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294: University Church, Dublin
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University Church, Dublin
Mystery Worshipper: Carmel.
The church: University Church, Dublin.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Individualistic, redbrick Victorian with huge scarlet doors. The inside is mock Byzantine, a little like a cut-down version of Westminster Cathedral, marble columns with ornate decorations at their tops, lots of inlaid stone panels and arches everywhere. No side chapels for reasons of space (a long narrow interior), the statues are just by the walls with candles in front of them.
The church: It is, I believe, associated with University College, Dublin, but I'm not aware that it caters specifically for the student community.
The neighbourhood: Squeezed in between two enormously tall Georgian houses and opposite St Stephen's Green, one of Dublin's most famous landmarks, a landscaped park.
The cast: Don't know.
What was the name of the service?
11.00am Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
Half full to start with. Quite a few people came in late and in total there were some 70-80, but every pew was occupied.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine. The wood of the pews was so highly polished that it almost glowed. The kneelers were great padded bolsters that looked as if they'd been specially inflated – the most comfortable looking I've ever seen.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Everyone lost in their own thoughts, except for a couple with two young children, who explained to them without lowering their voices what the statues were.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I didn't quite catch the first sentence that began with "Grant us, O Lord..." but the first line of the entrance antiphon (which was the second sentence) was, "Remember your mercies, Lord, your tenderness from ages past."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. I realized from looking at other people that the service was printed on a piece of paper, so I went back and got one.

What musical instruments were played?
None, the service was unaccompanied.

Did anything distract you?
An old man came and sat at the end of my pew, fell onto the kneeler, buried his head in his hands and proceeded to groan at intervals throughout the service, which was a little disconcerting. Also, someone had given the two year-old across the aisle a large bunch of keys to jangle to distract her from shouting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Normal Irish Catholic, I'd say. Most of the congregation seemed hugely shy about singing the responses and left the priest to carry most of them.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – He was, simply, terrific. He was articulate, direct, informal, passionate and challenging. His anecdotes were interesting and humorous and made what he was saying personally relevant. It was the best sermon I've heard in years – I came away unable to forget it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
On the role of the Holy Spirit and why we should let it guide our lives. He went off on a bit of a tangent about the increasing secularism of society but it was gripping stuff and the points he made were spot on.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
In a nutshell, being made to feel involved in a mass. I realize that for some years now as far as sermons go I have been listening to gentle, intellectual theological exercises seemingly designed not to offend anyone. I've yet to meet an English priest who could deliver a sermon with that kind of inner fire and conviction and who wasn't worried about speaking his mind with some vigour. I felt that this Irish priest had restored something to me that I hadn't known I'd lost.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The children. Why is it that small children always shriek in the silence of the most sacred moment of communion?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was approached by a scruffy man with his cap in his hand asking if I could spare him any change.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. But then there was another service due in 15 minutes.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – This used to be one of the two places my family went to regularly.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
While the sermon did at times make me feel embarrassed about my own failings, it did actually restore my faith which had been dented lately by too much "liberal" English Catholicism. It was nice to come away feeling reassured that I wasn't strange for believing in the Church's teaching and principles.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The priest and the effect his sermon had on me. I never expected to find it such a positive and salutary experience.
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