Can I Get an Amen?

The priest pounded the podium as he shouted, “They did it on Sunday morning! On Sunday morning!” He pounded so hard we flinched and a few people covered their ears.

Father David, visiting while our regular priest was dealing with the death of his father, is what you might call colorful. Sitting at the piano as choir director, I had to be alert every second because the Mass would not follow the usual patterns. Oh no. But I could sympathize with his rant about Sundays because I’m constantly dealing with people who expect me to do things on Sunday mornings, not considering that I might possibly be at church. That very day I was missing an important meeting because it was Sunday. Sometimes I want to pound wood, too.

But let’s get back to Father David. He’s a missionary who lives in Warrenton, up the coast near Astoria, Oregon. He has been to Sacred Heart several times now. His Masses are always a wild ride. Father Palmer, bless his heart, has a hard act to follow.

You know it’s going to be different when you walk in and the priest kisses your hand and tells you you’re beautiful. When you tell him your name is Sue, he bursts into song: “Suzanne takes your hand to a place by the river . . .” He knows all the words. Not knowing what else to do, you sing along. When my friend Georgia arrives, he sings, “Georgia, Georgia . . .”

You know it’s going to be different when every door and cupboard in the sacristy is open, and there’s this guy who looks like one of our many homeless visitors who turns out to Father’s assistant and ends up in a white cassock serving communion. And there’s this other young guy named Travis with a tiny tuft of beard who also shows up on the altar in a white cassock and reads the announcements. You wonder what gives with these assistants, but they’re friendly and you suspect Father needs their help.

You know it’s going to be different when you walk in at five minutes before Mass time, and Father is already on the altar talking and leading a prayer. Then he goes back to the vestibule and processes in. Wait? Are we late?

You know it’s going to be different when he finishes the opening prayers and suddenly looks at you expectantly. You’re thinking: We don’t have a song here. He softly says, “The Kyrie,” which is something the priest usually leads, but he’s not going to. So you stand up at the piano, take a deep breath, and belt out “Kyrie eleison!” and hope the choir and the congregation echo you. Thank God they do. The notes vary, but it’s loud.

You know it’s going to be different when out of nowhere Fr. David shouts, “Amen!” and invites you to say Amen back. And he does it again and again until you’re all laughing and shouting and thinking: Is this really a Catholic church?

You know it’s going to be different when he gives a 10-minute sermon before the readings, when he has his assistants stand on either side of him holding candles while he reads the gospel, when he strolls down the aisle during the homily and challenges people with questions and comments, and when he points a finger at you and asks if you have been redeemed. Startled, you nod yes because what else can you do.

You know it’s going to be different when he starts speaking during the offertory song, when he tosses out a new prayer in the middle of the Preparation of Gifts and adds little asides during the Eucharistic Prayer, when during Communion he bends down to hug and talk to the little kids, and when he sips throughout the mass from a little black wine goblet. He says it’s water.

You know it’s going to be different when he scoops handfuls of water from the baptismal font and flings it with his hands at the people on the altar, the choir and you, so that drops of water are running down your face and beading up on the piano keys as he tells you to “tickle those ivories” for the closing song. He sings along. Afterward, he tells you the choir is “awesome.”

You also know that he did it differently last week and if he comes back in the future, it will be different again. All you know is that you don’t know what will happen next and that the Holy Spirit is dancing a jig because the Catholics are finally livening up.

You know you hope Father David comes back soon.

New Liturgy=Babel in the Pews

Four weeks into using the new translation of the Catholic liturgy, we can be sure of one thing: Every time the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” 50 percent of the congregation will say, “And also with you,” the old response, and 50 percent will say, “And with your spirit,” the new response. Both groups will say it loudly and confidently, but some will follow it up with a quiet curse. Dang, screwed it up again. We have been saying the same words for 40 years. It’s going to take a while to change things.

Meanwhile, we cling to our cheat sheets. Last week, when I left the keyboard to sing in the choir, I looked down and noticed Julian, our young guitar player, with the old version of the Creed in front of him. I could see his expression becoming more and more confused as his words didn’t match ours. The new Creed even starts on a different word, “I” instead of “We.” Yesterday, we had a visiting singer who didn’t seem to know about the cheat sheets either. Confusion on his face, too.

It’s tricky for this old piano player, too. I’m used to certain cues. When Father mentions the angels singing praise, my fingers hit the keys to play the “Holy, Holy.” “When he says, “Through him and with him . . . ” I’m set to play the “Amen.” With the changes, I’m thinking: “Now?” The end of the Mass is still a muddle. Nobody is sure when to say, “Amen,” “Thanks Be to God” or “Coffee and donuts are being served in the hall.”

We’ll get it. Just not this year. I can’t wait to see the confused looks next weekend when all those folks who only show up at Christmas discover that things have changed.

Meanwhile, the good thing is that it makes us pay attention and think about what we’re saying and why we’re saying it.

So, the Lord be with you. And with your spirit.

Merry Christmas to you all. Even if you don’t believe Jesus is God, He was pretty cool, so celebrate.

The New Mass has begun

Last night at Mass, I led the choir at Sacred Heart Church in new songs for a new Mass. For over 40 years, we Catholics have been saying the same words every Sunday. The priest said, “The Lord be with you” and we answered “And also with you.”

But now, the words have changed. We are to respond “And with your spirit.”

That is only one of many changes. The words of the Gloria, the Creed, and the Communion prayers are all different. The meaning is the same, but all over the English-speaking world, Catholics are saying different words this weekend. It’s the biggest change since the post-Vatican II overhaul in the 1960s.

Prior to Vatican II, the Mass was said in Latin, and the priest did most of the talking. The New Mass was spoken in the language of the people, and they played a much larger role, with spoken and sung responses. They held hands during the Lord’s Prayer and offered each other a sign of peace. Older people who were used to the way Mass had always been said had a hard time adjusting, and some dropped out of the church. My parents were among them.

This time, the changes are not quite as drastic, but they are profound. The church fathers have written a new translation from Latin into English which we began using this first weekend of Advent.

After Thanksgiving Mass on Thursday, parishioners took the old books out of the pews and replaced them with new ones. In the choir room, we took all the old service music out of the binders and files. Entire collections of service music are no longer allowed to be sung. We moved mountains of paper. Out with the old, in with the new.

Last night, I felt honored to be able to lead the choir for the debut of the new 2012 Mass. Some of the words are the same, but enough have changed that suddenly we have to pay attention and listen to what we’re saying. We all made mistakes. Many of the responses came out as a mix of old and new. The old words are so engrained in our minds. But I’m glad I was there.

The only “disaster” of the Saturday vigil Mass had nothing to do with the new liturgy. For some unknown reason, the ushers started taking a second collection after Communion. We didn’t have one planned. As the baskets were being passed, Father Brian stared out at the pews. “I don’t believe we have a second collection.” But it was too late. People had already put money in the baskets. Rather than take it back, they opted to give it to the local food pantry.

At the end of Mass, Fr. Brian raised his hands and said, “The Lord be with you.” Some of us, armed with cheat sheets, responded, “And with your spirit.” Others answered, as always, “And also with you.” It’s going to take a while, but the new Mass has begun.

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