Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another Visit by the Mystery Church Shopper

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A friend who had read the report on a parish that might have been a bit harsh, has asked that another parish be visited. Duly chastened, the Mystery Church Shopper, cashed in a few savings bonds and filled up the ol’ gas tank and made a visit this morning.

As is usual, the church shall remain anonymous, mostly to avoid return messages from the celebrant. And because he is sadly aware that the errors observed probably were made at many other of the 220 parishes in our archdiocese. I’m not in the business to criticize the Church. I prefer to think of it as encouraging reverent Masses according to the book, in whatever language the parish chooses.

There seems to be a trend that not all parishes read “the book.”

At the church this morning, a beautiful newer structure, 80% full on a gorgeous Sunday morning, things started out well. A silver chalice was on the altar. The two lectors read better than any I have ever heard before, reading with feelings and emphasis. The cantor, a tenor, had a beautiful voice, well accompanied by a pianist at a grand piano. The celebrant, a visiting priest, gave an extremely fine homily, the Creed was said properly and the Prayers of the Faithful were extremely relevant and appropriate. They included a prayer for a new pastor. The previous pastor of the parish had recently retired so that is why there was a visiting priest, probably from the ranks of the retired.

That’s what we used to call the “Mass of the Catechumens.” Parishes seem to have few problems with that.

But when they get to the Offertory, the beginning of the “Mass of the Faithful”, things seem to wobble a bit.

I was pleased to see that the obligatory Kool-Aid pitcher was not used in the bringing of the wine to the celebrant. In this case, it was a glass carafe, even though “the book” requires a container of a “noble metal.” One wonders how a parish can afford a building worth many millions of dollars, and not have a few hundred left over for a proper container.

Everybody knelt at the Eucharistic prayer, I was pleased to see, and things went fine until the Lord’s Prayer. For some reasons, the priest’s prayer, “Deliver us from Evil Our Lord. . . .” was omitted and the congregation just jumped right into the Protestant innovation, “For Thine is the. . . .”

Father had walked into the congregation for the handshake of peace (contrary to archdiocesan instructions).

Then, after the Agnus Dei, the “Lamb of God” prayers, Father did not receive Communion himself right prior to the Communion for the Faithful after the “O Lord I am not worthy” invocation..

The platoon (about 16) of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, probably called something different at this parish, came up to the altar and began by doing something nice that I have only seen at one other parish: a ritual washing of hands. After all, if they are going to touch the Body of Our Lord with their own, unconsecrated hands, the least they can do is be sure that they are spiritually cleaned. It’s not in “the book”, but I think it’s great.

Then one of the ministers (it always seems to be a woman) took the Precious Blood and poured it into the ceramic cups for distribution to the congregation. [Can a cup made of a “noble metal” be that expensive? They look like they were purchased at the Rennaissance Fair.] That is something that is supposed to be done before the Consecration to avoid the possibility of “spilling” the Precious Blood. Another minister assisted the celebrant by distributing the Body of Christ into the various patens needed for the Ministers. The Celebrant should be doing that alone also.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Extraordinary Ministers (called by another name) did not receive Communion themselves prior to the congregation. But when they had all finished, they lined up and received Communion under both species from two of their number. Then, much to my shock, Father stood up from his chair and stood in line and quietly waited until it was his turn.

He, the Celebrant, “in persona Christi”, who had consecrated the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ was being treated as if he had just walked in off of the street. Very (small d) democratic, I suppose, but absolutely against the rules.

I don’t understand the impulse to be so creative with the words and rubrics of the Mass. People wouldn’t dare extemporize with the Pledge of Allegiance or the Star Spangled Banner.

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