February 24: Third Sunday of Lent
Parish: St. Barnabas Catholic Church
8300 Rahke Road Indianapolis, IN 46217
Number of families: 1799
Church capacity: 750
The place is all roof. It reminds me of the lean-tos I used to sleep in during Boy Scout camp, but about 50 times the size. It slopes up to what looks like a square chimney with some windows fringing the top.
Actually, now that I think about it, it reminds me of the Hall of Justice from the last season of the Superfriends:
Inside, it looks like your run of the mill Vatican II era church. Very few statues, a holy water “font” that’s just a fishpond fountain bubbling over some rocks, and more classrooms, meeting rooms, and anterooms than I could count. The actual worship space looks like a conference center, an octagonal space with a surprisingly low ceiling. However, once you get to the sanctuary, that tall chimney space opens up to an open column of light. I don’t recall what the altar table looked like (this is why I usually take pictures to compensate for my faulty memory), but there were several chairs on either side, enough for 10 people. No crucifix on the back wall, but I’m not surprised.
My ranking: 2.5 out of 5.
There was no choir and no pipe organ (for which I am glad; the acoustics in this place are terrible). Instead, we had two cantors (male and female), a piano, and a guitar. The male cantor was a little too soft in his singing, and was constantly getting drowned out by the piano. The female cantor was OK, but her wardrobe was a little inappropriate for Mass. She was wearing a square-neck blouse that showed quite a bit of her upper chest, and by the end of Mass, was also showing quite a bit of cleavage. Dress code aside, the quality of their singing was passable, although they need to finish singing the hymns. They would sing the first two verses, then forget to start singing the third.
The guitar was surprisingly unobtrusive. He wasn’t trying to outdo any of the other musicians, and his playing was more along the lines of a low-key strumming, a way to allow the others to keep time.
The selection of hymns was about what I expected: mostly from the 1970s, familiar enough that I was able to sing two of the four without a hymnal. I didn’t bother singing the other two.
My ranking: 2.5 of 5. I was going to give them a 3, but not with the female cantor busting out. If she is going to be at the front of the church and be a focal point, she should know better.
There were actually two priests. One read the Gospel and gave the homily, and the other said the ordinary and canon. I’ll rate this second one first, since he was the better of the two.
Fr. Summers looked to be a fairly mild-mannered man, and he gave a mild-mannered Mass. There wasn’t anything that stuck out as being off-kilter, and while it wasn’t as energetic as some I’ve seen, he seemed sincere and earnest enough. If I had to choose between him and some others I’ve seen, he would do quite nicely.
Fr. Farrell, on the other hand, would not. Right off the bat, he set my teeth on edge with his raspy voice. Then he went completely out of bounds. The reading today was John 4: 5-42. Right after announcing the reading, he told everyone to BE SEATED during the Gospel “due to the unusual length”. I don’t bloody care if you’re reading the entire book of John, with Matthew, Mark, and Luke thrown in for good measure. This is the Gospel Of the Lord; you stand as a sign of reverence and attentiveness to the Good News of Jesus. I know it’s long, but for crying out loud, don’t wimp out.
As result of people sitting, there were more than a few whispered conversations by the time he reached the end. He then came down from the pulpit and gave his homily while standing about four rows deep. I don’t remember what he said, and to be honest, I wasn’t paying attention. When he was done, he did not return to the sanctuary, but sat down in a pew until the presentation of the gifts, when he received the offering basket and brought it up. It’s like he decided he was done sitting in the congregation, and was ready to be a priest again.
Fr. Summers: 3.5 of 5.
Fr. Farrell: 1 of 5
For the most part, the Mass was acceptable. The cantors weren’t trying to upstage each other, and when both cantors sang together, they complemented each other. The Holy, Holy, Holy and the Lamb of God were sung by them in a verse-chorus-verse style, and while that’s not my favorite way of doing things, at least they were reverent about it. The unbelievable handling of the Gospel aside, the readings were an even split. The first reading was well done, with good inflection and pacing. The second reading, done by different person, was a mix of Christopher Walken, William Shatner, and a soap opera actress going for a Daytime Emmy.
When it came time for Communion, there was an army of Eucharistic ministers. I counted 20 in all, including the two priests. Because this is such a large congregation, the communion vessels needed to be a bit more institutional. The wine and water were in large plastic pitchers, like the kind waiters use to pour ice water. The chalices were large glass water goblets. They would look fine on a dining room table, but not really desirable for the Blood of Christ. The wine itself was more of a zinfandel. I guess with that many people, you have to buy Beringer’s in bulk.
My ranking: 3 of 5.
Four alter servers, all boys, all in sneakers.
One of the Eucharistic ministers was a woman dressed in a Benedictine habit. Definitely not a nun’s habit; I’ve spent too much time at the monastery not to know the difference.
There was a section of the bulletin labeled "Church Etiquette". It's bad when you actually have to tell people, in print, that there needs to be a respectful silence maintained, that they should turn off their cellphones and pagers (actually, as often as I've heard phones go off in Mass, maybe that does need to be told), do not chew gum in church, and "the priest should be the last person to enter the Church, and the first one to leave." The priest reinforced that last bit in his closing announcements, by telling people that there are enough coffee and doughnuts for everyone in the after-Mass gathering, so they don't need to rush out of Mass until it's done.
One thing which really stood out: this church is WAY too small for the number of parishioners. Every pew was nearly full; the ushers had to look long and hard to find more than two empty spaces next to each other. I had to sit on the very edge of one pew, and I know that there were probably 50 or so people who were standing in the back of the church.
My overall ranking: 2.5 of 5.
Would I return: probably not
Two years ago, as I was finishing up RCIA but before I formally was received into the Church, I came here on a Sunday evening to satisfy my weekly obligation. I wasn’t impressed with it then, but I wanted to give it a second look. Well, I did, and my first impression was right. This is a great place for people to go to meet their friends, take part in extra-curricular activities, and have a “happy” Mass. God was there, but He certainly wasn’t the main focus.