Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cantor's Diary: Never Assume...

Well, tonight was the vigil Mass for Palm Sunday - and it began with one of those memorable liturgy failures

You need to understand three things about my parish; 1.) when I came to this parish almost 14 years ago, the liturgy was celebrated well, 2.) there have been a lot of changes of personnel and abilities over the years and 3.) and I am only a volunteer. (In two prior parishes, I was director of liturgy.)  

I was scheduled to be the cantor so I arrived a little earlier than usual. The first thing I noticed was that a number of older people who had entered by doors other than the center rear one did not see and pick up palms from the table in back of church, so I went back and passed a few around.  The kids who were there for Confirmation service hours were hanging around the table, but not being very diligent about making sure palms were distributed.

The next thing I noticed was there was no priest in sight at 2 minutes past the time Mass was to begin. OK, that meant it was probably our associate pastor, who tends to run a little late. Sure enough, he appeared at the ambo 3 minutes past starting time and announced that people should go get palms. (We're already on that one, Father!)

Then, he goes to the back and after some short delay, he comes out gives me the "high sign" to start and forms up the opening procession. Wrong. I pointed toward the back, because I don't get to start on Palm Sunday, the presider does. Nothing. Not a glimmer. No book.  I dutifully greeted the people and asked them to stand. Still nothing. No book. The ministers in the back made motions for me to start.

I was a bit at a loss by now, and it was pretty obvious that we were not going to hear the preliminary gospel reading before the blessing of the palms, but knowing that the palms needed to be blessed, I finally hit on a creative choice. I  then asked "Please face the back and Father will now bless the palms." Still nothing. Then, finally, a faint hint of understanding appeared to dawn on Father and he picked up the aspersorium and with the altar server began to walk up and down the aisle to sprinkle the palms as if it were a sprinkling rite.

I looked across at my music director and we mutually decided there was nothing to be done but to start the opening song  (Psalm 122: "The Road to Jerusalem", with Palm Sunday verses.). When the presider and the server got halfway up the center aisle, it finally dawned on the lector with the Book of the Gospels and the other ministers in the back of the procession that they should probably come along too.  "I rejoiced when I heard them say we will go to the house of the Lord" - I think!

And so it began...  After Mass, I approached Father and explained that I did not know what to do at the beginning - and that I had expected him to begin with the reading and blessing, which he could find in the book. He grinned sheepishly and said, "Yes, it's in the book."  (Repeat after me, "I am only a volunteer. I am only a volunteer...")

Never. Assume. Never assume the priest has actually looked at the order of the liturgy ahead of time. Never assume the priest does not need help.


  1. Replies
    1. Yeah, true. I refrained from making a full post describing the sequel... how the same priest messed up and pretty much forced me to sing the "clergy-only greeting" in the Exsultet despite my having gone over it with him and it being "on his list" from the staff planning meeting. I will just continue to assume nothing. :-)