Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thes 3:12--4:2
Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
The network executive called me into his office, and I could tell something was amiss by his grim-looking face. "The ratings are not good," he began. "You're really in danger of being cancelled."
"I know, I know," I quickly interjected. "But if only I could add a new character..."
"You haven't been able to make the most of the existing characters," he said firmly. "Another one will only muddy the concept."
"No, no-- you don't understand. She'd really brighten the whole image of the show. And everyone loves weddings-- just look at I Dream of Jeannie and Get Smart. Bought them at least another year or two each."
"Even if I thought it would help, we can't afford another salary. Every week you need new guest stars and a whole new supporting cast. Your casting budget alone is through the roof. And don't remind me about extras-- 200-600 every week. Now, if you wanted dancing bears or cute puppies-- that I might be able to swing."
"Are you crazy? That would destroy the whole thing!"
"Hey-- who are you calling crazy? Most people would think a guy who goes to a different parish every week is crazy..."
Today's parish is less than an hour from home. I had spied it on many other occasions going to and from clients and on innumerable other occasions returning from other Sunday excursions, but today seemed like an opportune time to stop and worship instead of simply driving past. The cornerstone reads "A. 1887 D. " and while the inside hasn't been totally changed, one can easily see that things are a bit different than they were in 1887. Outside, we see a very traditional red brick church with a high steeple directly over the main entrance. Inside, we see a wide nave that was probably unusual for its time. The transepts are short but the shape of a cross is there. High, narrow, stained-glass windows are mostly abstract with more detailed traditional emblems about a third of the way down. The sanctuary has been pulled forward slightly so that the white and green marble altar is ahead of the matching ambo at the left, but the original reredo seems to have survived (perhaps minus its altar; I can't really tell if what remains also includes the altar). A square metal tabernacle now occupies the right niche (which almost certainly had a side altar in 1887) underneath a statue of St. Joseph. Mary's statue is in the left niche. A traditional crucifix hangs on one of the dozen or so columns that line the sides of the nave and fall into the center sections of wooden pews. The center sections have a break about halfway back. The side sections, which are right against the walls, are noticeably slanted toward the center (again, probably a sign of "in the round" dogmatists). The hat hooks, unlike the altar rail, survived. Racks hold copies of WLP's We Celebrate hymnal and missalette and additional copies are stacked on the aisles. The organ is in the choir loft but the left transept has individual seats for a choir that was not present at this noon Mass.
The organist, who doubled as cantor, played some music before Mass. Based on what I heard, she either had both the organ and a synthesizer up there, or she had a synthesizer that as an organ was a lot better than most of the ones taking up space in churches these days. Perhaps she was really good at playing it, too-- a good musician can do wonders with a lousy instrument (but not vice versa). Mass began after the two servers, two lay ministers of Holy Communion, the reader, and the priest left the sacristy and went down the side aisle to begin the entrance procession at the rear of the church. The opening hymn was "God of Day and God of Darkness." We sang every verse of every hymn, which I've seen before but is still rather unusual. The priest used Form C of the penitential rite. The Gloria was properly omitted during Advent.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The organist led the singing of the psalm for the day, and the reader gave the second reading. We sang the Celtic Alleluia as the priest went to the ambo to proclaim the Gospel (which oddly enough, is from the same portion of Luke 21 as yesterday's Gospel-- the end of the liturgical year is the same as the beginning). The homily began with an observation that we can hardly go anywhere these days without seeing some building or forest being demolished to make room for an new structure; this seems to be part of the human condition. Likewise, we need to be ready to demolish old habits and practices to make room for newer, better ones, and Advent is a very good time to do this. We heard some general suggestions on how to avoid the usual distractions of the season in order to focus on Jesus, and particular mention was made of the giving tree in the back for a local halfway house for mothers who have just been released from prison.
We recited the Creed (a bit fast, in my opinion) and then the reader led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. At this time, the priest lit one of the purple candles on the Advent wreath and blessed it and the congregation; the organist sang a song called "Waiting Time" to the tune of "Jingle Bells." A web search did not reveal the lyrics, but they were reasonably spiritual (though one might still question the liturgical use of a "profane"-- as opposed to "sacred"-- tune). The offertory hymn was "People, Look East." The collection did not start until this hymn was complete; long-handled baskets were used. The priest's chalice and ciboriums were of metal; the smaller serving chalices were of glass. At the Orate Fratres, almost everyone stood before the people's response started.
The musical setting for the remainder of the Mass was the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer. At the Our Father, no one could be seen joining hands, although the church was only about half full and it would have been a bit of a stretch. The lay ministers of Holy Communion entered the sanctuary after the Agnus Dei; the priest retrieved the extra ciboriums from the tabernacle himself.
The Communion hymn was "Eye Has Not Seen." The priest distributed under the form of bread by himself, serving both lines in the center aisle. The lay ministers offered the chalice on either side. Note that this did not "unduly prolong" the Mass, especially since we sang all the verses of the hymns anyway. I believe that the hymn was not complete before the priest was finished with Communion.
After Communion, the priest gave a few short announcements and another reminder about the giving tree before offering the closing prayer and imparting a solemn blessing. The servers, lay ministers, reader, and priest departed via the center aisle; the priest remained in the rear as the others returned to the sacristy via the side aisle. The closing hymn was "City of God;" I don't believe I ever heard the last two verses before even though the hymn is quite familiar to me. The organist took the last refrain and really gave it a smashing finale, revealing the presence of drums and cymbals on her instrument, whatever it was. She then launched a very traditional postlude as we departed; almost everyone had remained through the first three verses but perhaps half started to depart during the fourth verse as the priest passed toward the rear.
"Great news!" shouted the voice on the other end of the telephone. "I ran your idea of a new character by the BoD, and they actually liked the idea. I managed to get it approved."
"Well, that's great. I'll go start the search right away."
"Um-- wait just a moment now. There's just one catch. The consensus of the BoD was for a particular person. You have to take her or leave her."
"Okay, shoot. Who is she?"
"Britney Spears. She's so hot these days, after all, and..."
"What on earth! Forget it. No way!"
"See-- I told you you're crazy. Only a crazy guy would turn down Britney Spears as a co-star..."