Over Labor Day weekend, I traveled to Omaha.Although I’d made trips there with my family as a kid, we always stayed in South Omaha and never ventured downtown. So, curious about what the largest city in Nebraska had to offer, I headed north.
I wasn’t disappointed. My hotel was right downtown, within easy walking distance of most things I wanted to see: the pedestrian bridge between Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa; restaurants in the Old Market area; Heartland Fountain with its 300-foot water jet; the Joslyn Art Museum; and the Lauritzen Gardens.
At the top of my list, though, was to attend — according to a review on Yelp — the “drive-thru Mass of Omaha.” Providentially, this parish of St. Mary Magdalene was the closest church to my hotel, just four blocks away. Of the several comments about it on Foursquare, two stood out: one noted that Sunday Mass there was 27 minutes long (hence the “drive-thru” label); another said to go to 5:15 Mass and get a seat.
I left in plenty of time to get to the church on Saturday evening. I chose a pew in the middle and watched the place — as predicted — quickly fill up. It was the first time I’d attended Mass in 3-D. Well, that’s what it seemed like to me as the small church had its main floor, balcony seating that ran the length of the church and a eucharistic adoration chapel to the left. All were packed. And this was just one of two Saturday evening Masses.
There was no music and no processions of any kind. Two laywomen and one layman served in multiple roles: lector, servers, ushers, and eucharistic ministers. And Mass was not 27 minutes long, as advertised. It took 28 minutes.
I was prepared for a terrible liturgical experience, but that wasn’t the case. I’m not sure who the celebrant was, but I’m guessing it was the associate pastor, Father Vincent Sunguti (his accent sounded to my ears like he was from Kenya, where I worked for one summer). In any event, the celebrant was engaging and unhurried.
He supplemented his brief, official, four-minute homily, with a couple of “mini-hom- ilies” — one before the penitential rite and a sung ditty post-Communion.
The readings for that weekend were Jeremiah saying that the Lord duped him and Jesus telling his disciples to take up their cross. The homilist said that at times we may feel duped by God because of the crosses that come our way, but we must never forget to count our blessings as well, to put things into perspective. He then sang a verse or two of Johnson Oatman Jr.’s hymn, “Count Your Blessings”: “Are you ever burdened with a load of care?/Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?/Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly/And you will keep singing as the days go by.” His nice tenor voice lingered in the church as he continued the Mass.
The only thing that honestly felt rushed was the collection. The ushers zipped up and down the various aisles like dervishes, taking up a first, then a second collection — and on my side for some reason, a third!
I was glad that I attended the drive-thru Mass, which sparked several observations. First, it showed me that a quick Mass doesn’t automatically mean it’s not reverent and meaningful.
And conversely, a long Mass doesn’t necessarily guaran- tee a holier experience. I did, however, miss the music.
Second, though any number of people might have been there because of its brevity, at least they made the effort to come to Mass and be exposed to God’s word and presence.
Finally, this Mass confirmed a suspicion that I’ve had for years. I can’t think of a weekend when at least one person didn’t leave Mass early. As a celebrant, I always wonder if I “went too long.” Well, that worry was put to rest in Omaha. Even with this 28-minute Mass, the two pews in front of me and much of the balcony left after Communion!
Taking my cue from the homily that day, rather than being “cross” at those who couldn’t wait to get out of church, instead I decided to count my blessings, one by one, “and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”