Week 87

Trinity Sunday


Rarely do I try to stack the deck more than to avoid guitars and to try to attend the choir Mass at a parish. However, in my travels, I learned that a priest known to me as a newspaper columnist and university professor in a neighboring diocese serves on Sundays at a parish in my diocese. Moreover, that parish publishes its schedule of priests in the bulletin each week. Since I had an interest in seeing this particular priest offer Mass, I decided that I would wait until he was scheduled for the choir Mass and attend then. I just happened to get a bulletin from that parish last week and saw that this would be one such week, and this seemed particularly interesting for Trinity Sunday as he is a professor of philosophy; a philosopher could spend years delving into the nature of the Trinity.

With that interesting combination of events, then, I decided to head for that parish today and began the half-hour drive to its 11:00 AM choir Mass, hoping of course that the choir hadn't already skipped town for the summer. First, I had to stop at my own parish to deposit my envelope there, as my parents are away this weekend. I caught the tail end of a nice-sounding Alleluia at the "family" Mass; somehow, guitars just don't sound as bad from the stairwell-- perhaps it has to do with having an expeditious means of egress. I stayed for the pastor's homily, which was decent and focused on a line from a Dennis the Menace panel in which he prays to God, "Thank You for inventing me." It did seem to sidestep the Trinity a bit, though.

After that, I arrived at the main parish for the day. It is a simple structure and smallish, with almost no parking of its own. The cornerstone appears to read "1874-1974," although it was somewhat difficult to read from where I had to stand. The brick exterior is covered with scaffolding and looks to be undergoing a renovation of some sort. The building is raised considerably, and one must ascend a number of steps to reach the main entrance. The inside is mostly beige stone, with a bit of wooden paneling towards the floor. The inside of the peak is flattened at the top. The sanctuary is domed and retains its original spired framework for the tabernacle despite the fact that the tabernacle has been shifted to the right of the sanctuary in its own spired canopy. I have seen this in several instances, and it just looks strange every time-- something just looks to be out of place or missing. I'm inclined to say that if the tabernacle must be moved, removing the whole structure around it would be preferable to leaving a mixed signal in place. A larger-than-life crucifix hangs on the wall to the right, between two of the tall, arched, abstract, stained-glass windows. The white ambo is at the right of the sanctuary and is a very simple box-style. An even simpler cantor's lectern is at the left. The wooden pews are arranged very conventionally in two groups split by a center aisle and line by side aisles; each pew holds about nine or ten people comfortably, while perhaps twelve could be packed tightly for special occasions. Carvings of the Stations of the Cross, paired in most cases, also hang on the side walls. The pews are stocked with the large-type editions of OCP's Today's Missal and Music Issue in the usual blue plastic binders. I do not believe that the building is air-conditioned.

I arrived at about 10:50 AM and copied the hymns from the hymn board. Some in the audience are probably waiting with a sense of glee, just knowing that something is going to make me look foolish. "Will it be the hymn board again?" they say. "Or maybe they'll change priests on him-- yes, that has to be it; something always snags him." No, folks, not this week; the priest who was scheduled quickly appeared, relieving me of my main point of concern. I even heard somewone whisper, "It looks as though we have a choir this week." About a dozen people did in fact serve from the loft. Everything seemed to go according to the plan for once. The Mass began as the cantor went to the lectern and announced that the regular organist was absent this week and would be replaced today by a 13-year-old boy who was rather good, but that we should excuse any minor miscues that may occur. Had she not mentioned this, I probably would not have noticed anything amiss; he seemed to do a reasonable job. We then sang the opening hymn, "Come Now, Almighty King." The reader and priest were alone in the entrance procession through the center aisle. The priest asked us "very briefly to call to mind our sins" and then led the invocations of Form C of the penitential rite, which were as I recall "for the times we have committed sins of envy," "for the times we have committed sins of pride," and "for the times we have held grudges." The Gloria was sung to a nice setting that I am unable to identify, and I did not spot any distinguishing characteristics that I could report.

Before each reading, the priest gave a short explanatory remark to introduce it. The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading as it appeared in the missalette. Then the cantor went to the ambo to sing the psalm for the day; she sang the verses solo. The reader returned to the ambo to give the second reading. The cantor led the sung Alleluia, which must have led to a seasonal verse before the Gospel as it did not match the one in the missalette. Then the priest approached the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel (which ends in what is probably my favorite line in all of Scripture, "I am with you always, until the end of the age!") before giving his homily. First, he asked those standing in the rear to come forward and take seats to "help the air circulate better." He started by reiterating an earlier remark that "Abba" really means "Daddy," which suggests a close level of intimacy. His main point was that what is marvelous about the Trinity is that we are called to be a part of that special community in heaven. He mentioned that the Trinity is perhaps the central belief of Catholics, as we make the sign of the cross countless times in our lives. The priest did not drown the congregation in scholarly detail, which I suspect is a common fault of professors who preach at ordinary Sunday Masses. Sometimes one has to reach the congregation where it is, even if that is not the highest level.

The Creed was recited, and then a standard Prayer of the Faithful was offered with the reader giving the intentions from the ambo. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets after the gifts were presented by a couple who had sat immediately to my left. The offertory hymn was "All Hail, Adored Trinity." The reader then assumed the duties of server and assisted the priest for the remainder of the Mass. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal.

The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer without any deviations from the text. At the Our Father, I noticed almost no evidence of joined hands, although it probably would have been possible had anyone cared to press the issue.

One lay minister entered the sanctuary to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion at the Agnus Dei; another lay minister entered just before distribution was to begin. One minister served the choir, and the other stood alongside the priest in the center aisle. The chalice was not offered. The Communion hymn was "I Have Loved You."

The reader then gave a few short announcements from the ambo, including one directing us to the bulletin for additional information on an upcoming event that was announced only by name. The priest followed this with the Prayer after Communion and imparted a simple blessing. He stood in the sanctuary until after the first verse of "All Praise and Glad Thanksgiving," a Trinitarian hymn of three verses that really should have been sung in its entirety. I was hoping he would remain until after the second verse to force the third verse, but instead, he and the reader left through the center aisle during the second verse, causing the verse dealing with the Holy Spirit to be dropped. The organist continued to play for several minutes after the end of the Mass, and from outside I heard a round of applause from the few who remained until the end of the music.

Later in the day, I had race track tickets to cash for my brother-in-law and uncle, so I took care of that and stopped at a parish near the race track, heard another nice Alleluia from inside, grabbed a bulletin, listened to my favorite Gospel verse again, and caught a third homily on the Trinity. This priest really tried to avoid talking about the Trinity directly; he basically said it was a mystery and said, "we should live the mystery and not dissect it;" that while we naturally want to know and understand more about our God, "God defines who we are," instead of us defining who and what God is; and that what we know about God helps us to understand ourselves more than helping us to understand God. He underscored the first reading and psalm as well, which basically seem to suggest, "Never mind what God is; just look at all He has done for us." I once heard a homily in which the priest suggested that talking of the Trinity is very difficult without crossing into heresy; I did get the impression today that these three priests had at least some fears along those lines.


Same Sunday Last Year


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