Wis 2:12, 17-20
Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6-8
It was another beautiful day; thus, having no excuse for driving around, wasting gasoline and polluting the air, I boarded an 8:15 AM train for New York. I really had no idea where I might land, but when I got to the terminal I saw another train leaving shortly afterward that would take me to a nice-looking church the advance scout saw alongside an Interstate highway one other Sunday. I seemed to recall a 10 AM Mass there, so I decided to take a shot. The train arrived on time and without incident at 9:40 AM, and by 9:45 AM I was at the target parish. That wasn't bad at all considering I didn't look at either the Mass schedule or the train schedules. Every now and then I win one.
The church is rectangular with a bell tower near the sanctuary side. The cornerstone reads "1933." It doesn't appear to have seen too much renovation but is well-maintained. Inside, we see wooden pews divided by a center aisle with a break about halfway back. Touched-up spots of stain betray the ghosts of hat hooks. (I do have to wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of removing them.) A small baptismal font is situated in the right break. High, narrow traditional stained-glass windows depict various saints as well as Christ the King. The upper walls are painted white stone or possibly cement block, while the lower walls are tan marble. The sanctuary is domed with a painting of Christ as King on the rear wall and another painting of heavenly angels and saints over that. Flanking the sanctuary are four arched niches; the one immediately to the right now houses the tabernacle on a pillar. The one at the far left holds a side altar with a figure of St. Michael; the one at the near left holds a statue of the Blessed Mother; I assume the one at the far right holds a statue of St. Joseph, although I didn't really get a good look at it. Ornate confessionals are at either side of the slightly wider section that makes the nave into the shape of a cross (in 1933, this was probably almost as mandatory as "in the round" is today). A huge balcony-style ambo (I guess that is what it is-- it was not used today but I can't think of any other purpose for it even though the location is somewhat unconventional even for its time) is very high on the left wall at the corner near the confessionals. A much smaller-- but still ornate-- circular, wooden ambo is near the long altar. A traditional crucifix is behind the altar; a smaller metal crucifix is on the altar. The wooden altar rail has survived in its entirety.
As I entered, I looked at the bulletin and sighed relief when I saw a 10:00 AM Mass listed. Then I saw a name on the bulletin that rang a bell in my head. I kept thinking, "no, can't be him. I couldn't just walk in on this priest totally by accident." Then again, I suppose if I visit enough parishes, I'll see every priest and it could hardly be considered an "accident." As a character in a Monty Python sketch once mused, "Could Marconi have invented the radio if he hadn't by pure chance spent years working at the problem?" Nevertheless, as I sat through the Mass, I realized that the priest really was a well-known priest, which I verified on my return home. He was leading the Rosary before Mass started. Later, the priest, an adult server, a cross-bearer, a reader, and two lay ministers of Holy Communion assembled at the rear for the procession through the center aisle. By the time Mass was to begin, the church was about a quarter full (it probably holds 700-1000 when full).
The organist (who I think was also the cantor, but was hard to tell), serving from a huge choir loft, began by announcing that the psalm would be the one for the day in OCP's Today's Missal (found in the pews with Music Issue) and that we should sing the refrain. Then he began the prelude to the opening hymn, "We Gather Together." It took a while before anyone stood, which confused me. After the opening greeting, the priest went directly into the Confiteor without an introduction. After that, we recited the Gloria.
After the opening prayer, the organist played several chords on the organ as the reader went to the smaller ambo to give the first reading. Yes, even in week 257 we see something we've never seen before. We then sang the response to the psalm for the day as we had been instructed earlier after the organist/cantor sang the verses. Then the reader gave the second reading. We sang the Alleluia. From the ambo, the priest proclaimed the Gospel and gave two announcements before beginning the homily.
The homily was grounded in the Scripture readings for the day and quite what I would expect from this particular priest. He started by talking about the Gospel and said that in a sense the disciples were as much on the road to the Garden of Eden as on the road to Capernaum. Pride, he explained, is the greatest of all the capital sins, even greater than lust (he named all seven). The disciples fell victim to pride as they discussed who was the greatest; pride is such an insidious sin that one may not even know he is suffering from it as it "creeps up on a soul and slowly strangles it." The priest also explained that when Jesus asked "what were you discussing," He already knew; in my own mind I drew a parallel between that question and "Who told you that you were naked?" as the priest described the Original Sin and its lasting effects, comparing it to someone with polio who may be cured but nonetheless walks with a limp the rest of his life. He also mentioned that God never intended for us to die; that was one of the effects of Original Sin. It is very important, we were told, for us not to be overly concerned about power, prestige, possessions, or what others think of us; those are all good things in moderation, but are signs of pride when they become overriding motivators. We also heard about Satan: more powerful than St. Michael the Archangel, whose name ("Lucifer"-- not explicitly mentioned) means "lightbearer" and who was one of God's greatest creations but who fell victim to the sin of pride and told God, "I will not serve." (The priest repeated this in its Latin.) As I listened to all of this, I saw another ghost-- that of Archbishop Fulton Sheen-- hovering over the ambo. I saw lots of similarities in style. I also wondered if this priest struggles with pride as much as some say Sheen did. (If so, that's okay-- sometimes the best preachers against a sin are those who know that enemy well.)
We recited the Creed, and the priest clearly bowed at the appropriate point, though no one else seemed to have done so. The reader led the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as we sang the offertory hymn, "Praise to the Lord." The chalice and ciboriums were of metal. At the Orate Fratres, no one stood until after the congregation's response.
The setting for the remainder of the Mass was the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the first Eucharistic Prayer. At the Memorial Acclamation, he simply said, "The Mystery of Faith." We sang the Our Father with organ accompaniment to the most common chant setting. At the Sign of Peace, the priest again displayed a clipped style and simply said, "The Sign of Peace." (I had wondered if he might omit it altogether, which is actually acceptable.)
At Holy Communion, a second priest and two lay ministers assisted in distribution. The chalice was offered at two side stations. At the start, three people received Communion at the altar rail. The Communion hymn was "We Remember." After Communion, the priest recited the Anima Christi prayer. (It is familiar to me because I know of one other priest who always recited it after Communion; he served at a parish where I occasionally attend daily Mass but has left that parish to join a monastic order.) The adult server (a real acolyte, perhaps?) went to the lectern at the right and gave some additional announcements before the priest offered the closing prayer and imparted a simple blessing. He, the cross-bearer, and the server left via the center aisle but cut through the break and ended at the front left (which might have been the parking lot). The closing hymn was "Now Thank We All Our God; we sang one verse. Almost everyone remained until the end.
I ran back to the train station and reached the top of the staircase just as the train opened its doors. I almost made the connecting train by just that much as well but no one bothered to open the door where I waited to exit, so I didn't have time to buy a ticket and get to the train in time. Instead, I had a Krispy Kreme donut and an Italian ice as I waited half an hour for the next train. But overall, considering that I made no plans whatsoever, this trip worked quite well!