A modern building in the Romanesque style with some art deco touches. A castle-like bell tower stands off to one side. The grounds include a parking lot – so important in the "outer boroughs" of New York, where street parking is at a premium and public transportation is less likely to take you conveniently to where you want to go. The interior is bright and well lit, with a very basic setup including numerous shrines with the customary votive candles. The decor reflects the multi-ethnic nature of the parish. The sanctuary is framed by an arch on which appear the words: "He shed his blood to set us free." The altar is free-standing, with a smaller altar at the back on which rests the tabernacle. On the wall above the tabernacle is mounted a large cross.
The parish was formed in 1922. Masses are offered in Brazilian Portuguese, Croatian, Italian, Spanish and Tagalog to compliment the six English Masses, thus reflecting the diverse ethnic makeup of Astoria. They also sponsor a Purgatorial Society and hold First Friday devotions as well as regular adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There is a parish school for children in grades kindergarten through eight.
Astoria is the westernmost neighborhood in New York City's borough of Queens, which lies north and east of Brooklyn on Long Island. Originally called Hallets Cove, it was renamed in 1839 to honor real estate tycoon John Jacob Astor, who, when he died in 1848, was the wealthiest man in the United States. Astoria has long been an enclave of working class immigrants from dozens of countries; it is said to be home to the largest population of Greeks outside of Greece itself. Primarily residential in character, some well-known industries are headquartered there, including the Steinway piano factory. The photocopying technique called xerography (the forerunner of Xerox) was invented in 1938 in a laboratory in Astoria. La Guardia Airport is just to the east of Astoria, and off the north shore is Rikers Island, the county jail for the five boroughs of New York. Astoria's famous sons and daughters include the operatic diva Maria Callas, actors George Maharis and Christopher Walken, and singers Ethel Merman and Tony Bennett. The church is located on 36th Street at Broadway, a part of Astoria that is very quickly gentrifying and filling up with young people. There are a myriad of businesses that cater to the multi-ethic residents that include numerous young professionals and older families that have been there for years.
The Revd William F. Krlis, pastor, was the celebrant. He was assisted by a single acolyte (a girl wearing her hair in a pony tail), two lectors, and two eucharistic ministers, none of whom were named.
What was the name of the service?Mass (English).
How full was the building?
About half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. We arrived as the earlier mass was letting out. Mrs Adoro Te Devote was struck by how young and handsome the priest who took that mass was. Priests are supposed to remind us of God, so I guess that was all right.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. They were wooden, with folding kneelers. Pretty typical.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and contemplative. The air was fragrant with the lingering aroma of incense (loved it!), although no incense was used at the mass we attended.
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?
A worship resource put out by Oregon Catholic Press that combined both the readings and the hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ – very well, in fact. The organ is opus 1769 of the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut.
Did anything distract you?
A gentleman several pews in front of us kept crossing himself obsessively and motioning off into space during the prayers like he was directing something that none of the rest of us could see.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a normal Sunday mass. The altar was dressed with what appeared to be a homespun altar cloth on which two candles had been placed. There was also an abundance of flowers. The lectors spoke clearly. There were hymns, but the mass itself was recited except for the Lord's Prayer, which was sung (with people adopting the orans position, or the "panhandle position" as I like to call it). I was impressed by the fact that the priest insisted that we sing all the verses of every hymn. My usual experience in the Catholic church is that the singing is cut off after one or two verses. The cantor leading the singing was very good and really came into his own when reaching for the high notes. No bells at the elevation I've grown used to them in my home parish and always find it odd when they are omitted. Communion was under the species of bread only I'll have more to say about it in a moment.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The priest sounded a bit like one of the anchors on the late-night TV news program Nightline. I had expected a thick New York accent but he had none to speak of.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How God accompanies us all as we continue our Christian journey through life. We need always to be cognizant of the fact that being a Christian also requires a degree of martyrdom, and that martyrdom most often takes the form of clinging to our beliefs amid a society that rejects them.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The priest's focus on the importance of congregational singing, something that as a Catholic I find needs more attention.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The intercessions (prayers of the faithful) in a Catholic church almost always end with "Lord, hear our prayer." Today, however, we were asked to say, "God, listen to us." It seemed a bit like telling God what to do. I found it bothersome. I was also a bit bothered by the way communion was done. The priest distributed communion from one side of the altar, and the two eucharistic ministers from the other side. I prefer to receive communion in the ordinary manner, as is every Catholic's right, and so I had to zig-zag out of my line and into the line that was forming on the priest's side. Others followed suit. That wouldn't have been necessary had the priest stood at the center, with the two eucharistic ministers on either side.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone headed off. The priest greeted us at the door as we left and wished us well.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I find this to be rare in Catholic churches, and Most Precious Blood was no exception.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I don't live anywhere near Astoria, but I found the interest in congregational singing edifying. Some of the devotions that the parish engages in are very interesting to me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The multi-ethnic nature of the congregation reminded me of my home parish.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Mrs Adoro Te Devote's comments regarding the priest who took the earlier mass.