Mary Queen of Peace, 3411 Third Ave. S.
Service: 9 a.m., Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Length of service: 39 minutes. Length of sermon: 6 minutes
For this, my final church visit, I decided to go back to my roots. As I explained in the essay introducing this series, I used to attend Mass six days a week as a young Catholic.
So I chose to attend the Tuesday-morning service at Mary Queen of Peace Parish, where three South Side churches now have combined services while fundraising continues to build a new church on South 27th Street.
As it turned out, this was the perfect way to end my curiosity-fulfilling investigation of the Billings spiritual landscape. In my months of church-going, I had endured so many lengthy, theatrical sermons, so much razzmatazz and so much music of variable quality.
Here at Mary Queen of Peace for this weekday service there was no music at all, the sermon was exceedingly short and there was nothing in the way of spectacle or entertainment.
The church itself, formerly Little Flower Church, is an attractive, old-fashioned building of white stucco, with a statue of Mary looking down over the main entrance. Inside, all was simple and elegant, with a sanctuary bearing an unadorned altar, a lectern and a miniature grand piano.
There was one crucifix above the sanctuary and one painting of Christ at the front of the church, but four representations of the Virgin—two statues, one painting in the Mexican style and another painting in the Orthodox icon style. There were about a dozen people in attendance, most of them, I venture to say, in their 70s and 80s.
What is this series about?
To read the essay that introduced this series click here.
The service started in absolute silence. I wasn’t even aware that the priest, Father Jose Marquez, had walked in until everyone else stood up. He read a few short prayers, including one that mentioned St. Patrick, since this was that saint’s feast day, after which an elderly woman walked to the lectern and read from Ezekiel 47.
The passage relates how the prophet was shown a wonderful life-giving river that grew from a trickle to an abounding stream. Then Marquez read from the New Testament, John 5, wherein Jesus heals the lame man waiting his turn to enter a pool of water in Jerusalem.
Marquez preached on the two readings for just six minutes, the shortest sermon I’d heard in weeks, and if I had known it was going to be so short I might have listened harder. As it was, I wasn’t quite sure I heard the connection between Ezekiel and John. I do remember Marquez pointing to Jesus on the cross and mentioning how he was pierced in the side by the soldier’s lance.
Blood and water trickled from the wound, he said, the water signifying the sacrament of baptism and the blood the sacrament of communion. And like the stream in Ezekiel, he said, the trickle of water and blood from the side of Jesus grew mightily until it, too, was a life-giving river.
He also said, in reference to the lame man in John, that “sin is what makes us crippled. Sin is what makes us paralyzed. Sin is what makes us blind.” And during Lent, he said, “we prepare ourselves for Christ’s victory over sin and death.”
It was simple enough but oddly moving, and when it was over Marquez sat down to the right of the altar in silence for perhaps a minute or so, and I thought again how blessed the silence was. He prepared for communion in silence as well, and when it was ready he raised the chalice three times and intoned, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,” answered by the congregation, “Grant us peace.”
Everyone but I partook of communion, after which there was yet another interlude of silence. I felt I was being spoiled by such an abundance of quietude. I thought the Mass was going to conclude after that, but Marquez instead began reading from a sheet of paper, and I realized a similar sheet was next to me on the pew, consisting of more prayers and responses.
There were eight or nine prayers, all to the Virgin, and I can’t think of a better way to end this week’s chapter, or this whole series, than to quote from one of them, which to my mind contains the essence of the Christian message:
“Following your example of faith, help us recognize Jesus in those we meet, especially the poor and the lonely, the sick and the elderly. Keep us always mindful, dear Mother, that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to your loving Son. May his words live in our hearts and influence our lives and the lives of those we meet.”
To which I can only add, Amen.
Previously: Chapter 1: St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.
Chapter 2: Mount Olive Lutheran Church.
Chapter 3: Full Gospel Revival Tabernacle.
Chapter 4: First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Chapter 5; First Baptist Church.
Chapter 6: Billings Freedom Church.
Chapter 7: Faith Chapel.
Chapter 8: Eagle Ministries Inc.
Chapter 9: First United Methodist Church.
Chapter 10: Pilgrim Congregational Church.
Chapter 12: First Christian Church.
Chapter 13: Victorious Word Church.
Chapter 14: Oasis Church.
Chapter 15: Harvest Church.
Chapter 16: Billings Association of Humanists.
Chapter 17: Word of Life Fellowship.
Chapter 18: Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Chapter 19: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
Chapter 20: Faith Evangelical Church.
Chapter 21: Open Bible Christian Center.
Chapter 22:Billings Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Chapter 23: Elevation Church.
Next Week: Concluding Thoughts.