This morning, December 19, I celebrated the Vigil Mass for Christmas, with the readings for Midnight Mass. Before the liturgy the cantor sang several Christmas carols. The entrance hymn was O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The closing song was O Come, All Ye Faithful. Oh! We also celebrated the anointing of the sick.
Perhaps I should mention that this liturgy was at a local health care facility where Mass will not be celebrated on Christmas Eve or Day. Thus, in violation of both the church and civil calendar, it was Christmas today at Concord Health Care Center.
(I hope that posting this will not lead to my having to return my M.A. in liturgy to Notre Dame. I'd be curious to know if others celebrate in this fashion, to a greater or lesser degree, in anticipation of December 24/25.)
But the real reason for this post is unrelated to my liturgical aberrations. I wanted to share with you a few things about this morning's prayer.
Some 45 residents gathered in the recreation room for Mass. Jen and Carol, cantor and pianist from my parish, were music ministers for our assembly. In addition to the two hymns I've mentioned, we also sang Psalm 23 (Gelineau) after the first scripture. No, it didn't follow very well after Isaiah but it's a psalm this group knows well and it figured prominently in my homily. I preached on the shepherds in the fields as the first to hear the good news that the Lord (who is our Shepherd) had been born in Bethlehem. I spoke about how Lord shepherds us in the Sacrament of the Sick: guiding, protecting and strengthening his sheep and, with the oil of the sick, binding up our wounds in body and soul.
As we were setting up for Mass, Jen was singing carols. What a joy to see these elderly folks singing along, in some cases, barely mouthing the lyrics of songs long stored in their minds and hearts.
Nursing homes are the only venue in which I "open up" the prayers of the faithful to individual petitions and as always, it was moving to hear these men and women pray for one another, for those who care for them, for sick and deceased family members, for a grandchild's welfare and, over and and over again, "For peace in the world..."
A retired priest celebrates Mass in this facility once a month and he concelebrated with me today. Fr. George usually walks with a cane but he certainly kept up with me as we split the room in two for the laying on of hands and anointing. When all the residents had been anointed, George and I returned to the "altar" where he asked me to anoint him. What a grace to minister this sacrament to him who has ministered it to so many others all his life.
We sang two verses of O Come, All Ye Faithful and towards the end of the second verse Carol turned to me for a cue about going on for a third. I gave her a sign to stop so that I could invite the folks to sing Adeste Fideles. But before the invitation was off my lips, one of the residents called out asking if we might sing it in Latin. Which we did. With gusto. And with a tear on my cheek. Pondering how many decades ago these faithful people had first learned and begun to sing "Venite adoremus Dominum!"
After Mass, Kelly, the woman who organizes our parish ministry to this nursing home, accompanied me to individual rooms and to the Alzheimer's unit to visit, anoint and bring the Eucharist to those who couldn't come to the rec room for Mass. The men and women we visited in their rooms tend to be in poorer health and less keenly aware of their surroundings and what's happening. But so many step out of their personal haze when they hear someone say, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." Faces focus, hands reach to touch foreheads and from the treasury of faith deposited in the depths of hearts, prayer rises to lips, to speech.
A little bit of Christmas, "right this very minute," on December 19!
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