Several years ago at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon I watched a traffic jam develop in the parking lot of St. Mark’s Church in Boynton Beach, Florida. I asked the pastor if it was a wedding or a funeral. Neither, he said: It was just the usual crowd coming ninety minutes early to claim their pews for the 4 p.m. anticipatory Mass. I was in awe. As we say in Florida, we never did that up North. Saturday afternoon can be as busy at church as the mid-morning Mass on Sunday, even in my own parish. Who knew?
I usher at noon on Sundays and don’t get around as I once did. On June 25, I chose a 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass so I could get my first taste of this Florida custom. I went to Our Lady Queen of the Apostles in Royal Palm Beach to make it a twofer because it also was my first excuse to get inside a building that was dedicated in 2009 and enjoys considerable local acclaim.
The first thing I did was to arrive early, but it proved unnecessary. Our summer population is half the winter population, and year-rounders are less addicted than snowbirds to Sunday-morning golf. The church was less than half full. OLQA rests among gated communities west of Palm Beach, and the crowd was composed largely of retirees, all dressed like retirees—from polos and chinos down to Bermudas and flip-flops. There was a decent sprinkling of parents with kids.
The second thing I did was enter by the side door, because that’s where others were entering. But that proved the wrong thing to do; architects want you to use the main entrance. But even from the side OLQA makes an immediate statement. It is certainly not old-fashioned, but neither could it answer to the name “modern.” What it most reminded me of—and I don’t mean this pejoratively because I’ve lived in one—is a suburban split-level house with a big living room. The ceiling has faux beams, but it doesn’t soar. This is Florida; you have to air-condition the space you build.
The nave is huge but manages to be homey. The altar is spacious, on a platform three steps high in the middle of one of the lengthwise walls. It faces eight modules of pews that fan out, widening as they gently rise toward the back. The modules range from eleven to fifteen pews deep. The aisles are wide enough for wheelchairs to pass in opposite directions.
I settled into a pew about halfway back on the left side. There was a group of ten or twelve obvious regulars a couple of pews in front of me. I tried to pick out individuals among the twelve Apostles who appeared with Mary in the painted-glass scene over the altar. The figures were realistic, but their grouping was less formal than it would have been in older art. John had a book open. Thomas (I hope it was) had his forefinger raised to make a point to another Apostle, who didn’t seem to be paying a whole lot of attention.
A lector in a pleated white skirt and with just a hint of a New York accent greeted us, and Mass began. There were two altar boys of grade-school age and a deacon along with the presider. The music had a bigger impact than the entrance procession itself: There was one voice with one guitar singing Marty Haugen’s “Gather Us In.” The amplifiers must have been on Rose Bowl setting. I sang but couldn’t hear myself, looked around, and didn’t see many lips moving. I couldn’t see the performer. The choir loft runs the length of the back wall of the nave, and there is enough sound equipment up there to cover any contingencies. Whoever was up there was good, but the sound level made it a strictly solo performance. No one could sing loud enough to join in. It turned out that he was going to sing the Kyrie, Gloria, and Creed as well as the offertory, Communion, and recessional hymns.