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|2226: St Mary's
Basilica, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
of Phoenix. The basilica is staffed by priests of the Order
of Friars Minor (more commonly known as Franciscans), Province
of St Barbara.
A grand basilica in the Spanish mission style, dedicated in
1915. The interior is a shutterbugís delight, boasting the largest
collection of stained glass in Arizona. The great west window
depicts the Blessed Virgin attended by angels. Behind the high
altar is a Spanish style reredos depicting the Crucifixion with
the two Marys in attendance plus (I believe) St Francis and
St Anthony. A west-facing communion table stands in front of
the reredos. Side chapels include one honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe,
almost obligatory in Hispanic communities. Statuary includes
a replica of the Infant of Prague and a very nice Pietŗ flanked
by stained glass depicting St Augustine looking very much like
the present Archbishop of Canterbury, and St Monica looking
like the exasperated mother she was.
This is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in the greater Phoenix
area. They sponsor a care ministry, bringing the sacraments
to the homebound; a morning meal program for the needy; religious
education; and classes in English as a second language. Due
to its striking appearance, the basilica is a popular venue
for weddings, and the undercroft includes a fully equipped banquet
The basilica is at North Third Street between Monroe and Van
Buren Streets in the heart of downtown Phoenix, and is easily
reachable via light rail. Symphony Hall is nearby, and directly
across the street is the grotesquely ugly modern monstrosity
known as the Phoenix Convention Center.
The cast: The Revd Vincent J. Mesi, OFM, pastor, assisted by crucifer and thurifer whose names were not given. Gordon Stevenson, organist and choir director, was in charge of the music. Father Mesi was vested in alb, cincture, stole and white cope; the crucifer and thurifer in albs.
The date & time: Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Monday, August 15, 2011, 5.15pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
I counted room for 600 and there were about 50 present Ė mostly young to middle age adults, both men and women.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Service leaflets were available on a table for the taking.
Was your pew comfortable?
Borderline. Plain wooden pew.
How would you describe the pre-service
People entered quietly. Father Mesi was puttering about the
sanctuary getting things set up. A gentleman in street clothes
and sporting a long gray pony tail came out to light the candles.
There were 25 small votive candles on the high altar, plus the
"high sixes" and two candles on the communion table.
A lectern was set up in front of the sanctuary gate, and the
two communion table candles were brought down and placed on
either side of the lectern. The church bell was rung immediately
before the service.
What were the exact opening words of the
The choir opened with a motet, the lovely Adoramus Te Christe
by the 19th century French composer Thťodore Dubois. Then Father
Mesi intoned the opening words of the evening office: "O God,
come to our aid."
What books did the congregation use during the
A very nicely done service booklet with all the music and readings.
What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ in the choir loft. There was also a choir of three singers: soprano, alto and tenor. Both the organist, Mr Stevenson, and the choir wore cassocks and surplices.
Did anything distract you?
The aforementioned gentleman who came out to light the candles
had considerable trouble with the high sixes Ė they just wouldnít
take a light from his taper! He ended up having to remove them
from their holders in order to light them. When he finally succeeded,
he indulged in a little victory dance as he returned to the
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
I have never witnessed a more dignified vespers or evensong
in any church or cathedral, and believe you me, Iíve been around!
The psalms were chanted to settings similar to Anglican chant.
The service leaflet clearly indicated where the congregation
was to join in, but I donít think this congregation was used
to it; I noticed few people singing besides myself. The readings
were 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 (all will be made alive in Christ,
but each in turn) and an excerpt from the third letter of St
Clare of Assisi to Agnes of Prague (as the Blessed Virgin carried
Jesus materially, so can we carry him spiritually). The intercessions
were set to a Taizť chant. Father Mesi chanted in a fine, strong
baritone voice; he would make a fine addition to any choir.
Altar, clergy and congregation were generously censed during
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Father Mesi delivered a well thought out homily in a strong, clear voice. He seems well schooled in the art of preaching.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, but the Church has believed it for centuries. We have homilies on the subject that date from the sixth century. Some claim that the dogma has no basis in reality. But we have personally not seen the risen Lord, as the disciples did, yet we believe that Christ rose from the dead. In the Creed, we say that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Todayís lesson from St Paul teaches that all will be made alive in Christ, but each in turn. First it was Christís turn, and next came Mary. Where Mary has gone, we all hope to follow. Jesus has trampled out death forever. We may look forward with confidence to Godís promise of life eternal, with Mary as a model for all of us.
Which part of the service was like being in
Which part wasnít? Everything was absolutely splendid! I was
tempted to go up in the choir loft and sing the bass line, as
I knew all the music: the Dubois Adoramus Te Christe;
an Ave Maria by the Flemish Renaissance composer Jacques
Arcadelt; the plainchant Salve Regina Mater Misericordiae.
The three choristers sang splendidly, though, and probably would
not have appreciated an unrehearsed bass joining them.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It saddened me to realize that thereís hardly another Catholic church in the Diocese of Phoenix, or in the state of Arizona for that matter, that could, erm, hold a candle to the dignified way in which this service was conducted. But even so, the cruciferís jeans and white sneakers beneath his alb stood out in stark contrast to the thuriferís proper black haberdashery and Father Mesiís Franciscan sandals. I doubt if anyone noticed the tears trickling down the Little Infant of Pragueís cheeks.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the final blessing, the altar party processed over to
the Lady altar and gave it a thorough censing while the choir
chanted the Salve Regina and the church bell was again
rung. Then we all left as the organist played, I think, a Widor
toccata, although I didnít recognize which one exactly. I shook
Father Mesiís hand and asked him if all the services were this
good. There had been no collection, and I could find no place
to leave an offering, so I handed Father my folded Mystery Worship
card with the suggestion that he open it later.
How would you describe the after-service
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I live quite a distance from downtown Phoenix, but
if transportation were not an issue Iíd be there in a flash!
I told Father Mesi that I was Episcopalian, and he said I'd
be welcome back any time. I may go back one Sunday to see what
their solemn mass is like, although I think I already know!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Didnít it just ever!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The fact that Catholics can do liturgy if they really
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