Unremarkable, actually rather seedy. The chapel is very plain, with a worn brown carpet and wooden altar on a raised platform. Behind the altar is a wooden screen on which hangs a large crucifix. The chapel is separated from the rest of the center via metal gates that can be raised or lowered as needed. Most services are held in the chapel, although for special occasions they move next door to the much more interesting "Old Church" (St Mary's Church), which dates from 1903 and is said to be the oldest church in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Condemned by the city of Tempe in 1970, the Old Church has been painstakingly restored and outfitted with modern electrical, plumbing, and heating/cooling fixtures.
Their website states that the Newman Center is "a campus ministry that complements the secular education provided at Arizona State University," where students and staff can "strengthen their faith, develop their gifts, and grow into passionate, faithful Catholic leaders." During the school year they offer morning and evening masses each Sunday plus the Saturday vigil mass, as well as weekday masses and numerous social and religious events. Noteworthy is their Alternative Spring Break program, in which they sponsor trips to mission areas throughout the world as an alternative to the wanton debauchery college students usually think of when spring break is mentioned.
Tempe (pronounced tem-PEE) lies to the east of Phoenix. Home to the main campus of Arizona State University, it is very much a college town, with restaurants and bars of every kind lining Mill Avenue, its main street.
The Revd James Thompson, OP, associate director, was the celebrant. The Revd Fred Lucci, OP, director, read the gospel and preached the sermon but did not concelebrate or otherwise assist the celebrant. Father Thompson wore a green chasuble with stole outside, and Father Lucci wore a green stole over his white Dominican habit. There was also a single altar server, a young girl in street clothes, plus about a half dozen eucharistic ministers who assisted with communion.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
Completely full. Some students (the university was in recess), lots of young families with children, a few older people. I was told that many former students who have settled in the area have made the Newman Center their parish church.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An elderly gent said hello, asked me if I was visiting, and told me some facts about the Newman Center. A lady handing out song sheets smiled and said hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
Brown metal folding chairs were arranged in a half-octagon around the altar. I yielded my chair to a young lady and stood for the entire service, so I can't comment on their comfort.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The praise band was rehearsing one particular number over and over again. A gentleman came in and asked them if they had to keep their amps turned up so loud, as they were disturbing other activities going on in the center. A compromise was reached by lowering the metal gates. The chapel filled up quickly, with people visiting each other rather animatedly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The praise band leader said, "Good morning" and muttered something else that was inaudible above the din. The band then sang a few numbers through which people kept on talking.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A paperback leaflet missal and a song sheet with words but no music.
What musical instruments were played?
The praise band consisted of piano, two guitars, drums, and five vocalists.
Did anything distract you?
People were still entering as far as 20 minutes into the service. There was a cry room to the left of the main auditorium, but it seemed that there were just as many young children in the congregation as were in the cry room. One little girl was crying so loudly that she could be clearly heard through the supposedly soundproof glass windows of the cry room.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The Order of Preachers meets Hillsong. The liturgy was novus ordo with a few liberties taken here and there. Contemporary praise songs ruled the day, with the choir holding their hands in the air and waving their arms (although not many in the congregation did likewise). Participation was enthusiastic. One young gentleman near me held out his hands in front of him for the entire service, as if in a trance. There were no kneelers, but everyone knelt on the floor during the eucharistic prayer. Communion was under both species.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Lucci is a young man with a very boyish appearance, and spoke very rapidly and informally as if a teenage boy were recounting his latest exploits to his friends. He read the gospel with somewhat exaggerated expression, and even inserted an ad lib or two here and there.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Today's readings emphasize that life is meaningless without God. As the saying goes, "Life sucks and then you die" (he actually did say that!). It seems as though the good suffer but jerks get away with things. But there are higher things waiting for us in heaven. Even so, we must not yield to the temptation to let life just slip on by as a passing thing. To equate eternal happiness with the absence of suffering is to cast it in a negative light. We can experience good in this life. God created us to be happy with him in heaven, but we can start right now! Luxuries are nice, but they change the way we perceive reality and God. Even charity can be misdirected from bringing joy to others to bringing a smug feeling of satisfaction to ourselves when we see how thankful the recipients of our generosity are. Look long and hard at your life is there anything you would trade it for? If so, for what, and why? God's love is the only thing we need to live for.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I took issue with many of Father Lucci's mannerisms, but I really did like the message of his sermon. And it was inspiring to see such full participation at a Catholic mass, even though personally it was not my style of worship. Everyone sang the Lord's Prayer (holding hands, of course) to a modern tune, and the Agnus Dei was what I call the "macaronic version" (half Latin, half English: Agnus Dei, take away, sin of world, miserere nobis, etc.).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the end of mass, Father Lucci announced that as we know, several campus groups get together at the beginning of each school year to help returning students move their belongings into their dorm rooms. The Newman Center has always participated in this activity, but this year the university wants all volunteers to wear identical pink t-shirts bearing advertisements for a variety of groups, one of which unfortunately the Catholic Church cannot support. So, instead, the Newman Center volunteers will dress as they please and will hand out bottles of water to everyone. Father mentioned the name of the organization in question, but I didn't catch it. I had trouble balancing the university's right to let all campus organizations engage in free speech with the callousness it seems to be showing toward the Newman Center's sensitivities.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
To their credit, everyone stayed until the end of the final song, which was that dreadful number the praise band was rehearsing earlier ad infinitum, and then everyone left rather quickly. The elderly gent who had spoken to me earlier asked me how I had liked the service, and I replied that it wasn't as bad as I had feared it would be. He told me he has been attending mass here for the past 20 years. "To each his own," I said, and we left it at that.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – This is not my style of worship, although I don't begrudge it to those who do find it to their liking.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, but I am thankful that there is a variety of churches available with a variety of worship styles to appeal to everyone.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The little girl whose crying could be heard through the soundproof windows of the cry room.