December 09, 2002

Today was the Tufts dance

Today was the Tufts dance competition. It was very well run, and our team got the usual smattering of awards.

The first section was standard, which I wasn't dancing for various reasons, so I planned to just go to church there in Medford---the church right next to campus had an 8:30am Mass, according to the MassTimes website and the Archdiocese of Boston.

It was, without question, the weirdest Mass I've ever been to.

It started when we got there. (A girl from the team---also a member of the Brown Catholic Choir with me---went with.) We arrived at almost exactly 8:30 to... a completely empty church. A middle-aged woman bustled out a moment later to let us know Mass was at 9... Ok, we'll stay. By the way, the website says 8:30---oh, that takes effect in January.

So Becky and I went in and chatted quietly about the architecture of the church, Latin Masses, a production of Joseph that she'd been in, and random other stuff. Finally people started arriving. We were entertained by the appearance of a small choir of kids, mostly girls, aged perhaps 7--10, wearing red choir robes. The bustling woman accompanied them on the piano to a few nice little songs, and then the Mass was to start. One of the girls (beaming with pride) read the "Welcome to..." announcement, along with the number of the opening song. All mostly normal so far. But then: we sang verse 1 and the refrain, but then the choir cut out and the piano played while the priest finished walking to the altar, at which point it cut out abruptly in the middle of a verse. Odd.

The priest started speaking, and for a second I thought he was partially deaf and/or had a speech impediment. I then realised that it was just a strong accent that even by the end of the Mass I was unable to place, but my current theory is that it was Polish filtered by the fact that the English he'd learned had been North Boston, a fairly thick New England dialect. Anyway, it was difficult to understand more than one or two words in four of what he was saying. Which would be bad enough, except that he varied the routine opening prayers a bit, confusing me. Also, he must've repeated that this was the second Sunday of Advent, which has four Sundays (holding up two and then four fingers to make that clear), at least three or four times.

Then it was time for the first reading. One of the little girls in the choir walked up with her sheet of paper and started reading from it---but the mike on the lectern was angled for an adult, so we didn't hear a word until the priest walked over and re-angled it; but he didn't tell her to start over or anything. In fact, I'm pretty sure she didn't say the "A reading from the book of ___" at the beginning, and I'm certain she didn't say "The word of the Lord" at the end, she just walked off the lectern to the choir.

The responsorial psalm was not introduced, and I'm betting that nobody in that church knew what it was. The girls sang it once, unclearly, and we (sort of) repeated it, except that we didn't know the words and the tune was unfamiliar. Then another girl who had walked up to the lectern and read the verses (this at least has some precedent), each one followed by a still-incomprehensible rendition of the antiphon by the girls in the choir.

And then---the piano starts playing the Alleluia! No second reading or anything! To make things even weirder, about halfway through it, the priest leaves into the sacristy, and hadn't returned when the music stopped. He emerged after a moment holding the missallette we all had in the pews, which he read as he crossed the stage (perfunctorily bowing at the altar), then put down when he got to the lectern and read from a book that was already there. The gospel proceeded apace with the usual trappings, and then the homily, which was long and rambling---this at least was a touch of familiarity in this bizarre set of novel experiences.

We professed the faith normally, and then the priest read a long paragraph of petitions, none of which were followed by the customary "Let us pray to the Lord/Lord hear our prayer" or anything else. The offertory happened fast, before the choir started singing, but the collection proceeded during it; and when the song finished, the piano just cut off on the last note, no fermata or anything, which again sounded quite strange. The priest started in with the Eucharistic Prayer, which I'm not convinced he said right, and things proceeded roughly normally. The mass parts were unfamiliar but not particularly unusual (aside from the piano cutting out abrubtly at the end); these at least seemed familiar to the congregation, who was singing along.

At one point in the Eucharistic Prayer, I thought, "hm, this is a kneeling part now...?" This is a real question, because when I'm in the choir---as most weekends---most of us just stay standing rather than kneel on the carpet with our face in the side of the piano. Anyway, just as I thought this, the young woman immediately in front of us knelt down, and nobody else. More oddness.

Communion was a real treat. This church was laid out like most older, smaller churches: two columns of pews with aisles on the ends and the nave up the middle, with the altar and stuff in front. Typically, in situations where people are not blocked from walking the length of the pew, the way Communion works is everyone files out of the pew towards the center, up the nave, receives the host, and then walks around back down the aisle at the outside, and then walks along the pew until they're back at their seat. Well. At this church, everyone goes out the nearest end-of-pew, whether aisle (outside) or nave (centre), and then goes to the front to receive the host, then fights their way back to their pew against the line going the other way. Bizarre.

And all through the Mass, there was a kid near me squeaking his shoes on the floor VERY LOUDLY. As in, I saw the priest glance in his direction a couple times. But the parents weren't moving to do anything. I couldn't figure out which kid it was until the very end, at which point I actually tapped the kid on the shoulder and said, "Could you please not do that?" This he was definitely not expecting---probably embarrassed the hell out of him---and he did stop. I only hope the Dad is able to get a lot of mileage out of it ("You'd better stop, or someone besides me is going to embarrass you by asking!")

I'm trying to think if there's anything I'm forgetting. It was just unbelievable.

"Why does my pocket feel so warm all of a sudden? Huh... my wallet seems to smoldering... let's see what's going on... Wow. My credit card just burned its way through and seems to be inching towards the keyboard. This could be a problem." --Sam Walker Posted by blahedo at 2:03am on 9 Dec 2002

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