I really agonized over where to attend Mass on Easter Sunday, since after all it is the most important day of the year. I must have considered at least half a dozen parishes. I thought of going to my own parish just for the one day, but the choir gets Easter morning off because it serves at the Easter Vigil Mass, and I could get an ordinary sung Mass almost anywhere (and I still dislike that business of "introducing" oneself before Mass). I even considered the monthly Tridentine Mass at the priests' retirement home nearby, since I knew it would have a choir, which was kind of important to me if I couldn't go early. My parents had the car until 9 AM because they wanted to attend the 7:30 AM Mass at my own parish; otherwise, I'd have gone to an early Mass myself and taken advantage of daylight time taking effect today, causing lots of people to sleep late and making things less crowded at the earlier Masses. I thought of taking a bus or a train somewhere, but it was raining, I'd have had to leave around 6:30 AM just to get to an 8:30 AM or 9:00 AM Mass, and I didn't feel like getting drenched in a suit and tie.
Finally, I settled on a parish that had a 10:00 AM Mass. I figured it couldn't be too bad, as the "family" Mass was at 9:30 AM downstairs, and having attended daily Mass there in the fall, I knew that it was one of the most beautiful churches in the diocese. Easter Sunday would be a most appropriate time to visit this parish. If I was lucky, I might even get a choir.
Longtime readers of this series will recall that "pot luck" can result in some really disappointing experiences, such as the infamous speaker from week four. ("You can look it up," as they say.) Likewise, every now and then, God has mercy on me and blesses me-- it's another double-edged sword. For, just as I was searching this morning, another traveler from a far away place was looking for a parish to call home this Easter Sunday; someone who probably visits a different parish each week, perhaps more so in recent months.
I left about five past nine and drove the forty minutes to the parish I finally selected. Once again, I forgot to check the cornerstone (why should Easter Sunday be any different?) but the church must date from the 1950's or 1960's. It is a truly grand building, particularly tall and majestic. The layout is a "T", with a single group of wooden pews on either side of the sanctuary and, in the main part of the church, the standard two sets of pews divided by a center aisle and lined by side aisles, with a break about halfway back. At the break, two rows of pews are shortened where a medium-sized baptismal font stands. The sanctuary, surrounded by an altar rail, does not show obvious signs of having been pulled forward, although it's a possibility, as it does extend the width of the side pews. The sides of the "T" might also have been added, but that's not obvious either. The ends of the "T" each have confessionals and what might have been side altars. The tabernacle and original altar remain in their old positions, as does the large, ornate ambo. On the rear wall of the sanctuary, which is framed by an arch, is a more or less traditional crucifix, though with very wide beams. Over the sanctuary is a dome which rises even higher than the rest of the building. Several more arches, traditional stained-glass windows, and simple white walls complete this above-average building.
I arrived at about 9:45 AM to discover that lots of people were already there, but I managed to get a seat in the center of the eighth row on the right, which was still empty, although the Mass would eventually fill. (We weren't packed like sardines, but some people stood in the aisles anyway.) Actually, I expected that the previous Mass, scheduled for 8:45 AM, would just be finishing, but either they rushed it or a different schedule was used. In fact, this Mass may have started early; I did not have a watch or see a clock, but I didn't feel as though I had waited fifteen minutes before two young girls approached the cantor's lectern and introduced the first hymn, "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today." Before that, a robed choir of about twenty or thirty teenagers, who served at the Mass, offered a hymn or two before the Mass on their own, warming my heart as I heard them and the organ. "Thank you, Lord God," I said to myself, already feeling blessed. I really wanted a good choir and an organ today of all days.
(As an aside-- why do so many people seem to think that teenagers can't deal with organs and traditional singing? This group did well apart from not "exaggerating" enough so that I could understand the words-- but I'm sure that could be remedied with more practice and appropriate training. We really insult our young people when we think we have to talk down to them instead of inviting them to a higher level.)
Then, five servers, the reader, and the lay ministers of Holy Communion, a deacon, and a priest processed through the center aisle. "But wait-- what's this?" I said to myself. The final participant in this procession was wearing a white mitre and carried a staff. A bishop? Yes; our new coadjutor, Bishop McHugh, turned and took his place in the presider's chair. I had no idea-- this was definitely not announced, much less publicized. Why, if only I had known, I'd not have agonized so much! I had just collected on a 132-1 shot; God really had mercy on me today. (That's not even counting the nice choir.) No silliness would be brooked today; that was certain.
Form C of the penitential rite was used. The Gloria was recited (yes, I prefer it sung, especially on Easter, but the next Mass was at 11:15 AM, so I guess they had to hurry along). The readings from the new Lectionary matched those in the OCP missalettes. The psalm was also recited (again, it really should be sung). The second reading was the one from Colossians. The sequence, usually omitted at my own parish on Easter Sunday, was recited by everyone. Then Bishop McHugh read the Gospel and offered his homily, which was very straightforward. He said that the Gospel is as much about us as it is about Jesus; He calls us to a living faith that gives witness to Him through our actions and deeds. The bishop explained some of what we do at Mass on Easter Sunday, twice making reference to the renewal of baptismal promises which would follow.
After that renewal of baptismal promises, the bishop walked around the church and sprinkled the congregation with holy water, during which the choir offered a hymn-- I believe it was "I Saw Water Flowing." Then, after the Prayer of the Faithful, a collection was taken with long-handled baskets as the choir sang another hymn I could not identify and Bishop McHugh prepared the gifts. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation. (I noted that the two girls who were leading waited a bit long to go to the lectern for these and rushed each time.) Bishop McHugh used the third Eucharistic Prayer. The Our Father was recited.
An additional priest and, I believe, five lay ministers assisted the bishop, priest, and deacon with the distribution of Holy Communion. The choir sung three hymns at this time but the participation of the congregation was not requested for any of them. In fact, we were asked to sing only the opening and closing hymns, and on those and the sung responses, participation was poor. The cup was not offered. Two stations were at the front, two stations were at the break, and I think each set of side pews had two stations. (The crowd made some things tough to see.) The choir seemed to have its own minister too. The priest who administered communion to me was lightning fast; I think he placed the Host in my mouth practically as I was saying "Amen." The bishop finished in the front before the lengthy distribution elsewhere had completed; he knelt before the open tabernacle until all the ciboriums were returned and it was finally closed. (My pastor is also careful to do this.)
After the Prayer after Communion, the priest who concelebrated (I presume he is the pastor; after all, what pastor would delegate the job of assisting a bishop?) took the microphone and welcomed the bishop (who until that point had not been introduced or even announced), telling him to return to this parish anytime he felt down on the world, and leading a round of applause, which finally brough a smile to Bishop McHugh's face. The bishop replied that he's often down on the world but his faith sees him through the tight spots. Then the bishop imparted a solemn blessing. The closing hymn was "Jesus Is Risen," sung to the tune of "All Creatures of Our God and King" as I recall. The choir and I sung all three verses, but most everyone else had left after the first verse. I did not rush back to the car, but even after patiently waiting my turn to leave, I looked at the clock in the car and saw that it read 10:55. Either that Mass started early, or it was really rushed. Even an ordinary Sunday Mass at my own parish runs at least an hour and often longer.
Lord God, thank you again; I certainly did not deserve a Mass as good as this today just walking off the street.