed the Truth Commission in South Africa, which investigated crimes during the apartheid era but did not punish those found guilty, and he quoted Archbishop Tutu as saying that there could be no peace without forgiveness. Many people expected a bloodbath after the end of apartheid, but forgiveness seems to have precluded that. The priest also explained that we much prefer revenge to forgiveness, illustrating this with a tale of three burly, nasty motorcyclists who entered a truck stop and began harassing a lone truck driver in many appalling ways. The truck driver quietly endured this and finally left quietly without so much as a whimper. The motorcyclists then went to the counter and told the clerk, "He wasn't much of a fighter, was he?" The clerk then replied, "Not much of a driver, either; he just drove over three motorcycles"-- which demonstrated the priest's point nicely as everyone chuckled, satisfied that the motorcyclists got their comeuppance and the story had a happy ending. He also made the point that the faith of the paralytic was less important than that of his friends, who went to considerable lengths to get him into Jesus' presence (and, in fact, we might see such actions as "pushy" and "not too nice"-- after all, how many of us would want someone cutting holes in our roofs?) At the end of the homily, the priest grabbed a cup of water from a nearby shelf.
The Creed was recited, and the priest led a quick Prayer of the Faithful. He then made a few brief announcements, which were followed by a collection taken using long-handled wicker baskets. The offertory hymn was "There Is a Balm in Gilead." The chalice and paten (more like a large dish) were of metal. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation, and the priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer. The server sounded the bells at the consecration.
The Our Father was recited, and almost all those in the congregation seemed to keep their hands to themselves. Three lay ministers and an additional priest assisted in the distribution of Holy Communion. I think the choir had its own minister, and four stations were located across the front, two for each aisle. For a congregation this size, it was a bit much, and as I often observe, having a choice of stations serves only to disrupt the lines. The chalice was not offered. As in week 56, the rear pew was first to receive, and each row from back to front then went forward, which I find somewhat unusual. The Communion hymn was "Shelter Me, O God."
Immediately after Communion, the priest offered the Prayer After Communion and imparted a simple blessing. The server, the reader, and one of the lay ministers of Communion left via the center aisle; the priest ducked into the sacristy instead. The closing hymn was "All People That on Earth Do Dwell." Two verses were sung; a few people left during the first, and some more left during the second, but a majority remained for the entire hymn.