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1149: St Benedict, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
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St Benedict, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St Benedict, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The parish was founded in 1893 and the present building dates from 1932. It is a large brick Romanesque basilica. The interior is dark, with walls of brick and cream-colored stone. Dark wooden pews line the nave. The sanctuary is shallow but wide, and framed by a tall arch. A rather modern-looking high altar with tabernacle and crucifix is backed by a canopied throne concealed behind curtains. Curved panels with crosses radiate from either side of the high altar. A smaller communion table sits in front. A large organ console is located halfway up the nave, to the left; the organ pipes themselves are in the gallery. Side chapels include a rather busy-looking Byzantine chapel and a monastic chapel with beautiful old oak misericords. At the back of the church is a rather cluttered gift shop.
The church: St Benedict's is staffed by Benedictine monks. Masses are offered both in the Byzantine and Roman rites. The parish sponsors numerous organizations both within the church and in the greater community, such as Scouts, Knights of Columbus, Ladies of Charity, Oblates of St Benedict, and God's Gardeners, who maintain the church grounds.
The neighborhood: In 1632 King Charles I granted a royal charter for Maryland to George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. The colony became a haven for Roman Catholics fleeing persecution and is rich in history. Maryland's northern border with Pennsylvania is known as the Mason-Dixon line, named after the men who surveyed it, and is regarded as the boundary between north and south. During the War of 1812, the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner." Pope Pius VI chose the city of Baltimore as the seat of the first Catholic diocese in the United States. The city grew into a major shipbuilding and transportation center due to its strategic location on the Chesapeake Bay. Its fortunes declined during the mid 20th century, but in the early 1980s a major redevelopment effort turned downtown Baltimore into a tourist and recreational attraction. Unfortunately, the church's neighborhood has not enjoyed participation in Baltimore's renaissance and appears rather seedy.
The cast: The Rt Rev. Paschal Morlino, O.S.B., pastor, was the celebrant. Father Morlino was assisted by a crucifer, server, lector, and leader of song (a quite serviceable tenor) whose names were not given.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
The church can hold 750 and was a little over half full. There was a goodly mixture of folk representing all ages.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
According to the bulletin, greeters are stationed at the door at every mass; however, I saw none. A lady walking in front of me held the door for me and said good morning. She asked me if I was there for mass (she must have been suspicious of my camera and backpack).

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, and so were the kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was some hand waving and visiting, but it was done very quietly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Benedict's." The entrance procession consisted of a crucifer in alb, a server in a white hooded monastic robe, a lector in street clothes holding the gospel book aloft, and the celebrant in an emerald green chasuble with gold piping.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Worship, a hymnal that included music for the liturgy of the hours, service music, and hymns. I was surprised and pleased to see a proper hard-bound hymnal in a Catholic church, as opposed to the paperback throwaway Seasonal Missalette one usually finds. There was also a bulletin, but it contained mostly ads and no order of service or readings for the day.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, nicely voiced and competently played.

Did anything distract you?
Before mass, the altar candles were lit by a young man wearing a pink sports shirt, tan shorts, and sandals. This turned out to be the same young man who later donned a monastic robe for his role as server. Why couldn't he have vested before he lit the candles?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very dignified novus ordo mass. The hymns were traditional (Ein' Feste Burg, Liebster Jesu, etc.) and we sang all of the verses – or at least I did, as true to Catholic form very few in the congregation joined in the singing. All the customary parts of the mass were chanted (although, strangely, at the beginning of the eucharistic prayer Father chanted the preface but not the sursum corda). The psalm was sung to one of the Gelineau settings. The gospel book had been placed on the altar and covered with a veil; Father carried the book to the pulpit with great solemnity, and after reading the gospel he made the sign of the cross over us with the book. At the offertory, he censed the altar with incense placed in a small alabaster bowl which was then left burning on the altar for the remainder of the mass. He later told me that this was "the monastic way."

St Benedict, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Morlino spoke in a highly personal and engaging style but with a little too much emotion – I was sure his blood pressure rose a few points during the course of the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father spoke on the parable of the sower of good seed. He said he loves to work in his garden, but that he knows some of the seed will not grow. Jesus wants us to learn from this parable, and then to act. There are some to whom the gospel is preached who just don't get it and never will. Others you see in church while they are young, but then they disappear when they enter adulthood. Still others go to church every Sunday but lead lives no different from those of their irreligious neighbors. Other people lead good but mediocre lives. And then there are the saints, whose roots are sunk deep in scripture and who yield a bumper crop. We are all called to be saints – to leave an everlasting mark on the lives of many. Sow your seed everywhere, and never be ashamed of your faith.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The great dignity with which the mass was conducted was heavenly. You don't hear the Gelineau psalms very often, and some of the settings are quite lovely – a refreshing change from the Anglican chant or Gregorian tones. I especially liked the way in which Father censed the altar. And we received communion under both species.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I thought the gift shop at the back of the church was tacky, but I hadn't seen tacky yet! I asked the lady who had said good morning to me if there was a restroom available. She told me where to find it and then added, "Be sure to flush afterwards." Over the toilet was posted a sign that read, "If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie." Really!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Father Morlino spotted me as a visitor and asked me where I was from. I told him I had heard that they do novus ordo right, and he replied that they do it pretty well, don't they? An older lady (I think she was a nun, although it's hard to tell now that they don't wear habits anymore) told me I should return at Christmas, when the ceremony is especially lovely. A gentleman who had been sitting in the pew in front of me saw me standing outside waiting for my taxi, and asked me if I was waiting for a bus. Other than that, no one else had anything to say to me.

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)?
8 – I'd love to spend lots of time hanging around this church. I'd especially like to witness the monks chanting the divine office from those misericords in the side chapel. The day after my visit was the feast of St Benedict, and I wish I could have stayed over for that.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. To participate in a mass celebrated by a member of one of the oldest orders in the Western Church helped me to realize that God's kingdom is indeed everlasting.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The way Father Morlino censed the altar from the alabaster bowl. Also, being told to be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.
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