Today's parish is about an hour and a half by car from where I live, in rather a rural part of the diocese. The building is smack in the middle of farmland, almost all by itself on a side road connecting two larger through roads, and its peak can easily be seen from one of those roads. The cornerstone reveals that the church was erected in 1919, and it looks very much as it probably did back then. It is a simple rectangle with a bell tower in front and a small parking lot on one side. The outside is beige; the inside is similarly painted, with a dark brown ceiling and beige walls. The arched windows are of stained-glass, with traditional, detailed images. The domed sanctuary is largely untouched; it retains the original tabernacle and spired framework, complete with several painted statues. The altar is free-standing now, and the altar rail has been truncated somewhat, but those are the only obvious changes. The ceiling of the sanctuary has paintings; on the walls along the pews hang painted statues depicting the Stations of the Cross. The pews are broken into two groups split by a center aisle and lined by side aisles; each pew holds about eight across. Book racks hold Polish hymnals, copies of OCP's Today's Missal, and, on an unusual note, dog-eared copies of Music Issue from 1996. That's one way to prevent innovation, I suppose.
After depositing my parents at my sister's house (they absolutely refuse to accompany me on any of these weekly excursions), I arrived at about 10:22 AM and selected a seat at the center of a pew about halfway back on the right. In an unusual twist, I was somewhat confused at first by the multiplicity of tabernacles, as the two side altars retained their integral tabernacles, and I wondered if perhaps one of those was now being used as the main tabernacle; it has happened in other churches. It looks as though the center tabernacle remains the primary one here, though. I noticed that the church bell sounded for almost the whole time until the Mass began-- a very old-fashioned custom that has fallen by the wayside. With so many folks skipping Mass these days, perhaps the "call to Mass" is something that should be revived. It certainly can't do any harm.
By the time Mass began, the church was well-filled, but not packed to the brim. I saw several folks hanging on the rail in the choir loft, but I don't know if the constituted a choir or were just friends of the organist or something. As the priest made his way from the sacristy through the side aisle, he stopped to say hello and shook hands with almost everyone on the aisle. The cantor went to the wooden, squarish ambo at the left and gave a few short announcements before beginning the opening hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy." A server and the priest processed through the center aisle; the priest lagged behind significantly as he stopped to greet almost all all those along the aisle, enough to allow time for a second verse of the hymn. After the opening greeting, he led the recitation of the Confiteor and the Gloria.
The cantor, apparently doubling as reader, went to the ambo and gave the first reading without incident. She then led the singing of the psalm for the day before giving the long form of the second reading. After a sung Alleluia and verse before the Gospel, the priest proclaimed the Gospel and gave his homily. It seemed to have a tenuous link to the readings and Gospel, but at least it had some link. He started by quoting several interesting facts and statistics dealing with how much the world has changed in recent times-- so much so that things have changed more in the last 100 years or so than in all of previous history. William Shakespeare, for example, one of the greatest writers ever, would on average understand only five of every nine words in a typical English sentence today. One writer said, "We have witnessed the death of permanence." Even college degrees are obsolete before the ink is dry on them.
The priest continued into discussing how much the Church has changed in the last thirty years or so, including many things that people thought were unchangeable, such as Friday abstinence and the language of the Mass. He then made a distinction between the essentials of our faith and the non-essentials (I now forget the actual word he used for that, unfortunately). The Church has always taught the same essentials all through the centuries, including the need for repentence, just as Jesus Himself taught it 2000 years ago. When she changes things such as Friday abstinence, it is because she sees that she has to change the non-essentials to suit the times. (The priest commendably mentioned that Friday abstinence was replaced by charitable acts of one's choice, which is what the Church thought was necessary, but I don't know if he made the point forcefully enough for anyone to notice.) The Church is the one thing upon which we can rely to remain the same in its essentials, even as everything else around us changes.
We recited the Creed, and the priest led the recitation of the intentions for the Prayer of the Faithful after glancing over to the cantor to see if she was coming to the ambo to discharge that task. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as the gifts were presented and the offertory hymn, "We Are the Light of the World," was sung. The priest seemed to take a moment to say a few words and give a blessing to the couple who presented the gifts. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were sung to a setting familiar to me but which I am unable to identify. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer, using the formula for a Mass for the dead. We sang the Our Father to the most common setting; I saw a smattering of what appeared to be discreet hand-holding on the left, but none on the right.
Two lay ministers assisted the priest in the distribution of Holy Communion. I believe they received the Host from the priest in the usual way but were left to their own devices to receive from the chalice, which was not offered to the congregation. The priest stood at the center of the center aisle, while the lay ministers stood off to the sides. Distribution took little more than five minutes. The Communion hymn was "Where Charity and Love Prevail." After that, the organist played "All That I Am" on her own.
The ushers took a second collection in the same manner as the first. The priest offered the closing prayer and imparted a simple blessing before heading down the center aisle after the server in the same manner as he originally entered. The closing hymn was "How Great Thou Art." Almost everyone remained for two verses, partly on account of the priest's slow progress through the aisle. Afterward, the organist went straight into "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" on her own.
My next stop was a nearby parish with a monthly noon Tridentine Mass; after I obtained a bulletin, I watched as two gentleman pushed the freestanding wooden altar against the tabernacle-- most interesting. I had no time to remain, however; I had to return to my sister's house to collect my parents. Maybe one day, like me, they will become curious about the state of the Church in general, and start to take a look around.