Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Once again, I boarded the 9:15 AM railroad train and headed for a large city. I took some freshly printed copies of Mass schedules with me and carefully considered several possibilities as I rode. Without maps, however, [how could he not take maps after all this time-- ed] I had some difficulty in locating a church with an English Mass and at 11:25 AM finally found myself in front of a beautiful, old church that had a Spanish Mass at 11:00 AM and an English Mass at 12:15 PM, according to the schedule. The bulletins were carefully guarded by some elderly folks sitting at a folding table in the narthex, so I could not verify this until about noon, when the elderly folks let down their guard and left the bulletins unattended. In fact, the Mass was scheduled for 12:30 PM, proving that even newly printed Mass schedules can contain errors. I waited for a time outside, trying to determine if I was near anything else and if it was worth trying for something sooner, but I decided that waiting was the safest course of action. Besides, I kind of fell in love with this church and decided that it was just what I wanted for today. I observed parts of the Spanish Mass from the vestibule; it was what one would expect of an almost-packed Spanish Mass in an urban area, with guitars and tambourines and joined and raised hands and whatnot.
I couldn't read the cornerstone, but Internet research indicates that it probably reads "1892." The material I located says that the church is modeled on an Eastern basilica. It has a huge dome at the center of the narthex as well as a domed sanctuary and smaller domes at the sides. Catwalks line the sides over the aisles and lead to the choir loft in the rear (not used today). On the wall of the sanctuary is a huge painting of the Crucifixion, with Jesus not only attended by Mary and St. John, but also a few saints of other eras, including the parish's patron. Various inscriptions outline the various curves of the domes. The original high altar and tall, gold tabernacle are underneath a huge canopy supported by four pillars. A freestanding altar has been erected in front of that. Two small lecterns are located at either side of the sanctuary; their importance is suggested by the huge circular bases underneath-- reminiscent of balconies-- rather than the lecterns themselves. The lectern at the left is the ambo; a commentator served from the right lectern. Additional inscriptions atop the pillars lining the aisles commemorate various saints. The wooden pews are divided into four sections by a center aisle and a break about halfway back. Noteworthy is that the nave appears to have a slight slope towards the front. Also a bit unusual is that the floor looks to be concrete, painted grey. Racks in the pews hold copies of WLP's íCelebremos!/Let Us Celebrate! Spanish/English missalette.
As I waited in the narthex, I observed something that might have escaped my notice on a more cursory look. A stand of votive lights was no ordinary set of lights-- and it certainly wasn't made of wax candles, either. Someone jury-rigged a bunch of common household night lights-- the type one might purchase in a supermarket-- and placed them onto three tiered glass shelves. The night lights were electrified by a bunch of wires attached to the lights and one another with clamps and electrical tape-- an electrician's nightmare. The angels must be watching over this church; perhaps that's why they have little time for me and my chronic problem.
The Mass did not start until 12:41, I guess partly because about 75 or so Sunday school students did not even begin to arrive until 12:28 or so and continued to filter into their seats (led by the teachers) until almost 12:40. I find that awful; the teachers should be teaching the students that one should arrive at Mass before the scheduled time. Besides, when they get older, no one is going to hold the Mass for them, either, and then they'll be wondering why they're late all the time. On another sour note, the bulletin claims that confessions are heard "before every Mass." I saw a bunch of girls hanging around one of the confessionals but figured they were just there for no apparent reason, since "before Mass" would surely mean something like 12:15 to 12:30, and I saw no sign of a priest. At 12:45 or so-- well after the Mass started-- the priest finally went into the confessional and heard a dozen or so confessions until about 1:15. The penitents rejoined the Mass after confession. As much as I like to see confessions heard-- this was just wrong. So far, the attitude was-- well, is "lax" a suitable term here? Maybe "confused" or "disjointed" would be better?
The Mass began when the commentator went to the right lectern and welcomed us. A singer ("cantor" would be a grave injustice) stood at another lectern towards the left and sang a hymn with the lyrics "This is all I ask... to be like Jesus." None of the hymns were announced. Almost unbearable was the combination of the singer's inadequate (though no doubt sincere) a cappella effort and a blaring loudspeaker system that took all his high notes and made them into shrill piercings that sent shivers through my spine. A cross-bearer, two young readers, a deacon-- wearing a dalmatic of the type seen at a more solemn liturgy-- and a priest processed through the center aisle. The priest led us in the recitation of the Confiteor. The singer led a refrain of the Gloria and we recited the verses.
The first reader, wearing rather a short skirt, went to the ambo and gave the first reading after the commentator introduced it from the other lectern. That reader led the recitation of the responsorial psalm for the day. The second reader, whose skirt was slightly longer but still above the mark for a liturgical minister, gave the second reading, again after the commentator introduced it. The singer led a verse of "Glory, Glory Hallelujah." The deacon went to the ambo and proclaimed the Gospel. The priest gave the homily; it was basically a recap of the readings. I tried to derive some theme, but it just seemed like a bunch of thoughts strung together-- none of which was wrong, but which seemed to be less than the sum of the parts.
We recited the Creed, and then the commentator led the recitation intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. The singer presented us with "Whatsoever You Do," as young girls took the collection using long-handled wicker baskets under the supervision of older men, who pointed to each person in the pews so that the girls would know to pass the basket in that person's direction. (Does this sound strange? Yes, it certainly does.) The chalice and ciborium were of metal. The congregation stood during the Orate Fratres invitation instead of waiting for it to be complete.
We recited the Sanctus. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer; the deacon knelt during the consecration. We sang the Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen. We recited the Lord's Prayer; clearly this parish is part of the hand-holding rite, but since only about another 75 people or so were in the rear half of the church, most were too spread out to attempt it. During the sign of peace, the singer took "Let There Be Peace On Earth" and made it sound even worse than usual; this also prolonged the rite well beyond what the congregation thought necessary. (Those who really go overboard probably were at the earlier Mass.) We sang the Agnus Dei.
Holy Communion was distributed at two stations on the center aisle. I don't believe the chalice was offered. The singer offered "I Believe That For Every Drop of Rain That Falls."
A second collection for the hurricane victims was taken in the same manner as the first. The priest took a copy of the bulletin and read several announcements from it. He then offered the closing prayer and imparted a simple blessing before leaving via the center aisle with the deacon, crossbearer, and readers. The singer closed with "This Is the Day." It was time to escape. I looked around a bit, slipped between the deacon and priest at the main entrance, and then headed for the subway.
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In Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, Mass is offered at Holy Spirit Church on Dayton Pike. All across the nation and around the world, you can almost always find a Catholic Mass.
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