Much like the apostles in today's reading from Acts, who were perplexed about whom to select as the replacement for Judas Iscariot, I was kind of perplexed about which parish to attend today. While I didn't cast lots the way they did, I did drive around a bit until I finally settled on perhaps the largest church in the diocese (it definitely is in the top five) by number of seats.
The cornerstone reads "1968," and everything about it underscores this; it is a monster-sized rectangular auditorium with a peaked roof. The wooden pews are broken into four sections; the middle sections, which are exceptionally long, hold from fifteen to twenty people across, while the side sections are as long as the main sections in many smaller buildings, holding perhaps ten people each. I forget now if the pews have a break towards the middle, but in any case, it's just big all around. The building has no choir loft; instead, the choir sits in folding chairs at the left side of the huge sanctuary, where the organ, piano, and cantor's lectern are also located. The metal tabernacle, located at the right side of the sanctuary, is underneath a tall canopy with four posts. A figure of the risen Christ against a cross hangs over the freestanding altar (covered with a cloth); this may actually be the original altar. The wall behind that is of dark wooden paneling except for the section bracketing the altar-- that section looks like white marble, floor to ceiling. The walls are also dark wooden paneling, with tall, narrow stained-glass windows depicting events in the life of the patron saint of the parish (coincidentally, the same patron saint as last week's parish). The celebrant's chair is behind the altar; the servers sit at the right. The large, raised, dark, wooden ambo is also at the left. The pews are stocked with OCP's Music Issue and Today's Missal, but without the rather common blue plastic covers.
The advance scout had reported guitars at the 9:30 AM Mass, so I figured that the 11:00 AM Mass would be safe, and this assessment proved to be reasonably accurate. I arrived at about 10:40 AM, selected a place at dead center of the eighth row on the right center, and waited patiently as the organist/pianist played a considerable amount of music on the piano before finally switching to the organ for a brief period just before the Mass. When those in the choir emerged, numbering about fifteen to twenty, they were wearing dark blue vestments, tied around the waist with monk-like white ropes. By the time Mass started, the building was still less than half-full-- but after all, it is just so huge.
The opening hymn was "Jesus Is Risen." Two servers, four lay ministers of Holy Communion, a reader, and the priest formed the opening procession through the center aisle. The lay ministers, all women, were carrying their purses in the procession. Something about this bothers me, but I can't quite articulate what it is, and I don't want to seem unfair to women, so I won't go any further and risk having my foot stuck in my mouth. Somehow, it just doesn't look right to me, though, much the same as I can say that a car doesn't "sound" or "feel" right but would be at a total loss to attempt to diagnose the problem or implement a solution. After the opening greeting, the priest led the recited invocations of Form C of the penitential rite. The Gloria was sung to a piano accompaniment; it was a setting familiar to me, probably the same one used in week 63, which I speculated was from the Mass of Creation.
The reader took the ambo and gave the first reading without incident. The cantor led the response to the psalm for the day; from the cantor's lectern (I believe) he sang the verses on his own to organ accompaniment. The reader then gave the second reading, also without incident. The Alleluia was also sung to organ accompaniment as I recall, as the two servers, bearing candles, accompanied the priest to the ambo in procession. The servers would remain on either side of the ambo for the whole reading of the Gospel.
The priest's homily was fairly good, and he reminded me somewhat of my old pastor in many ways. He mentioned a commencement address given by one James Ryan. The main point of the homily seemed to be that we are instructed by Jesus to "go into the world and change it," and not only does Jesus tell us to do this, He has great confidence in us and really believes that we can actually change the world.
The Creed was recited, and the usual Prayer of the Faithful was offered, with the intentions led by the reader from the ambo. The offertory hymn was "The Lord Is My Light," sung to piano accompaniment. Notable here is that the collection, taken using long-handled wicker baskets, did not begin until after the gifts were presented. In most parishes today, the collection is taken first, and after all the proceeds are combined into one large basket, an usher follows those presenting the gifts to present that large basket as well (or sometimes just take it to the side). The chalice and ciboriums were of metal.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Great Amen were from the Mass of Creation and were sung to organ accompaniment. The priest inexplicably used what sounded like a Eucharistic Prayer for a children's Mass, even though this Mass had no larger ratio of children to adults than any other I've seen. He did have the Sacramentary open to the back, so I presume that it was a legitimate Eucharistic Prayer even if misapplied, and he did not seem to be improvising (although I'm not that familiar with all of the children's Eucharistic Prayers). The servers sounded bells at the consecration.
The Our Father was recited; those in the pews were so scattered that peoples' arms would have had to be twice as long as the handles on the wicker baskets in order to join hands, assuming that anyone actually cared to do this. (One couple or two ahead of me did join, and one fellow just couldn't keep his hands off his girl for just about the whole Mass, but that was about it.) The Agnus Dei was sung to the setting from the Mass of Creation, but to piano accompaniment.
An additional priest appeared and distributed ciboriums from the tabernacle before assisting the four lay ministers in the distribution of Holy Communion. The celebrant distributed to the choir before general distribution began. The center aisle employed the "dual-station" method, while the side sections each had one minister, located right on the side walls. The chalice was not offered. The Communion hymn was "I Am the Bread of Life," sung to piano accompaniment.
After Communion, the second priest collected the ciboriums at the tabernacle before closing it. The celebrant read several announcements and then very quietly blessed two lay ministers who presumably were taking Communion to the homebound. They immediately left, which is another practice I've seen at daily Mass and which bothers me a bit; they should stay until the end too. (We have quite enough people leaving Mass early without adding to the situation.) The priest then gave the cloisng prayer and imparted a blessing using the "Prayer over the People" form. The closing hymn was "This Day Was Made By the Lord," sung to organ accompaniment as the servers, lay ministers and their purses, reader, and priest made their way very slowly down the center aisle. About a quarter to one half of the congregation left before the hymn was finished.
Meanwhile, at another parish, I stopped for a bulletin, but this week's were all safely under lock and key, and I had to settle for one of last week's that was somehow overlooked underneath a pile of red flyers. Things were going slowly at this noon Mass; the Gloria, sung to what sounded like a keyboard accompaniment, was not over until about 12:17. Outside, I noticed several vehicles parked outside marked spaces in various locations around the parking lot; their orientation coincidentally matched that of nearby trees that cast shadows over them. I will not leave the signficance of this as an exercise for the reader but will instead say that such behavior is not the mark of a Christian. No wonder Jesus often got exasperated with us. "How long must I endure you?" He still loves us, to be sure, but we make it mighty difficult at times!
Later, in the evening, I got to hear my own parish choir's spring concert, featuring "Lift High the Cross" and "Te Deum." The choir also sang some secular tunes, but everything was just outstanding, and the priest I mentioned in the "week 59 bonus" article sang along with the choir and was also given a solo to sing; he received the loudest applause of all. I just love to see priests who can sing; I know it isn't always easy, but it's as refreshing as seeing a pitcher who can not only pitch well but hit a home run besides!