Besides the usual loincloth, the crucified Christ hanging in the front of the church was draped with a purple stole, which draped over His chest as it ran from one arm to the other, and which signified the 40 days of Lent. The opening hymn caught the mournful tone of the season, with a dollop of drama added by wind chimes:
“Save your people, O Lord/Show us the way to come home/We have been wandering far from your love/Save your people, O Lord.”
More drama came courtesy of a shimmering cymbal roll during the plea for mercy, a modern overlay on the more ancient effect produced by the choir’s use of Latin:
“Kyrie, eleison.” (Lord, have mercy)
The blend of modern and ancient, the swaying between formal Latin and loose, emotive contemporary, persisted throughout the Mass.
“Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.” (Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.)
“Mortem tuam annuntiamus Domine/et tuam resurrectionem confitemur/donec venias” (We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until You come.)
Serving as a sort of counterpoint to:
“In these days of Lenten journey/we have seen and we have heard/the call to sow justice/ in the lives of those we serve/We reach out to those who are homeless/ to those who live without warmth/in the coolness of evening we will shelter their dreams...”
Or maybe it wasn’t so much a blending or a contrast as it was a both/and. Consider the difference between Monsignor Edward Brockhaus’s homily and the prayers that followed. The Gospel told the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus became radiant on the mountaintop and was seen conversing with Moses and Elijah — the law and the prophets. Brockhaus’s lesson was, “We need to pray before we make important decisions, and we need to consult other people.” Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified, did indeed draw apart with a chosen few to pray and conversed with those who had come before. Later in the Mass, however, the scene was presented with a different emphasis: “On your holy mountain, He revealed Himself in glory in the presence of His disciples. He had already prepared them for His approaching death; He wanted to teach them through the law and the prophets that the promised Christ first had to suffer and come to the glory of His resurrection.”
The prayers of petition asked for “pastoral bishops and faith-filled theologians,” and implored aid “for prisoners and those held captive by sin.” They were followed by the Building Together prayer, asking for generous donations to the parish building fund.
And again, in the prayers during the Liturgy of the Eucharist: “Lord make us holy,” implored Brockhaus. “May this Eucharist take away our sins, that we may be prepared to celebrate the resurrection.” Later, he said that “Lent is above all a time of reconciliation,” and along with a plea for reconciliation with God, he petitioned that “in that new world, where the fullness of your peace will be revealed, gather people of every race, language, and way of life to share in the one eternal banquet with Jesus Christ the Lord.”
And finally, the Eucharist itself. “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” said Brockhaus, holding up the chalice and bowl. A high and formal pronouncement, but then came the business of distribution and a team of Eucharistic ministers: stepping behind a screen to wash their hands before taking their places and, afterward, tapping the sides of the bowls to ensure that every uneaten morsel made it back into the ciborium.
The next day was President’s Day, and before we left, an older gentleman from the choir stepped up to the mike. He read the First Amendment, with its governmental guarantee of religious freedom. He ran down a tally of presidents by religious affiliation: “We’ve had eleven Episcopalians, seven Presbyterians, four Unitarians, four Methodists, four Baptists, three Disciples of Christ, three who failed to state, two Quakers, one Congregationalist, and one Roman Catholic.” And, he concluded, “There have been nine attempts on presidents; four of them successful. May their souls rest in peace.”
The Mass closed with “America the Beautiful.” Besides asking God to “shed His grace on thee,” it also implored Him to “mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul/In self-control/Thy liberty in law.”
(A final, formal note: The Roman Catholic Church still maintains its rule against consuming meat on Fridays during Lent, and during the announcements after Communion, the congregation was invited to attend a dinner of fish and chips, hosted by the Knights of Columbus, every Friday in Lent at 5 p.m., followed by Stations of the Cross at 7 p.m.)
What happens when we die?
“I hope I’ll be with the Lord,” said Brockhaus. — Matthew Lickona
St John of the Cross
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Address: 8086 Broadway, Lemon Grove, 619-466-3209
Founded locally: 1939
Senior pastor: Edward Brockhaus
Congregation size: 4000 families
Staff size: 30
Sunday school enrollment: 700
Weekly giving: about $15,000
Annual budget: about $1 million
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to formal
Diversity: very diverse
Sunday worship: 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. (Spanish)
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour