St Thomas More, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Thomas More
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 November 2019, 12:30pm

The building

The Catholic Parish of St Thomas More meets at St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, a large neoclassical structure built at the beginning of the First World War to serve the needs of European immigrants. The large sanctuary apse contains a high altar arranged for ad orientem celebration and is surrounded on three sides by an altar rail. It is flanked by two side altars. A choir loft with the console of the Casavant organ is in the rear.

The church

The St Thomas More community is a parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, established under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which provides for diocese-like structures for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Holy See and encourages them to share their rich liturgical and musical traditions with the universal church. In the heyday of Catholic immigration 100 years ago, St Vincent de Paul parish was able to assist with the creation of the nearby St Casimir and St Joan of Arc parishes. Now under the care of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate associated with the Toronto Oratory, it has welcomed the new St Thomas More Ordinariate community. Although some Ordinariate parishes have their own buildings – in a few cases buildings they occupied when they were still Anglicans – this kind of sharing arrangement is common. In this case there is a unique opportunity: Here it is possible, in one parish, to find the St Vincent de Paul 9.30am traditional Latin mass and the 11.00am mass in the Ordinary Form; and the St Thomas More 12.30pm mass in the Ordinariate's traditional English Divine Worship form.

The neighborhood

The church is in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighborhood, a predominantly residential area with small businesses the full length of Roncesvalles Avenue. It is a vibrant community sometimes known as Little Poland. After mass, we enjoyed a fine late afternoon dinner at Cafe Polonez a block away. The area is easily accessed via the 504 streetcar, which provides 15 minute or less service, even on Sundays, connecting the neighborhood with two subway lines and with King Street in the downtown area.

The cast

The celebrant and homilist is a frequent visiting priest, a Basilian Father and a professor of religious studies. Because there was no deacon at this mass, the celebrant also read the gospel. He was assisted at the altar by a master of ceremonies and four additional young men who read the first and second lessons and, at the appropriate points in the mass, carried torches, the thurible, and the processional crucifix. One of the readers chanted the prayers of the people, with the people responding. The Ordinariate permits only men who have been instituted as acolytes to serve as extraordinary ministers of holy communion (and, at mass, only of the chalice), and the MC also served as chalice minister during communion. The organist and a cantor provided musical accompaniment from the loft in the rear of the church.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Mass for Trinity XXII.

How full was the building?

The very large church was about one-third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived about ten minutes before mass began. Ushers greeted us and handed out service leaflets and hymnals.

Was your pew comfortable?

The comfortable plain wooden pews had properly built fold-down kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People were quietly sitting – some even praying – in the pews, waiting for the service to begin.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

During the singing of the entrance hymn, ‘Thou whose almighty Word’ (Moscow), the celebrant and servers were quietly praying the preparatory prayers at the foot of the altar. The entrance hymn gave way to the introit for the XXII Sunday after Trinity: Si iniquitates, sung responsively between the cantor in the loft and the people: ‘If thou, O Lord, wilt be extreme to mark iniquities, Lord, who may abide it: for unto thee belongeth mercy, O God of Israel.’ The mass continued with the Missa de Angelis Kyrie and Gloria, in Greek and English, respectively.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The service leaflet provided the outline of the liturgy, the music for the congregation's portions of the minor propers, the text of most of the other congregational prayers and responses, and the Angelus, recited after the conclusion of the mass. We sang from the New English Hymnal, and the ushers were kind enough to provide copies of the harmony edition for those who asked.

What musical instruments were played?

The Casavant organ, Opus 1462 (1932).

Did anything distract you?

The church is a large space, and when only one-third full, it has an unfortunate reverberation that made the homily difficult to hear over young children who were heard but not seen from my seat in the sixth row. But I do want to be clear that I am fully in favor of children being present, and would prefer to be distracted by them than for them not to become accustomed at an early age to attending mass every Sunday.

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

A dignified but approachable mass in the traditional language of the English Prayer Book. While the Kyrie and Gloria were sung to the Missa de Angelis, the remainder of the ordinary, including the Creed, was sung to the Merbecke setting in the hymnal. We sang ‘All creatures of our God’ (Laßt uns erfreuen) at the offertory, ‘Author of life divine’ (Rhosymedre) after communion, and ‘Lord of beauty’ (Regent Square) at the recessional.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

7 — The priest had a difficult text to deal with, and did so in a scholarly, professorial, but not particularly inspiring manner. But really, it's hard to be inspired by almost any discussion of impending doom. He had to compete with loud screaming from the back of the church. And because of that, in order to be able to complete the next section of the report I had to read the on-line version. You can listen to it, and the screaming, here, which is a video of the entire mass.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Bible contains many passages that are disconcertingly violent, as in today's readings from the fourth chapter of Malachi and from the twenty-first chapter of Luke. In the genre we call apocalyptic literature, God's purpose is worked out dramatically. In the prophecies of the Bible, the virtuous are rewarded and the unjust are punished. It actually matters whether people turn toward God or away from him. As for the final fate of those who turn away, we should hope for God's mercy.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I could listen to Five Mystical Songs for eternity, and ‘The Call’ from that composition by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which was sung as a motet at communion, is possibly my favorite George Herbert poem.

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

The acoustics. If I were a parishioner, I would want, someday, to budget for some sort of amelioration to the reverberation issue, although I can understand if the community has higher priority budget items at this time.

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

Like a good Mystery Worshipper, I stood in the back looking lost, even though I knew that there would be a coffee hour. It didn't take long for someone to ask me if I would come downstairs and join them for their after-mass fellowship.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee hour, also known as the eighth sacrament, is part of the patrimony Pope Benedict has invited Ordinarians to bring into the wider church. You'll never find just lukewarm coffee and a few stale donuts. The pastor and his wife presided. (Anglican priests who are married may remain married when they join the Ordinariate and become Catholic priests; however, married priests may not become bishops.) In addition to coffee and tea, there were cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, pain au chocolat, other pastries, and cakes. Groups of people sat at large round tables and chatted until well after three o’clock.

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

10 — Even the acoustics problem wouldn't keep me away or prevent me from making this my permanent parish home if I were to move to Toronto.

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

Yes. God, the creator of all things visible and invisible, deserves our constant praise and worship. The liturgy offered by the parish of St Thomas More allows us to offer worship to God in the beauty of holiness.

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

The long conversations at coffee hour afterwards. And the paprikash (chicken and dumpling casserole in a creamy paprika sauce) at Cafe Polonez after that. Mmmm!

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