|840: The Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pultusk, Poland|
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Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: The Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pultusk, Poland.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: A Gothic brick basilica, remodeled in the 16th century by Venetian architect Giovanni Battista.
The church: The community gathered on a Friday afternoon after work had a strong, prayerful presence.
The neighbourhood: Pultusk is a lively provincial market town set on an island 60km north of Warsaw. It hit the headlines twice: when Napoleon fought a battle here in 1806, and when a meteorite badly damaged part of the town in 1868.
The cast: Much to my surprise, the service, basically a series of prayers punctuating silence, was led by a woman. I could not see her because she was behind the pulpit.
What was the name of the service?
Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
How full was the building?
I counted about 50 people, though more people kept coming in as the service progressed.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, because we were slightly late.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere throughout the whole service was of silent devotion. The church was delightfully cool on a hot day; it felt as if it had air-conditioning.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ and male cantor led Taize songs, which broke the silence now and then.
Did anything distract you?
A very welcome distraction was the whispered prayers of various people during the periods of silence. They sounded like beautiful, haunting birdsong.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As devotional as a Quaker meeting.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. The woman leading the prayers had the sort of voice that urged you to pray harder, especially when she led the litany (presumably of the blessed sacrament) towards the end.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The palpable silence. I have heard people boast that they could be led into a church blindfolded and know whether the blessed sacrament was present or not, and I now understand what they mean; there was a strong sense of the "presence". My partner, who is an atheist, was entranced by the atmosphere and quizzed me about it afterwards, wanting to know where we could find such a service in England. Sadly, holy hour and benediction is not much available in the UK.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having gone to Pultusk from Warsaw for a day trip and discovered 5 per cent proof lager at the equivalent of 30 pence per pint, I had a liquid lunch and the public toilet was locked. My bladder, thus, preoccupied me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service ended with a mass at 6pm. Everyone seemed to be staying, so there was no point in hanging around looking lost, as nobody would notice for another half an hour. Meanwhile, we had to get the last bus back to our hotel in Warsaw.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I doubt there was any. The congregation was made up of people on their way home from work for the weekend.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 for that atmosphere.
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 strong sense of the presence of Jesus in the most holy sacrament of the altar.