|937: St Lucy's, National Shrine of St Gerard, Newark, New Jersey, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Brother
The church: St Lucy's, National Shrine of St Gerard, Newark, New Jersey, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: This baroque building is delightfully cluttered with statues of mostly Italian saints, especially those dear to immigrants from particular regions of Italy. The ceiling is reminiscent of the poor man's Sistine Chapel. Stained glass windows depict many different devotions, including at least four different beliefs concerning the Madonna.
The church: St Lucy's was built by Italian immigrants, and is still a largely immigrant, working class church. The National Shrine of St Gerard is especially notable. Gerard, a Redemptorist brother from southern Italy, is patron of expectant mothers and of the unjustly accused. The story goes that a woman who had become pregnant had accused Gerard of being the father. Gerard could not plead his innocence before his superiors, as the Redemptorist community's rule prohibited members from defending themselves. Gerard is known for many miracles, including causing a statue of the child Jesus to fish a lost key from a well. To this day, expectant mothers pray at St Gerard's shrine.
The neighbourhood: Inner city Newark is a showcase for urban renewal in recent years. Once a slum, it now boasts of new, quite lovely attached houses for lower income families. The area around the church is beautifully landscaped and features plazas and outdoor shrines.
The cast: The Rev. Monsignor Joseph J. Granato, celebrant, assisted by two other priests and a large number of laymen, including a guard of honor in claret jackets.
What was the name of the service?
Feast of St Gerard, including various masses celebrated nonstop throughout the day.
How full was the building?
The building was packed, not only with those attending mass but, perhaps more so, those wishing to light candles at Gerard's shrine. Outdoors, the crowd became quite large, and the queues to donate money (paper money fastened to ribbons which were then pinned on the statue) and to buy food and souvenirs were substantial.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The crowds entering the church all jockeyed for a place in the queue for the shrine and were extremely pushy. A guardsman at the door merely reminded us to proceed in an orderly manner.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was relatively comfortable, but rather narrow.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Delightful pandemonium is a fair assessment. Mothers balanced one baby on their shoulder whilst pushing another in a pram. Many elderly people clamored to light candles. Weary baby boomers (most named Jerry) tried to keep the elders from wandering away. Outdoors, a happy crowd enjoyed the food stands as they renewed old acquaintances.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I missed them since I was shepherding one of the old people and was delayed in the candle area.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ was played at mass, and a fair-enough male choir sang anthems at communion. The outdoor festivities featured Italian music from a CD, and a small, not very good brass and drum ensemble played for the procession.
Did anything distract you?
The entire day was a series of delightful distractions. The group was primarily Italian, with some Spanish and gypsies, and the church was most definitely their Father's house. They waved, kissed, greeted all and sundry, played with their kids, talked continuously, and provided an atmosphere at once relaxing and hectic.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very comfortable and homely. The clear devotion was extremely moving. Some people were in tears as they prayed. Others exhibited a beautiful simplicity - laying their hands on the statues and speaking to the saints as extended family.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. Masses were offered continuously for several hours, and one crowd was entering as another left.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The devotion and warmth was celestial indeed. The feast was especially moving. Many people had collected money either independently or through groups. Each approached the statue with a ribbon to which paper money, flowers, photographs (lest Gerard not know who collected what), medals, and the like were pinned. They wept, kissed the statue, and held their children up to kiss Gerard's face.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This church was built by immigrants in a hostile land whose poverty was extreme and who led lives of backbreaking labor. There is no sign that this has changed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
In that crowd, I doubt that anyone would have noticed the Holy Father himself, let alone a lost soul.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The stands at the feast offered sausages, pasta, hot sandwiches, zeppole, pastries, coffees, and calzones. The only disappointment was that there was no wine.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 I am not Roman Catholic, but if I were, and the church were nearby, I believe I would love being there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. The combination of devotion and clear dedication to the family (not in the abstract family values sense, but the nitty gritty of caring for the elderly, the ill, and the children) were something approaching heavenly.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The combination of deep devotion and high festivity a rare one for North America!