As parking downtown is limited, the diocese arranged busing from Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville. Besides having been there many, many times for catechist training workshops, I had just recently visited with my son for a high school open house. No surprise to see athletes still getting picked up when I arrived on campus around 6.
A coordinator held up a shuttle bus for me and then another dozen people climbed aboard for a ten minute ride. From the drop-off point in the rear of the church, I walked passed a television crew, set to broadcast live on EWTN. Inside the church vestibule, I approached an usher desperate for a program. I flashed my ticket, afraid he would collect it, but he instead simply acknowledged it and I went in.
The interior of the church is as stunning as the outside, only more so because it was lit up. It was not quiet so I felt comfortable taking non-flash photos from the back. With as little ado as possible, I casually tied on my handkerchief, the same one I wore inside the Orthodox Church surrounding Jacob's Well in Shechem. Then I found a seat next to two women. Shortly, another couple came to our row and I moved down to make room. Then the row filled from the other end, as another two women sat down. I estimated that twenty percent of the ladies wore head-coverings.
I expected the schola to be singing but there was no prelude. When the bishop entered, the church was not full because it was still quite early1. After kneeling at the side altar, the bishop went into a side room to vest. He was in there a long time. Meanwhile, folks began lining up for the procession. The Maidens of the Miraculous Medal were adorable! The Knights of Columbus, less so. I fancied they never dreamed they'd wear those outfits ever again.
There was likely quite a smirk on my face as I eyed the cross bearer, a traditional priest of the diocese vested as a subdeacon. He seemed to eye me back and I wondered whether he recognized me. I haven't visited his church in a long time.
I was unable to catch up with the printed text until the Kyrie. We didn't make the sign of the cross to begin the liturgy but I had crossed myself when the bishop blessed everyone on his way to the sanctuary. The schola's singing of the Gloria was quite fabulous. I think it was polyphonic and frankly I had expected plainer music. It sounded very like Simon & Garfunkel's Benedictus but with several more voices. Then the Collect and another subdeacon sang the Epistle. I didn't think his skill was much in evidence but it was a brief, familiar reading2 from Revelation 12. The congregation made very few of the replies printed in the provided rubrics, leading me to believe that the expected knee-jerk response has waned with the years. The only response made consistently was the proverbial et cum spiritu tuo.
There was plenty of picture-taking throughout. And flash photography at that. A professional photographer was making the rounds. View his work here. The woman at the end of my row snapped a picture during the elevation of the host. The distribution of holy communion was quite involved. First of all, everyone on the altar had to receive. And there were a ton of folks on the altar! The gesture they all performed prolonged the distribution: a genuflection before kneeling to receive, then another genuflection. It was almost like Irish folk dancing. They'd come from their respective camps on the right of the altar and on the left to the center and back again. Finally, the ushers brought the laity forward, beginning with the little Maidens. Then they brought up the side pews which outraged the woman next to me. She complained to her husband that everyone was going up ahead of her. I've seen it done before, taking the side pews first. It is uncommon but what's one more uncommon thing on top of so many others? I thought for a fleeting moment that I might receive from the bishop himself but then I could see he was working the far side of the rail.
It seemed to me that we're all rusty at taking communion (1) on our knees, (2) on our tongues, (3) at the rail. The worst part is, of course, that upon returning to our seats, everyone is out of sequence. In the N.O., that only happens if someone takes the wine. The two ladies on the center aisle ended up going all the way around the back of the church to their seats. The man next to me entered the pew without waiting for his wife. I stupidly followed him in and the other two ladies followed me. The man's wife showed up presently and had to climb over all of us! Which she did without hesitation. And the pews in this old Polish church are narrow.
I noted some left before holy communion. The two ladies to my left left right after holy communion which, in the TLM makes more sense than in the N.O. because there could be another dozen minutes of service remaining, what with the Last Gospel3 and all. I remember the Last Gospel being read in English at another Latin Mass I attended occasionally when I lived in Dayton, OH. Well, after all, I couldn't hear any of it last night, so I can't be certain what language it was. We all genuflected at the appropriate time during the reading, those of us who remained 'til the end, that is.
I got a real sense that the TLM is a kludge. That "best practices" have been incorporated over the
After the mass, everyone posed on the steps of the sanctuary for photographs. One woman nudged passed me, saying, "That's my daughter up there! I need a picture!" That made me wonder how many people attended the mass to see a friend or relative participate. And how many people were like me, just out looking for a good time? I don't know but it might account for the general absence of any air of reverence. The sheer number of photographs taken and the constant chit-chat of those around me suggested they were spectators. I flirted momentarily with reverence myself immediately after receiving communion merely because the communion line was still so amazingly long, I had nothing else to do but bow my head and close my eyes until it passed. That worked. I affirmed to myself, "It's the same communion bread, nothing extra, still just Jesus."
I took all the pictures I wanted after mass and walked outside to pick up the bus back to my car at NDHS. A row of four buses waited at the curb and I got on the first one. Two buses from behind pulled around the lead bus and left. How strange. Still I waited, noticing the bus was not acquiring many passengers. The driver closed the door and began to move the bus, then stopped and seemed to go in reverse, then forward again, then stopped and opened the door to about six people, women and children. The lady asked, "Is this bus going to Notre Dame?" The driver said, "No, to St. Gregory's" and the lady stepped off. I bolted up and down the bus stairs. I had no idea St. Greg's also ran buses to the mass! Imagine if I'd stayed on that bus! And I felt stupid for wasting 20 minutes on that bus when I could have been back at ND already.
I'm not in any part Polish, but I have these occasional brushes with Polish Catholicism:
1 The church never did fill completely.
2 It was the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, old Catholic calendar.
3 "Gospel - The Last Gospel" from Catholic Encyclopedia, Adrian Fortescue, Vol. 6, 662.
4 The club I have in mind is not the clergy but the entire Latin Mass community / apostolate, yet another closed, church clique.