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    A View from the Pew
    Sunday
    Mar182012

    Welcome Home 

    Welcome Home

    A family from St. Martin. A mid-West basketball team from a Christian Brothers high school. A couple from Canada. Peoples from Brazil, Mexico, Africa and countries in Europe. “Welcome home,” Father Paul J. Henry greets us with kindly warmth and genuine sincerity. What more can you ask for than this thoughtful hospitality from the rector of a shrine? On vacation and enjoying warm, sunny weather in Orlando, Patrick and I worshipped today at one of our favorite churches - Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine.

    As we joined the procession of cars turning into the shrine’s parking lot, I commented, “Would that every church need a police parking detail on weekends.” Remember the last scene in Pay It Forward, when a procession of cars moving to the song Calling All Angels makes its way to young Trevor McKinney’s home to gather and remember him after his murder? That’s what the procession of cars looks like as thousands of people from all over the world assemble to gather and remember, celebrating who we are as church. Even on vacation, we belong to God.

    I admit that the sight of faithful pilgrims on the journey did my heart a lot of good today. Obviously Orlando welcomes thousands because of the entertainment industry. Yet, people worldwide build time to worship God into their vacations. Pat and I see this each time we come to Orlando.  “Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you, Jerusalem,” prays the psalmist today.  Even beyond vacations, so many people neglect the worship of God on a weekly basis. Yet, as evidenced, the church shows up on Sunday morning when the church’s ministers work hard on their behalf to offer a robust worship experience that contains meaning in their lives.

    An Asian couple joined Pat and I on the brick walkway leading to the shrine.

    “Do you worship here regularly?” I asked the woman.

    “Yes. We moved here 22 years ago from New Jersey. We actually belong to another parish in Orlando but we love it here at the shrine so much that we just keep returning.”

    The shrine church comfortable seats 2,000 people. Four weekend liturgies consistently fill to capacity. The fifth liturgy, a 7:30 Mass on Sunday morning sees about 1,000 people weekly.

    So what keeps them coming?

    Genuine hospitality

    The ministers of hospitality may be the people we take the most for granted and prepare the least in lay ecclesial ministry. Yet, these people greet everyone at the door of the church and often times the first people we meet when and where we worship. More than the folks who hand out the worship aids or assist us to find a seat, ministers of hospitality serve as the eyes and hands of Christ. They survey the landscape as they search for those with special needs, offer assistance for anyone who may have a question, collect the tithe, prepare special arrangements for particular instances – the list can be endless. At Mary, Queen of the Universe, the welcome is impossible to miss. And I really believe that the tone for that kind of hospitality is set by the pastor, or in this case, the rector. Fr. Henry’s authentic joy to see an assembly gather at the shrine is far more than a happiness to see numbers in the nave. His graciousness carries through to all of the volunteers who serve as ministers of hospitality. I very much appreciate their diligent attention whenever we worship at the shrine and recognize Christian koinonia reflected in not only how they greet but how they take pride in their ministry. 

    Excellent lay ministry

    The excellence of the reader and the extraordinary ministers of communion really struck me this morning. The prayerful conviction and faultless diction with which the reader proclaimed God’s word alerted me that this reader spent time reflecting on the Word, practiced reading it and understood what she read. I wish I could put her in my pocket and bring her to workshops that I offer for ministers of the word. This readers’s ministry was that notable. I was equally impressed by the extraordinary ministers of communion. As I watched them from my pew, their unswerving attention on each of us as they distributed Eucharist caused me to marvel at their ability to dispense Eucharist without growing weary at the processing multitude while ministering with gracious earnestness. Someone on the shrine staff trains lay ministers to serve with distinction. You know authenticity when you experience it. 

    Worthy preaching

    The people of God cannot emphasize enough on how much good preaching matters to the person in the pew. Breaking open God’s word to hear its relevance as a living reality in our lives in this time and place forms and informs us to become all that God imagines for us. A well honed homily worthy of its inspiration, God’s word, should be the crowned jewel of every liturgy. Encourage, hearten, challenge and shore up the people of God, all you preachers. We hear Christ speaking to us through your words. Thanks to Fr. Paul Henry, who never disappoints us in this regard.

    Superb Music

    I love Dr. Bill Picher, the shrine’s music director. He and his family sounds a lot like the Gannons. You can find us in different churches on weekends and holy days because we’re all ministering in a variety of locations. The Pichers and the Gannons get each other; live it, learn it.

    Proficient, pleasant and prayerful, this pastoral musician comes with the full package. Bill’s musical dexterity propels the Basilica Choir comprised of eight professional singers to achieve prayerful worship through the music they create. Bill always graciously shares his music program with me and I’m grateful for his collegiality. I include the music for today’s liturgy below:

    This Day God Gives Me (IRISH)

    Lenten Kyrie by local composer Gary Pretty man. A melodic setting, easily sung by the assembly to replace the Gloria during the season of Lent.  

    Psalm 137Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you by W.M. Glenn Osborne, another local composer, led by two cantors alternated the verses from the ambo. Musically interesting and prayerful setting.

    Gospel Acclamation –Owen Alstott from Respond and Acclaim (OCP), SATB choral

    Preparation of GiftsSt. Patrick’s Breastplate (Basilica Choir)

    Father Paul Henry preached on St. Patrick’s Prayer this morning. I anticipated that the Shrine’s pristine choir might sign The Deer’s Cry. But the pastoral musicians surprised me with an unfamiliar and really beautiful rendition of the Breastplate, an arrangement that they created out of their own musical creativity.  One of tenors, Marshall, played fluid and pure flute interludes and descants as the choir sang this entreating piece accompanied by Bill’s harp-like continuo as he played and conducted from the organ bench. Well done.

    Second Preparation Song:               Amazing Grace

    I surveyed the thousands who worshipped as they sang the piece, some by heart. No matter where you’re from, EVERYBODY knows this hymn and sings it heartily.

    Mass Acclamations:                         Revised Community Mass by Richard Proulx.

     Still one of my favorite settings, I’m amazed at how many people know and sing this Sanctus without\

    music or lyrics at their disposal. “Regal” describes the way Bill and the choir implement this setting.

    worthy rendition for the most important hymn of praise of the liturgy.

     

     Lamb of God                                     by Rick Gibalda from his Litany for the Breaking of the Bread (GIA).

    A really beautiful, harmonic setting to begin the Fraction Rite.

    Communion Songs:                          Create in Me by David Haas. Psalm 51 (GIA)

                                                                Remember Not Our Offenses by Henry Purcell (choir)

    Post Communion hymn:                  Irish Blessing by Molly Conole

    A stunner of a piece and so well executed by the pastoral musicians that spontaneous applause affirmed our gratitude at the significance of music and the deployment of prayer.

    Instrumental recessional                               Rigadaun by Andre Campra

    I really appreciated that Bill elected not to employ sung prayer at the end of the liturgy and an option that not a lot of pastoral musicians use, particularly in Lent. Not singing gave me an opportunity to focus on the processional cross as it passed me in the pew. If I would have been engaged in a hymnal, I may have a missed a moment of grace. Options are worth deliberation, just as seasonal choices need consideration.

    Hospitality. Strong leadership, lay and ordained. Beautiful and prayerful music. Robust presiding and preaching. The elements that perpetuates a returning assembly week after week, year after year, generation after generation.

    A happy problem

    If you think that you see large crowds on feast days, consider this basilica, which serves 30,000 people at five liturgies. A happy problem – so many Christians celebrating the Paschal Mystery, dropped off by the busload. Praise the Lamb - what a sight!

    Thank you to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, a haven that feeds and restores Patrick and I and where we find ourselves welcomed home by those who serve this lovely dwelling place of God and community of the world.