Mystery Worshipper: Pax Romana
Church: St Athanasius
Location: Brooklyn, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 October 2007, 6:00pm
A red brick church, very beautiful, dating from the early 1960s and renovated in 2004. The interior features a great deal of blue, including the stained glass windows, which run the length of both sides of the nave. On entering the church I felt an atmosphere of peace.
In the parish mission statement, they describe themselves as "a faith-filled worshipping Roman Catholic community, where Jesus Christ is recognized as Lord and Savior in our journey and made present through our joyful celebration of the sacraments, our proclamation and living of the gospel, and our loving outreach and service, especially to those in need." The parish appears to be very active. After mass, we were all given a brochure about the parish pastoral plan goals and objectives, detailing what the parish intends to do to reach out to parishioners, inactive Catholics and the youth of the parish.
The church is located in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York. Once primarily working-class Italian, Bensonhurst is today a neighborhood in transition, as Asian families plant roots and Hassidic Jewish households from nearby Boro Park continue to expand. The church is located across the street from a Roman Catholic high school and catty-corner to a fenced-in vacant lot. The vacant lot is the only eyesore in an otherwise very nice area.
There were the celebrant, a lector, a cantor, a pianist and the usual altar servers, but no names were announced.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
The church was about one-quarter full. But they have five English language masses every weekend, as well as one Italian mass and one Spanish mass, so there might have been more people at some of the other services.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I did not expect this, however. It is not common in Catholic churches to greet people as they come in. Congregations are very large, and it would be impossible to greet everyone, or to even know who is coming there for the first time.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was okay. It was a standard wooden pew with a padded kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential. When I walked in, there were people sitting around the church, many of them praying quietly. Conversation picked up as people drifted in, but it was all done very quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening," spoken by the cantor, who then introduced the opening hymn.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We had a Seasonal Missalette and a paperback hymnal called Today's Missal Music Issue.
What musical instruments were played?
There was an electric piano (very well played by the pianist) and a female cantor with an exquisite soprano voice.
Did anything distract you?
A couple of latecomers walked up the aisle and took seats toward the front of the church as the cantor was chanting the responsorial psalm. I thought they should have either waited until the readings were finished or they should have chosen places in the back of the church.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was not happy-clappy, but it was not particularly stiff-upper-lip either. It was a normal Roman Catholic Sunday mass for one of the Sundays in ordinary time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – He was clear, concise, and he said a great deal in five minutes – and he was applauded!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about faith, or lack of it. That had been the message of the readings of the day. Sometimes there is no shame in this world, but sometimes people who should speak up are ashamed to do so. Sometimes bishops have to take a stand and set the record straight.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The presence of Jesus in the eucharist. Also, the cantor's beautiful voice and heartfelt singing, which made me feel closer to Jesus.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Latecomers walking up the aisle during the responsorial psalm. That is very distracting, and it also shows a lack of respect for the word of God, and for the cantor as well.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have to hang around looking lost. Two people who had been sitting across the aisle from me had noticed my singing along with the hymns and complimented me on my voice. I ended up talking with them for a few minutes, and I also went up and congratulated the cantor. She and I had a short but nice talk about singing.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. None was expected.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I lived closer to this church, and I was not already occupied elsewhere on weekends, I would attend mass there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I will remember two things: the beautiful singing and the friendliness of the people sitting across from me.