Yesterday found me with my drinking buddies again. One of them said, "You're still not married? To what is this world coming?"
"Well, look at his hair. He hasn't had it cut in three months. Young ladies can spot that from across the street and head the other way," said another.
"They can certainly spot it from the rear of the church and select another pew," agreed yet another.
"Unless you want to be crying the blues the rest of your life, go get yourself a haircut forthwith," they finally said in unison after considerable discussion.
As an obedient soldier, I finished my glass of grape juice and headed for the barber shop. On the application form, under "reason for haircut," I had to be honest and put "to meet holy young ladies." The barber noted this and said, "Son, you've come to the right place. I'll give you a haircut that will have them all clamoring for your attention."
"The fellow in the shoe repair store, the clerk in the shirt store, and the clerk in the pants store all suggested something similar," I recalled to the barber. "I had my shoes resoled and I bought new shirts and pants, but nothing came of it; young ladies sit near me but simply leave at the end of Mass. That's it."
"Hey-- what do shoe repair or shirt or pants clerks know?" he said confidently. "Hair is more obvious than mere clothes. Let me cut your hair and the next time you come in here, I guarantee that you will be married to the best young lady in the world."
I was disarmed by his compelling logic and signed the contract to have my hair cut, dreaming as I sat in the chair of what faith-filled ladies would be drawn to me at Mass the following day.
With a fresh, neat haircut, I left at 6:50 AM to begin a 50-minute journey to a parish I often pass on the way to my sister's house. I visited there once several years ago but happened upon a rather disappointing children's Mass. As usual, though, a different time makes a big difference, so today I figured I'd try the 8:00 AM Mass, which is just a simple sung Mass.
I diligently checked the cornerstone as I entered; it reads "1967." The building is a boxy auditorium typical of its era. The large, square, stained-glass windows show nothing but a repeated dark blue silhouette of a small chalice on a light blue background. The walls are of light brown paneling; the wooden pews are of similar color and are split into eight sections by a center aisle, side aisles, and a break about halfway back The side sections are very short, probably holding only four people each, while the center sections are longer, holding maybe sixteen or so. Racks in the pews hold OCP's paperback Heritage Missal (with readings), GIA's 1994 Gather hymnal, and a small paperback hymnal titled Holy Is the Lord. The sanctuary is recessed, with a large wooden-planked wall with four green, arched, cutouts as a backdrop. At either side are small, marble side altars; the metal tabernacle, bearing the legend "BODY OF CHRIST," remains at the center. Over this hangs a large, traditional crucifix. The large, white, marble, freestanding altar is at the center, further back than the squarish, wooden ambo at the left. The celebrant's chair and deacon's chair are at the right; chairs for servers and readers are on the sides of the sanctuary. The building has a choir loft, but it apparently is no longer used, as a large portion of the short seating section at the front left has been converted for choir, organ, and cantor's use. In the vestibule is a counter for the sale of religious articles.
I arrived at about 7:45 AM and took a seat on the center aisle at the lefthand front side of the church, figuring that I'd leave the seats at the right front, by the parking lot door, for others. As I expected, the majority of those in the congregation sat in that section, leaving the remainder of the seats for countercultural types such as me. By the time the Mass started, it was not much more than a quarter full, almost as I recall from the last time I was there. The opening hymn was "Table of Plenty;" participation for this and the other hymns was practically non-existent. I think it was just me and the cantor, basically. A server, a reader, a lay minister of Holy Communion, a deacon, and the priest passed through the center aisle in the entrance procession. I think another server was slightly late and entered via the sacristy. The deacon led the recitation of Form C of the penitential rite, using the most common invocations. The Gloria was recited.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading as it appeared in the missalette. Then the cantor walked from the music section to the ambo and led the singing of the hymn "Taste and See," which is based upon Psalm 34 rather than the responsorial psalm for the day, 145. I'm not sure if that qualifies as a "seasonal psalm," and it leaves me scratching my head. Then the reader returned to the ambo and gave the second reading, again as it appeared in the missalette. The cantor led the singing of the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel (again, not the one for the day). The deacon followed by taking the ambo and proclaiming the Gospel, apparently from an old Book of Gospels as his reading differed (only in form) from that in the missalette.
The deacon preached the homily; he began by stating that the main point of the miracle in today's reading is not to assert Jesus' divinity; rather, it is to show that all of us, working together, form the Body of Christ. Jesus needed the loaves from the little boy in order to work the miracle; likewise, He needs our faith in order to work miracles today. If we have the faith of the little boy, we will work miracles far greater than those of Jesus.
After a minute or so of silence, the Creed was recited. The deacon led the recitation of the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful, but instead of the priest concluding it with his own prayer, the deacon led the congregation in the recitation of the Renew 2000 prayer. I have to wonder what good a new General Instruction on the Roman Missal will do when few people seem to have bothered to read the existing one, which says rather plainly that "he [the priest]... concludes it with a prayer." The offertory hymn was "Let Us Be Bread." A collection was taken with long-handled wicker baskets during the hymn. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were sung to the setting from the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer and sang the invocations to the Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen. The Our Father was recited; some folks were close enough to join hands unobtrusively, but most were not. I was in no danger as I had a pew all to myself, and the pew behind me and the four or five pews in front of me were almost completely empty. The haircut, alas, did not attract any ladies of any type, much less holy young ladies.
At Communion, the priest was assisted by the deacon, the reader, and the lay minister; the chalice was not offered. Two stations were located on the center aisle, and one station was located on each of the side aisles. The organist played a few bars of "Take and Eat" to get warm but then began the Communion hymn, "One Bread, One Body."
Following another brief silence, the priest offered the Prayer After Communion and imparted a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "I Am the Bread of Life." Three-quarters of the congregation began to squeeze through the one exit closest to the parking lot before the hymn was complete.
Later, I stopped to collect bulletins. At the first parish, during Mass, children were in the daily Mass chapel adjacent to the main church doing religious calisthenics of some sort. At the next parish, a Spanish Mass was concluding; just before the final blessing, the priest, near the front pew with a portable hand-held microphone, led a chorus of "Happy Birthday" to organ accompaniment. I guess it was someone's birthday. A little closer to home, a Mass was being held in the parish auditorium, where folding chairs without kneelers were in use; after the Agnus Dei sung to piano accompaniment, everyone sat. The church (with kneelers) was open but dark. Finally, at the last parish, another prayer recited by the congregation (I couldn't tell which one) replaced the priest's prayer at the end of the Prayer of the Faithful. I wonder if the NCCB will take a bulk order for that new Institutio Generalis-- I think I'd like to mail a copy to every pastor in the country, certified mail, return receipt requested, addressee must sign.
In the evening, I visited the annual parish feast at my own parish. I was expecting big band music, like the Sunday from last year, but instead a rock band was playing. Ugh. I walked around, noted the familiar faces, and realized that I did not belong there amidst the noise and silliness. A casino was located in the parish hall (which is being used for daily Mass while air conditioning is being installed in the church), and a Spanish charismatic service of some sort was in the church. That was interesting; it was well-attended and featured rather loud shouting. I don't know what else to make of it.
"Hey Gertrude-- did you see that guy with the fresh haircut before? He looked as though he might be single."
"Yeah, but Johnette, he's the one who writes all those weird articles on Internet. I could tell. I caught him taking some quick notes at each hymn. He was the only one singing apart from the cantor. Nobody else even cares about the hymns. He'd make me sing too."
"So? Gotta grab the ones that are available."
"Nah, singing's too much trouble."
"Nice haircut, though."
"I guess-- but I'm not singing! No way!"