St Andrew's, Pasadena, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Andrew's
Location: Pasadena, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 March 2018, 12:30pm

The building

This is the parish's third home. Groundbreaking was in November of 1926, and the parish held its first mass there on May 7, 1928. However, much of the interior had not been completed, and then the stock market crashed in 1929, leaving the parish with an unfinished church and a crushing level of debt. Eventually the church was completed due to the tireless efforts of its pastor, the Monsignor John McCarthy, who retired in 1944. Much of the structure of St Andrew's was modeled by local architect Ross Montgomery after the early fifth century Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino in Rome. Montgomery designed several churches in the greater Los Angeles area. To the left of the entrance is a 140-foot high campanile, or tower. Tower and church are both Romanesque in design. Among many notable features are the twelve imposing columns on each side of the nave (they look as though they are marble, but are concrete cast around steel supports). The altar, though, is marble, and is underneath a forty-foot high baldacchino. Many of the murals in the church were painted by the Italian Carlo Wostry, including the mural in the apse (scenes from the life of St Andrew), and the Stations of the Cross. The Stations are interesting, as they are between the arches of the columns. This gave Wostry ample space to fill, and so he added to the traditional fourteen stations five scenes from before Christ's passion, and five scenes from after the Resurrection (for example, the Ascension and the giving of the Great Commission). There are several side altars, and an altar in the sacristy. The church is on the National Register of Historical Places. Over the years the building suffered damage from earthquakes and deferred maintenance, but an all-out fundraising and restoration effort has brought it back to its original grandeur.

The church

This is quite a large parish, with eight masses each weekend (five in English, three in Spanish), and a daily English mass Monday through Saturday. There are an additional two weekly masses in Spanish. There are the usual formation and social justice ministries, and ministries to the Filipino and Hispanic communities. In 1977 Our Lady of Guadalupe Church burned to the ground. Cardinal Timothy Manning made the decision not to rebuild on their property, and that community was brought into the St Andrew parish. They sponsor a pre-K through Grade 8 school.

The neighborhood

Pasadena is a suburb of Los Angeles, perhaps best known as the home of the Rose Bowl football stadium, where each New Year's Day (or the following Monday, if that be a Sunday) there occurs the Tournament of Roses championship college football game and accompanying parade. St Andrew's is an urban parish, surrounded on three sides by downtown Pasadena, with its office buildings, small businesses, and parking lots, and on the other side by a very busy expressway.

The cast

There were no service leaflets, and no indication as to who participated in the service. The priest who celebrated mass was assisted by a deacon, as well as thurifer, lector, communion ministers, and several acolytes.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

The building seats 1200 and was perhaps one-third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived early and visited the bookshop, where we purchased a book about the church's architecture prepared for the parish's 125th anniversary (2011). We had a nice conversation with the woman staffing the bookstore about the parish's upcoming display of relics of St Padre Pio (March 16-17). Then a choir member happened to walk into the bookstore; she warmly welcomed us and invited us into the balcony to get a view of the church from there. Later still, a very nice gentleman recognized us as visitors as we were admiring one of the several side chapels, and answered several of our questions.

Was your pew comfortable?

Quite, with kneelers in the pew in front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The entrance antiphon for Lent IV was read from the balcony, with Gloria Patri. After the opening hymn, the usual "In the name of the Father...".

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Breaking Bread 2018, a publication of Oregon Catholic Press. It contains the order of mass, hymns and service music, and summaries of the readings for each Sunday.

What musical instruments were played?

A three-manual pipe organ, located in the balcony.

Did anything distract you?

At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word, the lector began, but with the wrong reading. An ever-alert deacon immediately walked to the ambo and directed the lector to the correct readings. The lector is forgiven, as there are two possible sets of readings for this Sunday (the readings for Year B, or the Year A readings can be read). Points to the deacon for recognizing so quickly what was going on.

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

A very formal celebration of the Ordinary Form. Incense was used in all of the normal places. The three collects, after the Kyrie, the preparation of the gifts, and communion, were beautifully chanted by the celebrant. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were chanted to the Missa de Angelis setting, in Latin. Communion was in one kind.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

10 – The priest is excellent speaker who effectively tied together all three readings.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began by noting all of the catechumens throughout the church who this Lent are preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. Today's readings are to be understood in the context of that preparation. Nicodemus' spiritual journey can be seen in stages: he heard Jesus speak, he had questions, he invited Jesus to his home to talk further, and after the crucifixion he asked that Jesus' body be taken down from the cross. Nicodemus would have known the book of II Chronicles, from which the first reading was taken (II Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23). The author of II Chronicles notes that it was King Cyrus of Persia - someone from outside of the Hebrew community - who built a temple in Jerusalem and ended the Babylonian Captivity by allowing the Hebrews to return to Jerusalem. He noted that the second reading (Ephesians 2:4-10, "God ... brought us to life with Christ") was associated in the early Church with baptism. Finally, he pointed to his rose chasuble and noted that this was Laetare Sunday, when we begin to see more clearly the truth of Christ's triumph on the cross.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A carefully-prepared and effectively executed liturgy.

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

The congregational singing. It was not just weak – it was essentially non-existent.

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

The welcoming gentleman noted above caught up with us and asked if he could answer any other of our questions. We would love to have spent more time in the church with him as a guide, but the van from our hotel was waiting.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

3 – I give them a 10 for the warm greeting we received, a 10 for the homilist's preaching, a 10 for a beautiful liturgy, another 10 for the diverse communities they reach out to. But Materfamilias and I are both musicians, and the weak congregational singing would be a deal-breaker for us.

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


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

The beauty of this space, and the warm welcome we received from so many different parishioners.

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