The symmetry of the Mass is a perennial marvel. It begins slowly, gains momentum, pauses briefly for the relative informality of the homily, then becomes more visual and participatory and, yes, exciting, straight through to Communion. Then comes a contemplative musical denouement, a final blessing and then more music to send everyone out buoyed up and renewed. As a paced occasion, it’s just about flawless, and it all usually takes place within the space of an hour, give or take.
Which I appreciate a lot, particularly on Sunday when the 11 a.m. Mass at my parish often ends at noon straight up. After a round of handshakes and see-you-soons, I’m in the car and firing up the radio to KPCC-FM, anticipating some quality time with Garrison Keillor and “Prairie Home Companion.”
“Prairie Home Companion,” to me, is the perfect post-Mass dessert because it seems to flow almost logically from the liturgy. It can almost be thought of as a kind of secular liturgical presentation, with the same sort of pacing and ebb and flow as the Mass, but with slightly Lutheran overtones.
The centerpiece of every two-hour broadcast is the “News from Lake Wobegon” segment, the closest thing modern radio has to a homily. It is Keillor’s weekly monologue in which he spins stories, sometimes in an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative, about a wonderful, eccentric (and, sadly, fictitious) Minnesota country town populated by Norwegian bachelor farmers, Pastor and Mrs. Ingqvist, the gang at the Chatterbox Café, the Sons of Knute lodge, Clint Bunsen, Margie Krebsbach, and the congregation of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Catholic Church, among others. The humor is gentle, the stories are homely and the telling is slow, rhythmic and beguiling.
It is not a monologue so much as it is a story, a spoken story, related by one gifted storyteller sitting on a stool in front of a microphone, on a stage in front of a live audience. And the subplots meander, one blending into another seamlessly, with gentle peaks and valleys and no abrupt turns or dead ends or, really, ends at all. In the gospel according to Garrison, life in Lake Wobegon can be quirky and eccentric and filled with as much goofiness as kindness, and more head scratching than certitude, but it is never mean. The seasons turn and life simply goes on. The “News” is radio meatloaf—comfort food (in Lake Wobegon, it would be tuna hot dish).
Garrison Keillor comes from Lutheran stock and makes many jokes at their expense (his “Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra” is a masterpiece), but he’s one of those people we wish were Catholic. In an interview with Jeffrey Brown of the PBS Newshour, Keillor said of his show’s format, “There’s a lot of power in listening to one person talking to you. And this should never be underestimated. We want to be talked to.”
Spoken like a true homilist, and someone who understands the benefits of confession, answered prayer and a good hour at Mass.
Patrick Mott, Editor, Orange County Catholic