The alarm sounded at 5:40 AM, telling me that I'd best embark on today's journey soon or else I'd have to resort to an alternate plan. My cat heard the alarm and jumped on the bed almost immediately to make certain that I didn't change my mind. I started petting him, and he bit me on the arm as a lesson in humility and a call to rise from my slumber. As my father often says, "God gave man dominion over all creation, except cats," or at least that's what cats seem to think. Anyway, with red tooth marks on my arm, and the day's bad fortune already behind me, I could safely begin the drive of an hour and three-quarters to another parish on the East End.
Ever since I saw that this parish had an 8:00 AM choir Mass, which is a notable rarity, I had wanted to visit. The parish was even penciled in an earlier week, but I had to change my plan before I was able to execute it. Today, however, was my chance, so I grabbed it and hoped for the best. In particular, I feared that the choir might not serve during the summer, as is the case in many parishes, including my own.
I arrived at about 7:55 AM and saw that the small, air-conditioned church was already nearly full (not sardine full, but comfortably full); fortunately, some people had considerately sat away from the aisle, so I was able to find a seat in the second row from the rear without displacing anyone. (During the readings, however, a later arrival caused an usher to ask us all to move in further.) The church has a peaked roof with the inside of the top flattened a bit. The layout inside is rather conventional, with two groups of wooden pews separated by a center aisle and lined with side aisles. Each pew can probably hold eight people comfortably, with maybe ten to twelve squeezed tightly if need be. Hat hooks remind us again of a custom since abandoned.
The sanctuary appears not to have been changed much; the tabernacle is in its original location, although the arrangement of the original altar here is somewhat simpler than last week's highly ornate version. Although the only crucifix is a medium-sized wooden one to the left of the wooden ambo, an arched stained-glass window over the tabernacle also depicts the Crucifixion. Over that is a small, painted dove in a triangle on a red background symbolizing the Holy Spirit. The other windows are also of stained-glass; the remainder of the inside is more or less white with some brown mouldings and a bit of red detail work in the sanctuary. The side altars appear to be as they have always been with the usual statues of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, while an additional niche on the left is marked as a shrine to the patron saint of the parish.
The reader opened by giving a couple of announcements, and then the cantor announced the first hymn, "Lord, When You Came to the Seashore," which is new not only to this series but to me as well. I was pleased to hear that the choir was present and serving from the choir loft almost directly over my head-- every now and then I win one. A server accompanied the priest in the procession through the center aisle. Form C of the penitential rite was recited, and the Gloria was also recited (about the biggest disappointment, really).
The readings matched those in the Paluch missalettes and were proclaimed without incident. The responsorial psalm for the day followed; both the cantor and the choir chanted the verses to a very low organ accompaniment-- almost an a cappella rendition. This is slightly unusual as the cantor often does the verses alone, but it sounded nice, even with slight pauses before each verse. The verse before the Gospel was also sung. The priest read the long form of today's Gospel. (That's one reason I like air conditioning in churches; it lessens the temptation to cut corners.)
The priest gave a reasonable homily, lasting five to eight minutes, that focused on the first reading and the Gospel. I have always seen this Gospel passage as somewhat fatalistic inasmuch as we are compared to ground, suggesting that we don't have much of a role to play in whether or not we attain salvation. The mention of the "evil one" doesn't make things any more encouraging either, suggesting that we may be hopelessly bound by forces greater than ourselves. One point that he made is that we can work at improving ourselves so that we are more receptive (his word, used more than once) to the seeds of the Sower. We certainly want to make every effort to be fertile ground rather than rocky ground or a barren path, and he seemed to suggest that this is the way we should be thinking. I may be viewing this Gospel in a slightly different light now.
After the recitation of Creed and the usual Prayer of the Faithful, during which the server used a taper to light the altar candles, a collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets. The choir sang what sounded like a psalm, "I Will Praise Your Name, My King and My God." I liked the choir's clear rendition of its selections; I could actually understand what was being sung (which is why I can report it here). This was not announced, so I guess that it was intended for the choir alone, but I'm not absolutely certain.
The chalice and ciboriums were of metal, and a glass flagon was also used. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Great Amen were obviously from the same Mass setting, even though I don't recall hearing it before. The Sanctus was notable for its refrain of "Hosanna in the Highest," which began it and was repeated twice. Similarly, the Memorial Acclamation ("When we eat this bread...") was broken into three or four parts, each intoned by the choir and repeated by the congregation. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer. The server used the bells at the appropriate times.
The Our Father was recited, and from the rear I could see little evidence of wandering arms despite the close quarters (which often seems to encourage that sort of thing). The Agnus Dei was sung to a setting familiar to me but not likely part of the setting of the previous three sung responses, which clearly had a distinctive style.
Five lay ministers assisted the priest in the distribution of Holy Communion; one went to the choir loft while two offered the cup at the front on either side. The priest took the center of the center aisle, while the other two lay ministers took either side of him, meaning that anyone from either line could choose the priest, and each line also had a lay minister. This makes things a bit awkward, but it seemed to work acceptably well here somehow. The Communion hymn (also not announced) was "Take and Eat." Some was sung at the start of Communion, followed by an interlude by the organ alone (presumably the choir received Communion at this point), followed by more singing. Since I was in the rear, and the church was nearly full, I could not help but notice that about ten to twenty percent of the congregation, especially those in the back, left immediately after Communion.
The priest then repeated an announcement about a talk and collection for the diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic scheduled for next week. Following the Prayer After Communion, he offered a simple blessing and left with the server via the center aisle to the hymn "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," which I don't think was announced but was one of two listed on the hymn board. (The other was the opening hymn.)
As I left, I noticed a bookshelf in a corner near the vestibule. It had a sign, "Holy Name Society Bookshelf." That looks like a nice idea, and I'd like to see more of that, although this is a semi-rural area, and concepts such as this fly nicely here, whereas they would be a joke in areas where the church has to be locked during the day.
Outside, I again remembered to look for the cornerstone; I may actually be getting into the habit of doing this. It was slightly hidden behind some bushes, but I managed to locate it: 1926. I then waited for the crowd to disperse before leaving the parking lot to grab some more bulletins.
I then donned my scout's cap and checked prospects for upcoming weeks. Returning to the parish that last week had no bulletins, I entered one door just after a Mass and headed for another door hoping that an usher would offer me one, but two of them fled and hid in the usher's room as soon as I approached. What dark secrets does their bulletin hold?
In another parish, a priest finished his homily and took up his guitar and began to sing a song for the congregation. (No, this is not a joke.) At least the bulletins were by the doors in the vestibule for itinerant folks such as me, though. Stay tuned to see if this priest appears in an upcoming article in this series. (I don't usually call ahead to check who's saying a Mass.)
At another parish near that, the Communion hymn was being offered at the 10:30 AM Mass, and I heard guitars. I guess I'll consider the 9 AM Mass there. It should make a train ride easier for me, anyway.
On my return, the bratty cat jumped in my lap and started purring. He should only know how lucky he is to have a Christian owner!