Today, I decided to take another trip into Manhattan, figuring that many of the choirs in my home diocese were still likely to be on vacation. I didn't really have a plan A, which was actually a mistake. In fact, I had no Plan B, C, D, or E, either. So after I arrived in the heart of Manhattan, I started looking for a church I hadn't visited yet for Sunday Mass. I thought I had remembered one with a 10:00 AM Mass and walked to where I thought it was, about ten blocks north, but I soon realized that the one I wanted was actually ten blocks south. Just call me "Wrong Way Andrew." I did find one at about 10 AM, and I saw people walking toward it, which is a good sign. I looked at the sign on the wall, which read, "10:00 AM (Spanish)." Oh. Well, that will teach me to start wandering around Manhattan looking for a Mass.
Next, I started heading back to my starting point but really didn't know where I was going, so I ducked into a subway station and looked at one of the helpful "Neighborhood Maps" that are posted at each station. Daring the secularists to mount a legal challenge, these maps actually identify all the local churches, going as far as to mark Roman Catholic churches with the name, "R. C. Church." I studied the map and spotted another one not too far from where I was, so I started in that direction. There, I found that it was the middle of the 10 AM English Mass. The next Mass was at 11:15, in Spanish. Well... okay. Manhattan has lots of churches-- surely I'll be able to find at least one, right?
It was back to the railroad station, which is adjacent to another subway station and another Neighborhood Map. The map promised yet another church nearby and I made a try for it. I entered and was impressed with the beauty of the church-- but unfortunately, I was not able to attend Mass there either. The 10 AM Mass was finished, and the 11:00 AM Mass was in Spanish. Should I perhaps dust off my college Spanish and become fluent in that language?
Okay-- it was back to the railroad station and the Neighborhood Map. It was 11:00 AM, and I recalled another parish southeast of the station; I took a quick look at the map and started in that direction. For some reason, however, I was unable to find the church. I think someone hid it on me; it was there the last time I walked past it about six months ago. By then, it was 11:30 AM or so and time to pull out my secret Plan F. Plan F noted a church about five blocks north of the railroad station, but the only Sunday Mass is at 12:00 noon. I originally felt that noon was a bit late for me, but as the adage goes, "When all else fails, implement Plan F." Thus, I ordered the implementation of Plan F and headed back northwest.
As I reached the vicinity of the church listed in Plan F, once again I was unable to find it at first; it actually was a block south of where I thought it was (they must have tried moving that one too), so I had walked past it. I was about a block away when I heard church bells sounding noon-- I couldn't be too far, right-- but finally, I spotted it and made a run for it, making it just in time for the opening sign of the cross.
I forgot to check the cornerstone, but the building must predate the 1950's, as it is very much traditional, and particularly dark inside (although that could be the result of neighboring tall buildings blocking the little light that would pass through the traditional stained-glass windows that depict Biblical scenes). It is rectangular and very tall, with large balconies that line the length of both sides. The wooden pews are in four sections, with the side sections abutting the walls. The middle sections hold eight to twelve people each, while the side sections are somewhat smaller. The balconies are supported by marble pillars that take just a bit of space from some of the pews in the center sections. Notable is that the racks in the pews hold copies of the Adoremus Hymnal, which I have never seen before. This hymnal has the Order of Mass in Latin on the left side with the corresponding English text on the right. Does this mean that Latin Mass is offered here? The schedule doesn't mention it. Maybe the selection of hymns is better? I didn't think to look too closely, but maybe I should have.
The domed sanctuary retains its original white marble altar and spired backing with an integral tabernacle. An additional freestanding brown marble altar has been placed in front of that. The white marble altar rail is also present in its entirety. The one other concession to modernity apart from the freestanding altar is the removal of half of the first five or six pews on the left in the front to make way for a piano. I presume the organ was located out of sight. A huge painting of the Crucifixion, complete with innumerable onlookers and bystanders, as well as the Blessed Mother and St. John, covers the wall of the sanctuary. Old-fashioned wax candles are in evidence towards the left, along with a marble ambo. The celebrant's chair is at the right of the sanctuary. The building is not air-conditioned, but a huge ventilation system created a decent breeze on this humid day.
I probably missed the entrance antiphon. Antiphon? Yes, for the second consecutive Sunday, I found a Mass with no music. The priest and the reader were alone in the sanctuary; in fact, the rest of the church, which can probably accomodate 700 to 1000 people, was occupied by no more than thirty people-- and this, for the only Sunday Mass (the church also has one Saturday vigil Mass). The priest led the recitation of the Confiteor and the Gloria.
The reader took the ambo and gave the first reading. The hymnal had no readings, but perhaps a missalette was available at the doors had I had time to look. The reader also led the recitation of the psalm for the day; I knew that it was from the new Lectionary when the response was, "One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord." After the reader gave the second reading, he did a fine job of singing the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel; maybe with an organist he could go places.
After the priest proclaimed the Gospel, he gave a homily that started by explaining exactly why the Pharisees were upset with Jesus; it was because He was taking them to task for imposing the same careful rites of purification on the ordinary people that the priests had to perform in the temple, in what might be seen as an odd sort of clericalization of the laity. The priest noted along the way the ways in which Jewish custom is still found in our liturgy, including the washing of the priest's hands, simplified compared to the Jewish approach, which he detailed carefully (it actually had to be done twice; once was not enough). After some underlining of the concepts in the Gospel about impurities coming from within, the homily somehow led to a call for understanding and respect for Jewish customs, underlined in the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful (read by the priest), which also included an intention for "those of no faith." The Creed was also recited before that.
After the gifts were presented, a collection was taken by two ushers using long-handled metal baskets. The chalice and paten were of metal. To the priest's chagrin, he thought that the reader was not going to assist him in washing his hands, but he had ducked into the sacristy and was just a bit late in emerging.
The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer and used the fourth Memorial Acclamation; the reader/server sounded bells at the consecration. At the Our Father, I don't think anyone even dreamed of joining hands. Even at the sign of peace, it was mostly nods and waves, although a few folks near others were able to shake hands.
At Holy Communion, the priest retrieved a metal ciborium from the tabernacle and distributed Communion by himself; everyone formed a single line in the center aisle and received standing. The chalice was not offered. I believe that the communion antiphon was recited.
After Communion, the priest offered the closing prayer and imparted a solemn blessing before leaving via the center aisle. The reader held the door as everyone left; I got the impression that the church was to be locked immediately afterward. The shame is that our inner cities are filled with churches of this sort. The daily Mass schedule is more extensive; I hope that the weekday collections are more fruitful (Manhattan churches almost all take daily collections), as the church could hardly support itself on the donations of those present at the one Sunday Mass.
On my way home, I passed the facade of a building that otherwise is destroyed; its remains are propped by braces planted in a weed-covered yard. The front of the building reads "St. Monica;" it apparently was a church. Maybe they should just let it go; it has been this way a while, and it is sadder to see it like that than to relinquish our hold on it entirely. (Note that it may have been decommissioned as a Catholic Church before its destruction; it may have new owners.)
Monday Addendum: What makes my travels of yesterday even more hilarious is that today, I looked in my wallet for something else and found a scrap of paper (from about six months ago) on which I had written the names and addresses of about half a dozen parishes in Manhattan-- including some of those I was trying to find yesterday! In other words, I was walking around with the information I needed right in my pocket! I shall now duck as all manner of teasing inevitably comes my way.