|1090: St Mary Star of the Sea, Brooklyn, New York, USA|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St Mary Star of the Sea, Brooklyn, New York, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: To those of us of a certain age who were brought up in the Latin Roman Catholic tradition, St Mary's is the typical old-style Catholic church we remember so well. Located at 467 Court Street, in Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens neighborhood, St Mary's is a large red brick building with granite facade. The somewhat overdecorated interior is cream with dark wooden pews. The high altar and communion table are marble. The rococo-style reredos features statues of the four evangelists. Prominent stained glass windows depict the five joyful mysteries and scenes from the life of Christ. I especially liked a window of Christ teaching in the temple, in which one of the elders was dressed in a ruby red robe of brilliant hue. An elaborate Victorian organ case graces the gallery, although the original pipe organ has been replaced with an electronic instrument and all but the first row of decorative diapason pipes have been removed.
The church: The cornerstone was laid in 1854 and the church was dedicated in 1855. In 1918, the infamous gangster Al Capone was married here, although there is no commemorative plaque to memorialize that event.
The neighborhood: Beginning a few blocks south of the Brooklyn Bridge and extending down to the notoriously polluted Gowanus Canal, Carroll Gardens was originally settled by Irish Americans in the early 19th century and was named in honor of Charles Carroll, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is known for its elegant brownstone houses with spacious (by New York standards) front yards. As time passed, Italian immigrants sought out its tree-lined, quiet streets. The area became famous with the release of the motion picture Moonstruck, starring Nicolas Cage and Cher. By the 1960s, the neighborhood had sunk into decline with the disappearance of Brooklyn's once-thriving maritime industry. But in the 1970s, young professionals began buying the old brownstones and rehabilitating them, and today Carroll Gardens is a highly gentrified, elegant residential neighborhood, with trendy commercial streets lined with restaurants and boutiques.
The cast: Rev. Christopher Cashman was the celebrant, assisted by Mr Salvatore Mazzucco, organist, with readers, eucharistic ministers, and a cantor whose name was not given.
|What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were about 100 people. The church can probably hold 750 or so. Most people sat toward the rear.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
I've sat in better, I've sat in worse.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were slow to arrive and did so quietly, for the most part. The organist improvised some twiddly bits. He played well, but I thought he overused the swell pedal.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ. The organist, Mr Mazzucco, also served as leader of song, with the assistance of a woman cantor.
Did anything distract you?
There were no acolytes or servers. The church was seriously tat-deficient Father Cashman used a chalice made of clear glass, for example.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Typical Roman Catholic novus ordo mass. Father Cashman was vested in an ample, flowing, unembellished emerald green chasuble most elegant in its simplicity. The lectors and eucharistic ministers did not vest. The hymns were your typical Roman Catholic "singing nun" type hymns. The congregation did not join in the singing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Father Cashman made good eye contact with the congregation and established good rapport. He leaned on the pulpit with one arm as he spoke.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Church services run a whole gamut of emotions, from the joy of the marriage ceremony to the sadness of the burial service. But they all have one thing in common: the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the Last Supper would have been merely a pleasant dinner party, and the Christian church would not be here. Even the marriage ceremony mentions death ("till death do us part"). For a Christian, death is not the end. We have God's gift of eternal life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We received communion under both species very unusual in a Catholic church, in my experience.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Throughout the entire service, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness. I could envision what St Mary's must have been like in its heyday, with monsignors in birettas and red sashes, crowds of altar boys, schoolchildren in crisp uniforms marshaled by Dominican nuns, throngs of worshipers gazing in adoration at the precious elements at the moment of consecration. To see such a beautiful church reduced to a sparsely attended mass with minimalist liturgy broke my heart.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 I see no reason to.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not this particular service, no. It did make me glad to belong to a tradition of Christianity where dignified communal worship is the norm.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Receiving communion under both species in a Roman Catholic church.