Acts 13:14, 43-52
Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5
Rv 7:9, 14b-17
After an hour and a half of driving, I entered a town with four churches. I inspected three of the four and then drove to a nearby town with only two churches. By now it was 11:20 AM, so I decided to stay for one of two 11:30 AM Masses in the same building. I'm not sure what the difference was other than one being upstairs and the other being downstairs (the bulletin gives no clues). The cornerstone reads "1950" but I'm willing to guess that those who erected that cornerstone would feel somewhat out of place in the building as it stands today. For what it's worth, the cornerstone on an adjacent school reads "1962."
The sanctuary was obviously pulled forward a bit, creating space for the choir at the front right and additional individual seats on the left, so everyone can be "around the table of the Lord." The original choir loft remains but was used for general seating today (the church of about 500-700 seats was totally full). Where the tabernacle must originally have been located is now bare apart from a figure of the Risen Christ. The tabernacle is now at the front left, where one of the two side altars originally was located. A figure of Our Lady remains in the front right niche. A squarish wooden ambo is at the left; a freestanding wooden altar is at the right; the celebrant's chair is at the center rear, in front of a huge shelf on which I saw an aspergillum and one or two other objects. The walls are white at the top with dark wooden panelling below about arm's height. Small bronze plaques depict the Stations of the Cross. The wooden pews are split into two sections, and racks hold copies of OCP's Heritage Missal. A peaked roof is supported by dark wooden trusswork; the sanctuary has a rounded ceiling and rear wall.
It was rather noisy today; I'm not sure if this is normal here or was on account of the families of about four children who were receiving first Holy Communion today. Mass began after the cantor said, "So that we might have no strangers among us, please take a moment to introduce yourselves by name to those around you." I drove an hour and a half for that. Ouch. I guess it wasn't noisy enough. Fortunately, no one around me was troubled by my strangeness, or perhaps they all knew me from reading these articles on Internet and felt that I was a man who needed no introduction. Then we rehearsed the responsorial psalm once; this was notable for changing the response to "we are the flock of the Lord" from the printed text, "we are the sheep of his flock." Eliminating the masculine pronoun is common and bad enough, but now they change the imagery too? Jesus Himself said, "I am the Good Shepherd"-- we have to live with it. The opening hymn was "Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise!" One server, a reader, two extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and the priest participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle.
The priest welcomed by name the four children who would be receiving their first Communion. He then led the recitation of Form C of the penitential rite. We sang what might best be described as a hymn with the refrain from the Gloria ("peace to God's people on earth") but with verses that wandered rather far from the actual Gloria we know and love. The priest offered the opening prayer and we sat for the readings.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. The choir sang the aforementioned setting of the psalm for the day. The reader returned to the ambo and gave the second reading. The choir led us in the verse before the Gospel, sung to the "Alle, Alle, Alle- luia" setting with hand-clapping. The priest went to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel.
His homily began with some light remarks and led into an observation that if Eve had eaten the snake instead of the apple, we might have been lots better off. When no one laughed (I found it more thought-provoking than funny, actually, though it isn't entirely without humor), he repeated the observation and seemed disappointed that no one was laughing. It did make me wonder, though, if Eve actually had such an opportunity; I have often wondered how things might have been different if she had resisted at that point-- even more thought-provoking is the question of what might have happened if Eve succumbed but Adam resisted. He continued discussing Adam and Eve and Genesis, remarking that "we know" that the story of creation is not historically true but is meant to teach us a religious truth. (This is actually a dangerous remark to make as he made it without further qualification to an ordinary Sunday congregation.) This led to an observation about Cain and Abel-- this again, was not historically true but teaches us that evil begets evil. Finally, we heard the story about how the priest was the eldest child in his family and he was reared by a stream with rapidly flowing water. His father strictly warned him never to go near the stream or else he would get spanked. One day his father found him and his brother in the stream; the priest was severely spanked but his younger brother got off with fewer stripes, because despite what Cain had said ("Am I my brother's keeper?") we are all responsible for shepherding one another. Later that day, the priest's father offered him a piece of chocolate cake, which he did not want to accept because it came from the same hand that spanked him. The priest observed that his father, like Jesus in the Eucharist, was actually offering a piece of himself, which is why the children's first Communion today is so important.
We recited the Creed, and the reader led the intentions of a typical Prayer of the Faithful. The first communicants brought the gifts forward as a collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets; the choir sang "This Little Light of Mine" (with hand-clapping) on its own. The congregation applauded after this performance. The chalice and ciborium were of metal; a glass flagon held additional wine despite the instruction in Redemptionis Sacramentum to the contrary. At the Orate Fratres, almost everyone stood immediately when the priest began his invitation (he noticeably raised his hands at that point, so he may be confused too).
The Mass setting used was a slightly clipped rendition of the Mass of Creation (it didn't seem to have as much of a prelude, and they left "Jesus" off the beginning of the Agnus Dei). The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer. We recited the Our Father; the church was so full that I couldn't tell if anyone was discreetly joining hands.
A deacon (not present for the rest of the Mass) and three lay ministers assisted in the distribution of Holy Communion. The priest stood in the center of the center aisle, apparently so anyone could approach him, while the deacon stood at the right and a lay minister stood at the left. Further to the left and right the other lay ministers offered the Precious Blood. The first communicants received first as beaming parents and relatives snapped pictures; I didn't notice any video cameras, which I suppose is a good thing. (I've seen first Communions that were more like circuses-- this one was fairly restrained.) We sang two Communion hymns: "Taste and See" and "We Will Rise Again." After Communion, the choir sang "Blessed Assurance" on its own.
The priest gave a few short announcements and explained that his anniversary Mass would be next month on a Sunday evening and invited everyone to attend. After some other remarks which I could not understand as they were barely audible to me, he received a round of applause. Then he asked for a round of applause for the first communicants (or maybe this came before the other remarks; I'm not sure now). He offered the closing prayer and imparted a solemn blessing before leaving via the center aisle with the server, reader, and lay ministers. The closing hymn was "Alle, Alle, Alleluia!" which had a refrain very similar to the one used before the Gospel. This had no hand-clapping for some reason; I was almost certain that it would. I guess every now and then I'm just wrong. About half the congregation left by the time the third verse had started; only a third or so remained for the conclusion of that verse. Those remaining offered a round of applause.
Near the heart of the "Bible Belt," in Lewisburg, Tennessee, one can find Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church on South Ellington. Almost anywhere in the nation or around the world one might go, a Catholic Mass is nearby.