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1107: St Mary's Cathedral, Lafayette, Indiana, USA
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St Mary's Cathedral, Lafayette, Indiana, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Mainline Pilgrim.
The church: Saint Mary Cathedral, Lafayette, Indiana, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The cathedral is gothic revival built of brown stone of an unpleasant shade. The interior is as Victorian plaster gothic as it can get, complete with recessed can lights in the ceiling vaults. The chancel is wallpapered with a light brown design right out of a Victorian bachelor's smoking room. Painted on the wall are 11 copper-hued apostles, who stand evenly spaced along the wall and gaze up at a Christus Rex crucifix while striking eleven different poses of pious awe. Next door to the cathedral is a small school.
The church: St Mary's is a cathedral of the souped-up parish church variety. It seems to have a large regular congregation.
The neighborhood: Lafayette was founded in 1825 and named after the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution. The city quickly became a supply center for new settlers. In August 1859, the first officially recognized air mail flight by the United States Postal Service occurred when Professor John Wise and his balloon, the Jupiter, took off from Lafayette with a pouch containing 123 letters and 23 circulars. Purdue University was founded here in 1869 and has played an important part in the development of the Lafayette area. Today, Lafayette is a diversified manufacturing, merchandising, education and transportation center. The cathedral was at the edge of town when it was built, and was surrounded by the elegant palatial homes of the wealthy. Now that the wealthy have moved to a different part of town, many of these houses have been cut up into apartments or converted into funeral parlors.
The cast: The Very Rev. William Leo Higi, Bishop of Lafayette-in-Indiana, presided over the eucharist and delivered the homily. Bishop Higi was assisted by a cast that seemed to include every priest in the diocese.
What was the name of the service?
Memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II.

How full was the building?
Completely full. Latecomers had a difficult time finding seats, and even the balcony seemed full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A nun held the door for me and said hello, but only because I happened to be walking in at the same time as she. There were no official greeters on hand.

Was your pew comfortable?
Ordinary wooden pews with kneelers that needed just a touch more padding.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted quietly as a pianist and a violinist played spirituals.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. We welcome all our guests," said a smiling lay reader who then went on to clarify some parts of the service sheet.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was printed on a service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Violin, piano, and organ were played at different parts of the service. The organ was rather small for a church of St Mary's size, and the organist didn't seem quite up to drawing very much sound out of it.

Did anything distract you?
A man in the pew in front of me had a respirator that made a whooshing sound as it forced air into his nose every two seconds. It did this throughout the whole service with such regularity that I watched my watch's second hand tick in time to it.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There were bells and smells, but the hymns were modern happy clappy ones such as "Here I am, Lord."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The bishop's style lacked panache. John Paul II's papacy was recounted in a tone that made it sound as exciting as the life of an accountant or janitor.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was a typical funeral eulogy chronicling the life and times of the deceased. I would expect a bishop to be able to deliver a more inspiring sermon for the memorial of a pope, but his point was that all Catholics, from the pope on down to the poorest layman, get the same funeral.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a packed church full of people singing the hymns with gusto – truly a taste of the kingdom of heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I found the cathedral's decor to be – well – tawdry. Hellishly tawdry.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Standing in one place would have been difficult, as the congregation flowed toward the exits, sweeping the dawdlers along with them.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't stop for coffee, and at any rate the flow of the crowd propelled me to the front door.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I am not Roman Catholic. That, coupled with banal decor and an uninspiring musical program, means I would probably never make this my regular church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Except for the crowds, it felt like the funeral for a total stranger or an old uncle you've never met, instead of a memorial for an influential and important spiritual leader.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That I attended a memorial service for a pope, which isn't exactly something that happens every day.
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