Sacred Heart Basilica, Notre Dame, IN (Exterior)

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Location: Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 November 2017, 5:00pm

The building

Located on the grounds of Notre Dame University, this is the second church on this site. The cornerstone was laid in 1871, but the building was not consecrated until 1888. It is neo-Gothic in design. Among many notable elements, there are 116 quite beautiful stained glass windows, and a 23-bell carillon installed in the first church in 1856; it is reputed to be the oldest carillon in North America. There are several side chapels, one of which occupies the apse, with a Baroque altar believed to be by the 17th century Italian sculptor Giovanni Bernini, often called the father of Baroque sculpture. The church was designated a minor basilica in 1992. The ornate, often Baroque, artwork lends a very conservative cast to the space.

The church

The basilica is the mother church of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States. It is also the university's principal chapel. Quoting from their website: "It is a place of worship and prayer for students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as for regular worshipers, pilgrims and countless visitors." The basilica engages in a special outreach to students of all faiths, and the university's campus ministry has as a priority (again quoting from their website) "to provide warmth and hospitality to all regardless of one’s religious belief or practice."

The neighborhood

The University of Notre Dame is a small village in and of itself, an independent entity within the city of South Bend. The campus includes a 150 year old cemetery, several chapels and event spaces, and two gorgeous lakes. But it is perhaps best known to sports fans as the home of the "Fighting Irish" football team. The notice board outside the basilica announced that mass time on Saturday evening is adjusted to follow the end of the game.

The cast

The Rt Revd Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was co-presider and preacher. There were three other co-presiders: the Most Revd Denis Madden, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore; the Rt Revd D. Douglas Sparks, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana; and the Revd Dr Charles Wiley III, Coordinator of the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Revd John I. Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame, gave us an official welcome prior to the opening hymn. There was also a lector for the first two readings, and an excellent organist and cantor.

What was the name of the service?

Common Prayer of Reconciliation & Remembrance in Commemoration of the Reformations. ("Reformations" was used in the plural throughout; it was evidently intentional, as was made clear by the nature of the service.)

How full was the building?

About three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A young student gave me a service booklet.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

This ornate space tends to induce good behavior: quiet and prayerful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Only the specially-prepared service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?

A four manual pipe organ, opus 37 of Paul Fritts & Co. Organ Builders of Tacoma, Washington, dedicated only this past January.

Did anything distract you?

So much visual stimulus! I suppose those who regularly worship here get used to it.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

In structure, the service was the synaxis of a mass: greeting, penitential rite, liturgy of the word, hymn (A Mighty Fortress, of course), Apostle's Creed, and intercessions. This was followed by the Lord's Prayer, an exchange of the peace, and a blessing (the last given by all four co-presiders). The readings were those of the Revised Common Lectionary for All Saints' Sunday (November 5 would have been celebrated as such by Lutherans and Episcopalians, but not Catholics). The liturgical color, judging by the stoles of processing clergy, was not the white of All Saints, but the red of Reformation Sunday. Much of the penitential rite, and the second half of the prayers, were from a joint publication of the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity entitled From Conflict to Communion. This service, though, was not just about Lutheran-Catholic reconciliation, but was also a celebration of the multiple Reformations. For example, the first part of the prayers gave thanks for the emphasis on conversion to Christ among evangelical Christians..., the hymnody composed by Methodists..., [and] the witness to non-violence among historic peace churches. One petition was added to those printed in the service booklet, in memory of those who earlier in the day had died in another mass shooting, at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – In another space, Bishop Eaton would probably have gotten a 10. She's a very enthusiastic speaker, which leads her to speak rather quickly; some of what she said got lost in the acoustics of this building.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

She noted that this was the 500th anniversary of a specifically Lutheran event – Luther's 95 theses nailed to the door of a Wittenberg church – and that other Reformation traditions have other equally significant dates. She referred to each of the three readings, and kept coming back to the word "improbable." Earlier in her life she would have thought it quite improbable that she would be preaching from the pulpit of a Roman Catholic basilica. Some years back, it would have been improbable that so many faith traditions would be worshiping together in commemoration of the Reformations.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The unnamed organist, whose prelude and postlude on "A Mighty Fortress" were superbly played, as was his accompaniment of hymns and service music.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The service booklet was skimpy on information. It seemed that holy orders was a pre-requisite for participants to be mentioned: neither cantor nor lector nor organist were named, although their contributions certainly warranted recognition.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

In this diverse crowd, nothing. I did talk briefly with a couple as I was wandering around in awe of my surroundings.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

A lavish buffet of pastries, sandwiches, and fruit. Soft drinks, juices, and bottled water were available to drink.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

N/A – After this one unique service, I really have little idea of what their Sunday morning mass is like. As the site of a university's campus ministry, it's unlikely to be the sort of place to which Materfamilias and I would gravitate.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Hearing a Catholic bishop pray that God would "bring us together at your eucharistic table." This Lutheran and his Catholic spouse say: "Amen!"

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