Once again, I attempted to reach the parish originally scheduled for last week. This week, I left 52 minutes for the 50-minute trip. Now, I hear shouts of "Why not leave a whole hour?" from the audience. The answer is that the audience is more sensible than I am-- it's as simple as that. (The audience may not mind leaving bed in the dark at 5:30 AM, either.) In any case, through God's grace, I arrived in the nick of time and was able to remain for the 7:00 AM Mass. This was rather fortunate, too, as later Masses probably would have been more crowded, which would have led to a problem, as we shall see.
As often happens in this journey, without deliberate planning, a detail seems to recur in consecutive weeks and then disappears for a long time. Like the churches of the previous two weeks, the main building is square with a high point, although this week's church is attached to the parish offices and meeting rooms by a long corridor that appears to be the only normal means of ingress and egress. The inside is very, very plain-- mostly white with some light brown brick and a few large, abstract, stained-glass windows. The wooden pews, divided into six sections, are arranged in a semi-circle around the sanctuary, which has a back wall made of dark, vertical, wooden planks. I saw no evidence of a crucifix, although perhaps one that normally is present was removed for Lent. (I looked for telltale dust marks or bare hooks but saw none.) The tiny wooden altar is at the center of the sanctuary; the small ambo (wood and marble, I think) is to the right of that and probably slightly ahead of it. Two large clumps of palm were found in the sanctuary today. The tabernacle is located in a chapel behind the sanctuary, totally hidden from view, although a small, obscure sign reads, "Blessed Sacrament Chapel," with an arrow pointing behind the sanctuary wall. The seats for a choir are at the far right; an organ, keyboard, and cantor's music stand are somewhat closer to the sanctuary.
I took a seat at the center of a long pew towards the rear and awaited the start of the Mass, which began with the priest asking us to sing "The King of Glory" and explaining that verses three and four would be the most appropriate. This may have been an impromptu action by the priest; the Mass had no cantor or any musicians. The preliminary remarks and Gospel for Passion Sunday were not used at this Mass; the entrance was done in the usual way, with two servers, five lay ministers of Holy Communion, the reader, and the priest passing through the center aisle. After the priest had us greet one another (but not introduce ourselves), he used Form C of the penitential rite.
The reader went to the ambo to give the first reading, the psalm, and the second reading; she had rather a pleasant voice. Before the reading of the Passion, the priest gave what amounted to a homily, saying that he preferred to give his comparatively insignificant words first and let the Passion speak for itself afterwards. He started by noting that we always read John's account of the Passion on Good Friday, and that one shows Jesus firmly in control, whereas on Sunday we read one of the other three accounts. Mark's account, used in Year B, shows the human side of Jesus more, particularly the depth of His suffering. He finished by saying that the message of the Crucifixion is that God says, "I love you this much" as he stretches His arms wide on the cross.
The priest sang the invocation to the verse before the Gospel (but not the verse itself as I recall) and then asked us to be seated for the reading of the Passion. I could have followed along in the OCP Breaking Bread hymnal, which did contain the full Passion account even though it does not have the readings for any other week, but for fear that the liturgical police might apprehend me, I chose to listen to it instead. (No doubt, one reason the congregation was not asked to participate in the Passion reading is that we would have had to commit the ghastly crime of reading it from the hymnal in order to know when we were to speak.) The reader took the narrator's part, and four people went to the cantor's music stand (which had a microphone) and took the parts of multiple speakers instead of having the congregation handle those. One of those people read the parts of single speakers. The reader, who appeared to be a native speaker of English, seemed to have trouble at odd places, most notably the word "drugged," which she pronounced with a soft "g." That left me scratching my head, which is already short on hair from many previous weeks of scratching. As is proper, we knelt at the point of Jesus' death.
The Creed, unfortunately, was omitted, and the Prayer of the Faithful was offered. At the end, the priest recited the Renew 2000 prayer, mostly by himself, as he did not ask for participation from the congregation as is usually the case when this is substituted for the priest's prayer at the end. I do not know what was actually intended here. A collection was taken using handleless wicker baskets passed around the pews, mostly by the congregation. The reader announced the names of those who donated the gifts and I believe also the names of those who would present them. Then the priest led us in singing "Amazing Grace," being sure to ask that the "optional text" (that saved and set me free") be used in verse one. The chalice and ciboriums appeared to be of blue ceramic. I had a good, close look at the vessels offered as gifts, but I'm less sure of the priest's chalice. That was mostly blue also but may have been metal.
Everyone remained seated for the Prayer before Communion, because the priest omitted the "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be pleasing..." prayer beforehand, and he did not say, "Let us pray" before the Prayer before Communion. He used the second Eucharistic Prayer, making some minor and probably insignificant changes along the way, most notably the use of the word "Abba" instead of "Father" at one point.
At the Our Father, almost the entire congregation, including the priest and two servers, joined hands. Basically, I thought I had allowed for sufficient space between me and those on my left and right so that I would be spared, and in fact the fellow to my left made no attempt, although I was slightly left of center of the pew, which probably could hold 16 people next Sunday. However, from the corner of my eye, I saw that the woman to my right, who must have been more than two arms' lengths away from me at the far end of the pew, made a brief attempt to grab my hand, apparently figuring that surely I would be so fearful of the prospect of reciting the Our Father all by myself that I would move closer to her to facilitate her efforts, but she quickly saw that I wasn't even considering the possibility of joining hands, so in desperation she grabbed the hand of a compassionate and sympathetic person in the pew ahead of her.
(And folks-- this is exactly why I hate this sort of practice-- it is just too reminiscent of my school days when some well-meaning but sadly misguided teacher would brightly spout, "Everyone find a partner now," and inevitably someone like me would be left out. Mass is supposed to help lead us to our future life in heaven, not help us resurrect from our past life sad memories that are best forgotten.)
At Communion, the five lay ministers of Holy Communion went to the sanctuary to assist; the priest then asked for two additional ministers. They and the reader were all given Communion before the "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world..." prayer but did not consume the Precious Body until after it. No Communion hymn was sung. The chalice was offered at stations that seemed to have been located so as to make the choice of not receiving the Precious Blood more difficult; these were located in the aisles, shared between returning lines. (Normally, the minister of the chalice stands off to the side somehow so that passing is not particularly difficult.)
At the Prayer after Communion, once again, the priest did not begin with "Let us pray," and everyone remained seated. Then the reader announced that the Holy Week schedule would be found in the bulletin. After that, the priest gave a reminder about the special day of Reconciliation being offered in our diocese on Monday, when almost every parish will be offering confessions from about 3 PM to 10 PM somehow or other. He also noted that we would not have a recessional hymn but would simply depart quietly, reflecting on the Lord's Passion. He then imparted a Solemn Blessing, saying with a smile after our first of the four "Amen's" that we need to sound a bit more convincing; the final three Amen's were much louder. (In fairness, many people are not yet familiar with the form of the Solemn Blessing, and many more are simply unsure of when each of the first three prayers is ended.)
On the way out the doors, the ushers were distributing palm, which was not available before Mass. I found this somewhat disappointing, as it reduced the palm to a mere souvenir, instead of the more useful role it would have played had we had the more formal entrance rite usually used on Passion Sunday in my experience, where we sort of reenact what happened as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Granted, the approach used at this Mass eliminates the messiness found on Monday morning after palm is given to everyone before Mass, but who says liturgy has to be clean all the time?