Since we were traveling, my wife and I spent the first Sunday of Advent away from our home parish this weekend. We attended the Saturday night vigil Mass at her parents’ parish: St. Raphael’s, in suburban Washington, DC.
I’d been there many times over the last 40 years or so, and it’s undergone a few renovations—most notably, adding a new altar (depicting Raphael and other angels) and a special altar for the tabernacle (depicting the 10 Commandments).
That sanctuary is not unfamiliar to me; I served and preached at my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary several years back, and I was struck by how tall the altar is. I’m 5’7″ and it nearly reached my chest.
That didn’t seem to be an issue with the celebrant Saturday night: the Rev. Francisco Aguirre. He began the liturgy by blessing the Advent wreath. He was assisted by one (1) altar server, who did a commendable job all by herself.
Fr. Aguirre preached a good, concise homily that began—as so many do on this Sunday—by wishing everyone a happy new year. He then expounded on how these readings, and the meaning behind them, extends the theme and message of last week, for Christ the King. He preached from the ambo, from a text.
Otherwise, I was struck by a couple things in the liturgy. First, there was a lot of music. The first 10 minutes of the Mass, we heard more from the leader of song than we did the priest; she sang a prelude, then the processional, then the penitential rite, the psalm between the readings, and the “Alleluia” before the gospel—which, in an interesting twist, was set to the melody of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Secondly—and I’ve never encountered this before—the parish announcements were made while the altar was being set for the preparation of the gifts. That was odd—and, really, it broke the continuity of the liturgy. Suddenly, we were taken outside the realm of the Mass and into mundane parish activities like an upcoming Stone Soup event. I don’t know if they do that every week, but it was, like I said, odd. And distracting.
The music was mostly unfamiliar to me, played agreeably on a piano—though I did recognize the recessional, “People, Look East.”
I was pleased to see in the bulletin that they have four deacons—yes, four!—and three priests, including the pastor and a senior priest in residence. The parish also has a full slate of devotions and Masses: two weekday Masses; Exposition and Benediction two days a week; along with the Miraculous Medal Novena and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Confession is available three days a week. According to the bulletin, the parish also has something called SRO, Social Responsibility and Outreach, which includes supporting a twin parish in the Dominican Republic, pro-life awareness and prayer, and information about upcoming legislation in the Maryland General Assembly.
The parish seems to be doing well financially, too: a recent edition of the bulletin noted that the weekly collection netted $27,461.50 from 441 envelopes, plus another $12,578.50 from “Faith Direct” and 352 donors. The weekly operating budget for expenses is $42,000.
Finally, I appreciated this item on the front page of the bulletin:
In accord with the regulations of the Archdiocese of Washington, couples must contact a priest and begin preparation for marriage at least six months prior to the wedding. Parish registration and active participation for the minimum of three months is required before preparation may begin. Living together before marriage is sinful and harmful to the future marriage. Couples who are living together will be asked to live separately during the preparation time.
Meanwhile…People, look East!
People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.