Sunday, December 28, 2008

prayer palace

The beautiful new church building at St. John Neumann parish opened on Christmas Eve. WBIR got it right in their report however the anchors on WVLT mistakenly called the building a cathedral. I dashed off an email to a couple of people there but unfortunately the same script was used in the 7:00 p.m. newscast that night. A cathedral is the building that houses the bishop's chair, which is called a cathedra.

After seeing the new building with my own eyes today, I wondered if our next bishop could decide to pick up his cathedra and move it to Farragut. Although it's probably just as likely that they would continue to spruce up Sacred Heart Cathedral, which is right next door to the diocesan offices. The religious artwork in the new place looks much better in context than it did in the photos I saw online in August. The more contemporary looking figures inside the ceiling dome are complimented by classic-looking paintings of saints and Stations of the Cross that look like mosaics. They must be relieved to have made the deadline on the cornerstone. I had read that the church was supposed to open last January.

The former chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville was elevated to bishop this past Spring. Bishop Vann Johnston now shepherds the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The Knoxville native was home for the holidays and celebrated the 10:30 Mass today at St. John Neumann. The bishop told me that the pastor, Fr. John Dowling, was inspired by the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Coincidentally, that is where my family and I went to Mass a week ago. I told Bishop Johnston that my wife and I had briefly been in his new diocese when we went to Branson this summer.

Fr. Dowling made some announcements before Mass began. They are moving the Saturday vigil Mass from 6:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. He said it would take too long to explain why. After Mass I heard some parishioners speculating that the church could book more Saturday evening weddings after the change. My wife had heard months ago that some families were registering in the parish so their daughters could get married in the new building.

The other big announcement was that the parish would no longer serve communion in both species. Apparently they feel that parishioners sipping from the cup takes too long. Because of the acoustics, they have decided to start singing slower and preaching slower, which will make the Masses run longer. The cavernous space and the hard surfaces create lots of echo.

I've been to several other churches where the problem of slow communion lines was solved by adding more cups, not by removing them. To me, the lack of communion in both species and a few other things made it feel like they were trying to turn back the clock. They rang a bell at the start of Mass and during the consecration. Some parts of the Mass were sung in Latin. When I hear the "Holy Holy Holy" and the "Lamb of God" I know it's time to lower the kneeler. At this Mass they sang "Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus" and "Agnus Dei." I lowered the brand new kneeler only to find that it had a child's muddy boot prints on it, probably from Christmas Eve when the weather outside was frightful wet. After Mass, I brushed it off as best I could with my hand.

The pew where I sat was in one of the transepts, near the ambo. The last person to receive communion in our section was a man carrying a fidgety toddler. A moment or two after the man received the host, I thought I saw the child drop something. I wasn't positive because neither the parent nor the deacon serving communion reacted. The man carried the boy back to their seats and the deacon went off to help distribute communion in the main section of the church. I had an inkling of a suspicion about what had fallen to the floor so I got up from my kneeler to investigate. It was only a few steps over to the spot where the communicants had stood. I didn't see anything until I knelt down to look more closely at the beige marble floor and tilted my head at an angle to see it in a different light. Half a host lay on the floor, barely visible because it was almost the exact same color as the marble. I picked it up and reverently put it in the palm of my hand. I thought about my options for a second and realized that the best thing for me to do in this circumstance was to consume the partial host myself. It would have been terribly disruptive for me to bring the host to the deacon or the bishop and say "look what I found."

I don't know if the deacon had broken the host in half because he was running out of them or if the man had broken the host in half himself, which he shouldn't have done. Either way, the child should not have had the opportunity to take the host from his father or to knock it out of his father's hand. In a situation like that, the man should have received the host directly on his tongue instead of in his hands. I wondered if he was a non-Catholic and didn't know the rules. Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in the host. We take his words at the Last Supper literally. A fancy church building like St. John Neumann's will attract tourists of all faiths. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis has the following paragraph on the back cover of their weekly bulletin:
All visitors who are not of the Catholic faith are welcome to join us in prayer but not to receive Holy Communion. Reception of Holy Communion is a sign of unity of faith and full membership in the Catholic community. Together let us pray for the eventual unity of all believers.
After feeling discouraged about the muddy shoe prints and the behavior of the child at communion, I'm glad that as I left the church after Mass, I turned back to read the inscriptions above the three doors. One of them reminds us of Jesus' words in the gospel of Mark: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them."

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