Sunday, April 23, 2006

No Habla Espanol; Mass at Ascension Parish

I was skimming through the Basilica bulletin (generally 12 or more pages) on Saturday, looking for items for this blog, and came across an invitation for parishioners to attend Mass Sunday at the Ascension parish, a Minneapolis north side church, that the Basilica has “adopted.” Fr. Michael O’Connell, our pastor, is also it’s pastor, and I know there is financial aid, but I’m not sure what other support is being given. I wasn’t even sure what the makeup of the parish was, I assumed that it was Black (not having read the last sentence in the bulletin article) and I decided to go.

When you live in a big city, lots of things change and happen with many residents not having a clue as to that change. I got to Ascension for the 11:30 and was somewhat surprised to see a Hispanic congregation. I knew of several parishes in the Twin Cities that were Hispanic, one dating back to the 1930s, but did not know that the recent influx of immigrants to Minnesota included the creation of a new neighborhood on the north side.

I was greeted warmly, looked around, didn’t see any obvious Basilica parishioners and chose a seat in the middle of the congregation. It was noisy, full of children, and chatting 20- and 30-something friends, no obvious sense that Jesus Christ resided in the tabernacle in the beautiful 100+ year old altar in the nave. The brick, “gothic” style church probably was originally an Irish parish as evidenced by a large St Patrick in one of its many gorgeous stained glass windows. These Hispanics are probably the third or fourth ethnic group to occupy the building. But the bulletin is bi-lingual and two of the three Masses are in English.

A small group was playing and those who weren’t chatting were singing with gusto with as many “Alleluias” as you would hear “Lord Have Mercys” in a Byzantine parish. The musical program listed an all Spanish service, something I hadn’t expected. Hymns included “El Senor Resucito”, “Este Es El Dia”, “Haznos Uno” and whatever “When the Saints Go Marching In” is in Spanish.

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus was displeased. Speaking for myself, when I was that age, if I had travelled 30 or 10,000 miles to find a new job and home, I don’t think I would have sought out a church for ten or 20 years. I have proof of that. And I love seeing young children in a church (a rarity at the Basilica). It gives me visible evidence for a future for the Church And I’m probably going to be a lot more tolerant in the future of the relatively mild chatting and musical group rehearsing that I hear in the Basilica and other churches.

The Mass started about 15 minutes late and nobody seemed concerned in the slightest. It probably never does start on time. The pastor, youngish, processed in behind a bunch of young male and female servers. While he appeared to be pretty fluent in Spanish (to my untrained ear), I don’t think it was native to him because I could hear individual words when he spoke. (But it could have been Fray Salvador Valdez, O.F.M. who was listed on the web page as being the Spanish minister).

My general impression of Spanish is that they all speak a million miles an hour. And that was confirmed when after Communion a member of the musical group spoke for a few minutes. I could tell the difference. As an aside, his excited delivery appeared to be a call to the congregation to show up for “la marcha” which might be an event scheduled on May 1 for the nation’s Hispanic residents. Someplace on the Internet I have recently noted an article about a scheduled event in St James, MN, where a resident was nervous about leaving work for the day for fear of getting fired.

The celebrant had very limited use of his right arm and needed assistance to have the “missal” carried from the altar to the pulpit (I hate the word “ambo”) and returned and a server held the hosts as Father administered Holy Communion. Other than that it didn’t appear to be a problem. His energetic homily did appear to contain a lot of catechesis from the few words that I could understand. One would guess that the congregation did not have much schooling as children.

The “Handshake of Peace” was a longish part of the Mass with many of the parishioners reminding me of a certain priest who shall remain nameless who used to see how many he could greet. Being a very sociable individual, it probably still kills him to remain at the altar. For me, I kind of freaked when I couldn’t remember what we say in English, so I came up with my best “Buenos Dias” until I heard somebody say “Peace” in Spanish.

There was a nice touch after the Communion at the end of the Mass. Father grabbed a card and read out a name. It turned out to be that of a boy who was celebrating his third birthday today. He and his Mom came up, and then another name was called and a mother and her infant child came forward. Father blessed both of them. I thought that to be a really nice touch. And I’d bet it isn’t in the GIRM (General Instructions of the Roman Missal).

I’m kinda ashamed that there weren’t more Basilica parishioners in attendance. It was a very warm experience for me. I’ll go back now and then, probably for sure on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December where I’m sure it will be standing room only.

The Basilica takes a lot of heat in conservative Catholic circles because of its “big tent” philosophy that welcomes all to it’s arms, including a sizable number of the Twin Cities’ gay community. (Where should they otherwise go?)

Granted that there are “liturgical abuses” (but it’s a lot better than it used to be) and we stand during the Consecration. (Yes, I know the reasoning; I prefer to kneel. But I don’t. And it would be nice if parishioners assumed a prayerful posture while standing, though). And most of the parishioners have that liberal inability to use the words “His” or “Him” when called to do so by Roman edict and substitute “God’s” or “God” as needed.

And yet, when it comes to fulfilling the commands of Jesus to carry out the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Seven Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, the Basilica parish may step to the front of the line. Can all those who are engaged in private meditative prayer and the appreciation of Tridentine liturgies say that.

The Catholic Church is a “Universal Church.” The liberals should realize that the American Church comprises 6% of the world’s population of Catholics. If it came to a vote, they’d lose. The conservatives should realize that Jesus Christ lives in every one of its churches. He loves us all. We should love us all, too. Even when some don’t agree with us.

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