Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Blessed Sacrament
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 April 2017, 10:30am
The parish was formed in 1974 and celebrated mass in rented space while the present campus was under construction. The buildings were completed in 1977 and were expanded and remodeled in 2014. The various structures on campus are all in the Spanish Mission style and are connected via a cloister. The inside of the church is very large, with pews arranged in six sections around the altar. In an alcove opening off the west wall there are additional chairs for seating. The wooden altar sits on a raised platform with lectern, sediliae, and a large wooden cross in front of an arched stained glass window. Choir seating is to the left. There are two projection screens.
They have several seminars, conferences, lectures, retreats and social events scheduled at various times. They hold a Miraculous Medal novena each Tuesday evening. In the chapel, the Blessed Sacrament is continually exposed for adoration. There are two weekday morning masses, followed by the Rosary, and one on Saturday, plus the Saturday evening vigil. On Sunday, three masses are celebrated in the morning and one in the evening.
Scottsdale is an affluent suburb to the east of Phoenix. It is one of the few cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area that still employ traffic cameras to catch speeders and red-light offenders. It is also known for its restrictive commercial sign ordinance that makes it virtually impossible to spot the destination you want to reach, especially from a fast moving car. Old Town Scottsdale is replete with trendy restaurants, bars and fashionable shops. As one travels north, one encounters well-to-do residential enclaves of increasing lot size, building size and exclusivity. To reach the church, one turns north on 64th Street from Shea Boulevard, being careful to mind the red light cameras at the intersection of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road if one approaches from that direction. Its a primarily residential neighborhood, with large houses set well back from the road and shielded from the traffic via trees and shrubs.
The Revd George Schroeder, retired priest in residence, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Mr Ted Childs, deacon, who also preached. There were a crucifer and two acolytes. The clergy wore purple chasuble and dalmatic, respectively, and the crucifer and acolytes wore albs with purple scapulars. The three of them looked very smart but I'll have more to say about them in a moment. Mike Barta, director of music and liturgy, played piano and conducted a choir of six women.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Mass.
How full was the building?
Completely full, including extra seating in the alcove.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Just about everyone I encountered outside smiled and said "Good morning." As I entered, a woman at the door also said "Good morning."
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded pew; comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with some handshaking, hugging and kissing among people as they greeted each other. Announcements were projected, one of which read, "Messy pew, clean pew its up to you."
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Words to the songs (but not the notes) were projected.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, digital keyboard, bass guitar. There was a drum set that was not used. I thought I heard flute but I think it was a flute stop on the digital keyboard.
Did anything distract you?
There were no cloths on the altar. The priest spread a rather large corporal at the offertory and folded it up again after communion, but that was it. In the cloister outside, there were several statues, including one of St John Paul the Great, on the wall next to which was a plaque that read "Bye-bye."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A standard Catholic mass of the type you see nowadays in churches that take their liturgy seriously but without precise attention to detail. The music was a step up from Singing Nun but a step down from St Louis Jesuits. The Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were chanted in Greek and Latin, respectively, to a Gregorian setting. (Whoever prepared the projections thought it necessary to add English translations in parentheses.) Except for the choir, not a mouth moved during any of the singing. Would anyone have sung had we been given the notes as well as the words, I wondered. No bells or incense.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I think Deacon Ted was reading his sermon, but he tried not to look it. He spoke a little too softly to be heard clearly. His points were well organized, though, and his message was on point.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was the gospel reading for the day, John 11:17-44 (Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead). Men are known for having man-caves, but there is nothing comfortable about Lazarus' cave nor about the caves we find ourselves locked up in by sin. "Come out!" Jesus said. He is addressing us. We don't belong there. "Return to life!" he is telling us. Come out of the tomb of self-pity, and come out a better person! Jesus is more powerful than anything holding him back, including our sin. Just as we don't belong locked up in sin, the world does not belong locked up in the terrors of an immoral society. We must unbind the world. We must call it out of sin and back to life. God's mercy is infinitely great. Life is full of joy when one is united with Jesus Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I liked the fact that everyone outside had a greeting for me before church. At the exchange of peace, the priest said, "Instead of greeting one another, let us close our eyes and bow our heads to acknowledge that the world is not at peace." After a moment, he said the customary "The peace of the Lord be with you always" but we did not exchange the peace.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Unfortunately the crucifers' and acolytes' good taste in vestments did not extend to their choice of footwear. And communion was a bit of a puzzle. There were a large number of eucharistic ministers assisting, but with the geometry of the pews being what it was, they seemed unsure of where to station themselves. People in my section of pews ended up crossing the aisle, walking through the pews opposite, and then walking up the far aisle to where the priest was standing. I did not take communion.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
About one-eighth of the congregation cleared out during the closing song, while the rest remained in place. After the song ended and the altar party had retired, the congregation applauded (ugh!) and then cleared out pretty fast. No one said anything to me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. I headed back over to Scottsdale Road (being careful to avoid being "flashed" by the traffic cameras) and to the Hopdoddy Burger Bar, where I had a delicious but expensive this is Scottsdale after all lunch of a hamburger and fries.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – I would want a more serious music program. The parishioners seemed friendly enough, but I don't see myself being part of their community. I don't like Scottsdale and go there only when I have to. Today I was attending a theatrical performance featuring a friend in the cast, and so dropped in on Blessed Sacrament Church beforehand. If I lived in Scottsdale, I would look elsewhere for a church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?