The next place I visited was a North Shore church which had- for the usual reasons I suppose- (falling membership, lack of money) been administratively joined with a nearby parish whose membership has become predominantly Mexican. The church building was one of the uglier specimens of modern church architecture. The church space was square, with primitive, cartoonish stained glass windows adorning one wall and an enclosed chapel/cry room. The traditional paintings and statues only served to emphasize the incongruity with their surroundings. The heavy concrete ceiling resembled a packing crate and gave me the feeling like it was going to fall down on us at any moment. Directly over the altar the architect had installed a gigantic tube. The purpose, I assume, was to cast down light upon the priest. Instead, I kept expecting to hear a loud flush and see the appropriate product come flowing down the pipe.
The music chosen by the pianist was probably the worst I've ever heard. All of the songs were written in the 80s and 90s and were consequently horrible. No melody, no tempo, no life; just a bunch of random notes that made these hymns utterly un-singable. The lyrics were hippy-dippy and were supposed to convey joy, but the hymns were dirge-like when played. It was utterly depressing and discouraging. No one sang.
The priest spoke in an odd, sing-songy manner, which made me think he might have been drunk, but as he held himself pretty steady on his feet, I suppose it was just a vocal idiosyncrasy. His sermon actually made sense. He compared sin to drug addiction- how we start off with just a little bit and before we know it we're sinning more and more and can't stop. That would have been a great theme for a sermon, but unfortunately he delivered it as if his intended audience were 12 year olds. I would have loved to hear the adult version.
The most embarrassing part of the Mass took place after the handshake of peace. The priest came down into the aisles and shook hands with everyone in sight. When he returned to the altar, he took out a big bottle of Purell, dispensed himself a dollop, and spent 30 seconds rubbing his hands with it. He then left the bottle on the altar for the rest of the Mass, right next to the Body and Blood of Christ. First of all, it's incredibly insulting to shake hands with someone and then disinfect yourself right in front of them. If he's so concerned about catching swine flu, he should just forgo the handshake and remain at the altar, as most priests do. Secondly, leaving a bottle of Purell up there on the altar next to the Eucharist was sacrilegious in my opinion. He made himself, the Mass and our Faith look absolutely ridiculous.
On a positive note, this parish has Stations of the Cross, a Bible Study and is having a "Mission". However, in yet another instance of bizarre Catholic thinking, the Mission is held during the week at noon, and the Bible study is at 9AM on Saturday mornings. Come on- let's try to schedule these things so people can actually come!
I returned to this church again this week. The pianist had a small choir this time and the hymns were slightly better, although still sub-par. No one sang. There was a different priest this time, a mustachioed gentleman who looked like an old cowboy. He had a loud, booming voice, which was good. Unfortunately, his sermon rambled from one disconnected platitude to another. When the handshake time came, he too went and shook everyone's hands. As for the Purell, it retained its position of honor on the altar next to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, Humanity's Savior and Lord of the Universe.