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379: St John Cantius, Chicago, USA
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St John Cantius, Chicago, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Livia Columba.
The church: St John Cantius Parish, 825 N. Carpenter St, Chicago, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Late 1890s graystone urban Polish Roman Catholic Renaissance-Baroque.
The church: This parish is also the home of a relatively new community of men whose speciality is art. One can learn more about this on the parish website.
The neighbourhood: Situated in a rather industrial neighborhood on Chicago's near west side, a stone's throw from the tonier North Michigan Avenue area, this church is part of a cluster of huge Roman Catholic churches built by Eastern European immigrants on the north side of Chicago. This area was at one time a thriving Polish enclave and there are probably a few remnants of the Polish culture nearby. Over the years, however, the neighborhood has undergone the usual urban changes and is currently on the way up as gentrification makes inroads. As we walked to the car after mass, we were enveloped in the scent of bread baking from the Gonnella Bread factory across the street.
The cast: This information was not available.
What was the name of the service?
Ordinary Time Tridentine Mass, 9th Sunday after Pentecost.

How full was the building?
This is a large church, in the height of summer, with no air-conditioning. It was probably about a third full, with the congregation spread out throughout the nave. No one wanted to get too close to anyone else, and I can't say I blamed them.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but one of the ushers was pleasant and most helpful when we made inquiries.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was pretty standard, a little narrower from back to front, resulting in a better posture while kneeling. The kneelers were surprisingly cushy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Way back by the narthex there was plenty of friendly chit-chat between people leaving the previous mass and people coming in for the 12.30pm tridentine mass. Once you got past the spot where pamphlets and parish bulletins were handed out, it was mainly quiet and contemplative. There was also a small sign set up on the parish bulletin table, reminding people (in practice, women) to dress appropriately – no haltertops, exposed shoulders, skimpy dresses and the like. Most women covered their heads with mantillas. There was a line for the confessional. An occasional squeaky baby and dropped kneeler were about the only noises throughout the liturgy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The first audible sentence: "Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor".

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Latin Missal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ for the prelude and postlude. Most of the vocal was Gregorian chant, very nicely done. The congregation did not sing, except to intone the occasional responses.

Did anything distract you?
Yes. The incredibly florid assault of ornamentation that overwhelmed the altars, ceilings and walls. A runaway use of gold embellishment, polychromed plaster statuary, including a life-sized crucified Christ with rolled back eyes right in front of the first row of pews. Much faux marble, large angel sconces at the altar and a sizable Madonna of Czestochowa. But there's a really beautiful inlaid wood floor over the entire church that simply must be seen.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely not happy-clappy. This was a solemn tridentine mass in Latin, although edited here and there for inexplicable reasons. This parish has been authorized by the archdiocese to do the Latin mass on a regular basis in addition to the ordo novum mass in the vernacular. I was struck by how incredibly well-behaved the children in the two pews in front of me were. Especially the young boys, who couldn't have been more than seven years old. They didn't squirm or misbehave once and even the youngest, aged four, genuflected perfectly.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – I think he may be an adequate preacher, but his material...

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Sin and temptation. Fornication. Not being in a state of grace. Avoiding temptation in all its forms. If you're reading something naughty, put the book down. If there is something sinful on television, turn it off. This struck me as being a very canned 1940s Roman Catholic lecture on the evils of temptation and what will happen to those who stray from the straight and narrow. Admittedly, the preacher wasn't thumping and strident in his delivery. But although the word "fornication" was used, I don't recall hearing the word "forgiveness".

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The use of Gregorian chant.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The temperature indoors, which was probably the same as it was outdoors, around 95 degrees with a heat index of 100. It was rough.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much. The very nice usher directed us to the bookstore downstairs when my friend inquired about one.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Not applicable. When you move people in and out for mass around the clock, no one pauses for coffee. After all, we're here to pray and obey, not socialize. I didn't get a sense of there being a close-knit worshipping community. Obviously, many people were regulars, but I suspect that they get a lot of visitors like myself, curious about the old liturgy.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I'd like to visit again in cooler weather. Otherwise, since I'm Anglican, making this a regular would be out of the question.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me appreciate my home parish even more.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The mix of the sacred and profane – of well-behaved children and raucous decor.
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