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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mass Hysteria

Mass today at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pain* was preceded, as usual, by a chirpy, if husky, "Good morning!" from the songstress at the microphone, Florence Jenkins, a one-time alto who, owing to the march of time, has unwittingly become a tenor. She then read off the names of those taking part in the upcoming celebration: the priest, the servers, the lector, the soloist (herself) and the organist (who seems to have learned the art of registration via close study of the band organ in the Central Park carousel).

Florence read some announcements, then invited us all to join her in the opening hymn, the gorgeous, if inappropriate, Passion Chorale; not with the familiar and moving words "O sacred head, sore wounded..." but with a newly written and artless text. Perfesser Organist evidently determined J. S. Bach's harmonization of the chorale tune was not satisfactory so provided his own, which consisted mostly of parallel fifths and octaves and long pedal tones bearing little or no relation to the notes on top.

After Fr. Obote had made it safely to the altar, he too bid us "Good morning" and informed us today was Gaudate Sunday (nope, that occurs on the third Sunday in Advent; today is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent). Father then informed us (correctly) it was customary to wear rose-colored vestments on this day. He wore purple. Thence to some more announcements, including that he had been ordered to abbreviate his sermon because today also marked the beginning of the Archdioscean Stewardship Appeal. To that purpose, at sermon's end envelopes with suggested dollar amounts printed on them would be distributed among the congregation, along with little pencils with which to check off the amount we decided we wanted to give; all to be taken up with the collection. After a passable if perfunctory homily, and some confusion among the ushers, envelopes and pencils were passed around. Those who had not received envelopes were instructed to raise their hands.

A few minutes later, a woman did raise her hand but not to request an envelope, rather to speak. Speak she did, shouting, actually, giving a furious harangue about what was going on: that this was fundraising and to engage in it during Mass was inappropriate and unprofessional. I must say my heart went out to the woman but will admit her behavior, too, was inappropriate. Father Obote, whose first language is not English, seemed stunned and tried his best to mollify the unhappy woman. He was not successful, in fact each time he was able to get a word in edgewise, the woman got angrier still, the pitch of her voice rising, precisely and entertainingly, by whole tones. In time, however, the rest of the congregation managed to shush the poor soul (I wonder if she was thinking, as I was, of Johann Tetzel).

There being some tension in the air, Florence Jenkins hastily returned to the microphone to announce the offertory hymn, only to be alerted by members of the congregation we had yet to recite the Creed or make the intercessory prayers. After that was straightened out, things proceeded relatively smoothly to the closing, when Father once again brought proceedings to a halt so to praise our little choir for the communion anthem they had gamely attempted to sing over the blasting of the calliope organ. Father's praise took the form of recounting his days in seminary when he and some fellow postulants, none of whom having any musical ability, had butchered an anthem during Mass, causing a priest to burst out laughing. I'm not sure how well our choir took Father's "compliment" but I'm sure he meant well.

After still more announcements, Father at last gave the final blessing and dismisal. Florence Jenkins returned to the microphone one more time to make yet even more announcements, as well announce the closing hymn, making it all perfect: "How Great Thou Art." While walking home afterward with a friend, I mentioned to him how clever it was of them at Our Lady of Pain managing to squeeze a Mass in among the numerous announcements and activities.

That crack of mine occasioned an insight: the typical post-Vatican II Mass these days bears remarkable similarity to the well-arranged kindergarten class, with diversions interspersed among lessons so to accommodate five-year-olds' attention spans. While I can aver my love for Holy Church grows ever stronger every day since my conversion two years ago, regardless gross deficiencies like those demonstrated so vividly today, I must also confess every now and then to muttering under my breath, "Dear God in heaven!"

*The venue and offending parties' names are changed to protect the guilty.

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