Well, I stuck with my own parish this week, and am now wishing I hadn't.
St Augustine said, "To sing is to pray twice." I very firmly believe that a good, well-chosen hymn, reverently sung (by the congregation, and not simply as a performance by a choir) is a great aid to prayer, reflection and understanding of the message of the Gospel.
In my last parish, I was responsible for choosing the hymns. I selected a mixture of old and new, with the principal criteria in all choices that they must (a) have words that actually meant something and (b) fit in with the theme of the Mass, so that they contributed to the liturgy and were not interruptions in it. There were also other, subsidiary, criteria, like (c) they must not have a horrible tune and (d) the majority of the hymns should be familiar to the majority of the congregation, so that they can join in - a prayer in which you can't join in is a prayer from which you're in grave danger of feeling excluded.
Anyway, having put so much thought and care into the selection of hymns in my former parish (and, naturally enough, never chosen anything I absolutely hated and always ensured that my favourites for a particular occasion were included), I get so disappointed at the dreadful selection of hymns at some Masses that it really has a negative effect on my ability to pray. I know it shouldn't, and I should rise above it, but there it is - that's the way I am.
Well, today we started off by gathering outside for the procession. The song (they didn't even call it a hymn in the Mass sheet) was some sort of trite adaptation of the Gathering Mass. The words didn't fit the tune properly, and the verses were sung by the choir alone. So much for the whole crowd being involved in a joyful procession into Jerusalem.
The only other hymn we sang today was 'The Servant King'. Now this is a modern hymn which I happen to like very much. But surely it's more appropriate for Maundy Thursday ("There in the garden He prayed") or even Good Friday ("Come see His hands and His feet") than for Palm Sunday, when we commemorate the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The congregation sat throughout the Gospel - even when Jesus breathed His last, where you normally pause and kneel. There were no missalettes, so you couldn't follow what was being said, and the whole Gospel was read by the priest, rather than different parts being read by different people and the whole congregation joining in for "crowd scenes", as happens in most churches I have been to. Some people may not agree, but I think one of the most powerful things in hearing the Passion read is when the entire congregation joins in with "Crucify Him, crucify Him" - you really feel the hostility of that crowd in a way that you can't when it's just a couple of phrases in a great long reading read by one person.
And what's with the priest and altar servers processing silently out of the church at the end of Mass? I've NEVER seen that before on Palm Sunday.
I love Holy Week, and I feel particularly disgruntled that it has begun like this. The emphasis seemed to be on ensuring that the Mass was no longer than usual rather than on preparing us to celebrate Holy Week.
The church on the hill calls ever louder.