Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
2 Cor 12:7-10
A long-forgotten face emerged from the shadows."No!" shouted the crowd in unison. "Not him again! It can't be!" As the face approached the podium, members of the audience began to scramble for the exits. A few extra wrinkles and fewer strands of hair were evident, but clearly this was the same speaker who told such unsettling tales for two years running.
"He was really beginning to repeat himself," one onlooker observed. "Let's hope he has something new to say this time around."
"Beats talking about scandals, though," said the only other person to remain.
I asked the advance scout where I should attend Mass this morning, and he suggested a church somewhere in New York City; someone had mentioned going a bit off the beaten path to attend Mass there, so it sounded interesting. The scout passed the church during the week a year or two ago, and said that it looked like a decent enough church. It was also about a ten-minute walk from the railroad terminal. That sounded good to me, so I decided to take the railroad there instead of sitting in a hot car in traffic and scrounging around for a place to park. It was a bit too hot to walk to the railroad station, so I took a seven-minute drive there and caught an 8:45 AM train to a point in New York City near the target church. After the ten-minute walk and a bit of looking around, I saw the steeple and went inside.
The church was more or less old-fashioned, with a peaked roof, stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, and columns falling into the pew area. I didn't see a cornerstone, but my guess is early 20th-century. A concession to modernity was individual seats with wicker bottoms-- before I committed myself, I took a quick look to see if they had kneelers. I saw the kneelers and decided to enter. A lady handed me a copy of the weekly bulletin, which was simply a single letter-sized sheet of paper folded in half. Inside that was another sheet which was the full program for the Mass. I took a seat about five rows back, being careful to leave space to my right in case a nice unmarried lady cared to sit next to me. Racks on the back of the seats held copies of Worship (third edition, old Lectionary, no readings included) and the New American Bible.
The tabernacle is to the right, kind of in a corner. The sanctuary is on a raised area within the nave; I saw no evidence that it was ever any other way, although I have seen instances in which the original sanctuary is well-concealed. A crucifix is mounted on the wall behind the sanctuary; it has special lighting to illuminate it and has a figure of a very neatly nailed, peacful-looking Christ on it. Confessionals were evident and looked as though they may have been slightly renovated. A traditional choir loft is in the rear; although seating on either side of the altar is at 90-degree angles to it, I saw no evidence that either section is used for a choir. I didn't actually see a choir today, either, but the loft is constructed in such a way that it may have concealed the choir.
The cantor, wearing an alb and Roman collar, started by advising us that he may "melt;" the church is not air-conditioned. He then rehearsed the responsorial psalm with us. After a prelude, Rejoice Greatly, O My Soul, we sang the entrance hymn, Word of God Come Down on Earth. The hymns were announced by number only. Three readers, four lay ministers of Holy Communion, three concelebrants, and the principal celebrant processed down the center aisle. The penitential rite consisted of the cantor leading the Kyrie Eleison in Greek without any invocations. This and the rest of the Mass used the New Plainsong setting by David Hurd-- one I rarely see used but which is good as far as I can tell. The Gloria was also sung.
A reader gave the first reading from the ambo. Then the cantor led the singing of the responsorial psalm; he followed the old lectionary version that is in the old hymnal. A second reader gave the second reading. The cantor led the singing of the verse before the Gospel, and then one of the concelebrants proclaimed the Gospel.
The homily focused on "thinking outside the box" and basically warned us not to try to place Jesus or our fellow men into boxes. The priest, who had an obvious Australian accent, started by mentioning the sort of strange animals that the first settlers in Australia found on their arrival, including the koala bear (which sleeps a lot because it is digesting a narcotic of some sort) and the platypus. When ornithologists on England heard of this animal in particular, they simply refused to believe that such a thing could exist, much as those who heard Jesus in today's Gospel could not believe that this seemingly ordinary person they knew from childhood was anything more than a carpenter-- certainly not someone who should be teaching in the synagogue. That was about all I got from it even though it lasted at least ten minutes, maybe more; considering the heat, the points probably could have been made in a less roundabout and rambling fashion. I did get the feeling that I was going over the same ground more than once.
The Creed followed; I was impressed that almost everyone, including the priests, clearly bowed at the proper place ("by the power of the Holy Spirit..."). Nevertheless, I found this rather strange combined with what I found later. The Prayer of the Faithful was typical, with the usual sort of intercessions, including one for farmers, even though the nearest farm must be at least three hours away. (That's okay, though-- even if we are nowhere near farmers, we are dependent upon them and should pray for them.)
Two collections were taken, almost on top of one another, as handleless wicker baskets were passed across the seats with little assistance from the ushers. The offertory hymn was O God, Beyond All Praising. Notable is that in this church, even on this hot day, all the verses of all the hymns were sung. The chalice and ciborium were of metal; a large flagon held additional wine. Even though three other priests were present; the principal celebrant washed his own hands; perhaps more preferable would have been if one of them had assisted. At the "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice..." prayer, no one stood until after the response was complete. I have seen great variation on this point since the revised GIRM and its adaptations for the United States were introduced last fall; I am dismayed that a part of the Mass that was rather consistent from parish to parish is now a source of disunity and even disobedience. Many parishes (and I suspect whole dioceses) have made no change at all; some are following the revised instructions; and still others are "rolling their own" by having everyone stand at the beginning of the priest's prayer. Why can we not get everyone together on even a relatively minor point?
After this point, I was really surprised and annoyed. Despite what I thought was my sharp observation as I entered, and despite what looked like an otherwise orthodox Mass, after the Preface, almost everyone remained standing for the second Eucharistic Prayer. Are those kneelers merely decorative? When a church has no kneelers, standing is bad enough, but when kneelers are present it is even more offensive. Grumble, grumble.
At the Our Father, I saw no attempts to join hands; at least that bit of silliness was not found here. At Holy Communion, the four lay ministers assisted the four priests as both species were distributed. The Communion hymn was Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, done in two different arrangements according to the program. For what it is worth, everyone I saw was receiving the Host in the hand.
The priest gave the Prayer after Communion and imparted a simple blessing. The closing hymn was I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say. Everyone remained until the final verse was complete. A postlude of Rigaudon (from Idomenée) followed. Afterward, I quickly walked back to the railroad terminal and just caught the 11:15 train home. Overall, this parish was a study in contradiction-- lots of good stuff, but with at least one big question mark. At least I didn't have to introduce myself, though.
"Do you think that was an authentic article? He hasn't written one in ages."
"It had to be him. All the old familiar themes were still there."
"The leopard can't change his spots, can he?"