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1599: St Augustine Cathedral, Tucson, Arizona, USA
St Augustine Cathedral, Tucson, Arizona
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St Augustine Cathedral, Tucson, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Tucson.
The building: A grand cathedral in the Spanish mission style. The building dates from 1868 and was restored in 1968. Twin bell towers and elaborately carved stonework grace the façade, along with statues of St Augustine flanked by the Blessed Virgin and Christ. Inside, one enters a small narthex featuring several artworks, most notably a 12th century wooden cross from Pamplona, Spain, on which hangs a life-sized corpus badly in need of restoration. The nave is long, narrow, and rather plain for a Catholic church, with whitewashed walls and a vaulted ceiling. A large altar stands in the sanctuary, behind which is the bishop’s throne, decidedly Spanish in design. On the flamingo-colored east wall is a large figure of the risen Christ. Side chapels include a Blessed Sacrament chapel and one to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the right transept is a large organ console and choir seating; in the left the baptismal font.
The church: The cathedral sponsors a right-to-life group, St Vincent de Paul Society, religious education and Bible study groups. Masses are held in Spanish and English, with music provided by a folk group, mariachi band and the cathedral choir.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is in downtown Tucson, on Stone Avenue south of Broadway, in a run-down area that the city is desperately trying to revitalize.
The cast: The Revd Msgr Carlos Romero-Moreno, parochial vicar, was the celebrant, assisted by a deacon and two acolytes whose names I didn’t catch.
The date & time: Sunday, August 2, 2008, 8.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Mass in Spanish with Mariachi Music.

How full was the building?
The cathedral can hold about 1,000 and was completely full. Ushers had to work hard at finding seats for latecomers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, nor was there any bulletin available. During the prayers of the people, though, the deacon asked for our prayers for the whole congregation, but especially those visiting. The exchange of peace was friendly enough, and a woman sitting behind me even tapped me on the shoulder so that she might wish me la paz de Cristo.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, with plenty of room to kneel comfortably.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was some conversation, but for the most part people sat quietly waiting for mass to begin.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espiritu Santo, Amen. As the procession came down the aisle, the mariachi band played a number that I am sure was the song Spanish Eyes, made popular by Al Martino, Elvis Presley and others. Either the band was being naughty or the tune has been reborn as a hymn.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A Spanish-English missalette and separate hymnal, both entitled Celebremos/Let Us Celebrate. They were enclosed in blue plastic binders.

What musical instruments were played?
A mariachi band consisting of trumpet, three violins, vihuela (a small five-stringed guitar), guitar and guitarrón (a large deep-toned guitar). The band members also sang. They sang better than they played – the trumpeter was OK and the guitarists were good, but the violinists played horribly out of tune. All you aspiring violinists out there: I know it takes years of practice to become really good, but please don’t play in public until you’re ready!

Did anything distract you?
About half the musicians arrived after the Kyrie had begun, making Spanish Eyes sound half asleep. Some families had small children with them who squirmed about in the pews. One of the acolytes was wearing a surplice so short it could have passed as a bib.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A low
novus ordo mass in Spanish. Several things caught my attention. There was no crucifix on the altar or anywhere in the sanctuary save for the processional cross. The deacon stood at the side of the altar to make the chalice, with the celebrant standing in the middle (rather than the deacon standing in the middle with the celebrant waiting at his chair). At the moment of consecration, the celebrant held and elevated the sacred elements only with his right hand, not with both hands. The sanctus bell was rung at the elevation, but there was no incense. The congregation joined in the prayers but for the most part did not sing.

St Augustine Cathedral, Tucson, Arizona

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Msgr Romero-Moreno spoke very gently, with a beautiful cadence to his voice. There are few things as lovely as Spanish spoken well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on the gospel reading for the day, Matthew 14:13-21, the first miracle of the loaves and fishes. I don’t know Spanish well enough to have followed the entire sermon, but I did hear him say that it is important to feed the spirit as well as the body (Which comes first? he asked) and that much can come from something small.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I am not a fan of mariachi music, but I must say that hearing a mariachi band play at mass was most interesting. The Kyrie was hauntingly beautiful, as only the Spanish can carry off. The Sanctus, on the other hand, was a mariachi polka, full of life. Had liturgical dancing been in vogue here, I would have expected the celebrant to grab the deacon by the waist and go step-together-stepping around the altar.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Along with the mariachi music, we were treated to a symphony of cell phones going off throughout the entire mass. Either the same ones kept ringing, or everyone had downloaded the same set of ring tones. Do you think that in the first days of the church, messengers kept running in to mass with urgent dispatches for their masters?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The mariachi band played a lively recessional while the altar party went back up the aisle. People gathered around the musicians to listen to them and applauded when they were done. No one paid much attention to the silly old gringo who was walking around counting pews and writing things down in a notebook.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a sign out front announcing that breakfast would be served in the parish hall. I had quite a bit of trouble finding the parish hall, and by the time I found it a very long line had formed waiting to be served. I noticed people carrying away bowls of what looked like chunks of meat in a broth of some kind. It didn’t look appetizing enough to wait in line for, so I left.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would want to see what the mass in English with cathedral choir was like before making up my mind, but the building was lovely and they seem to take their liturgy seriously. This service has enough appeal to get 1000 people up early on a Sunday morning to fill their cathedral to overflowing.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt at peace with God through my private devotion, but I really didn’t feel a part of the Hispanic community. Perhaps if I knew Spanish a little better.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Spanish Eyes, the haunting Kyrie and the Sanctus polka.
 
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