Mystery Worshipper: Al Eluia
Church: Motor Ship Ryndam
Location: Holland America Line, Pacific Ocean
Date of visit: Monday, 31 December 2007, 5:00pm
An older, mid-sized ship, the Ryndam has recently undergone extensive renovation and upgrading. Because of its smaller size, the ship has a cozy, intimate feel to it. The service was held in the ship's 249-seat cinema, the Wajang (wa-YANG) Theater, located on the promenade deck. Its appearance is that of a typical small auditorium, with a wide curtained stage and comfortable seating. The theater is used for lectures and games as well as for religious services and films – indeed, we had to wait for a bingo game to finish before we could enter for mass.
The most unusual thing about the community is that everyone was on vacation! About 1400 passengers and 500 crew were on board. I was very curious as to how many passengers would be coming to mass on New Year's Eve.
We were en route from San Diego, California, to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on the first full day of a one-week cruise. So the immediate neighborhood was water. The weather was pleasantly warm and sunny.
The Revd James Moore, Catholic chaplain.
What was the name of the service?It was listed in the ship’s daily program as New Year’s Eve mass, but liturgically speaking it was the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
How full was the building?
There were about 40 people, making the theater about one-sixth full. I was pleasantly surprised that this many showed up.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Father Moore said hello to me in the hallway before the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a plush, comfy theater seat – this is a cruise ship, after all!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we had to wait for the bingo game to finish, four ladies from Arizona formed a volunteer choir and sang a short medley of Christmas carols in the hallway. After we entered the theater, we waited quietly while a small portable altar was wheeled into position. Father Moore joked a bit as he prepared for mass. Just before mass started, Father asked a volunteer to give each person present a dry black bean which he had brought with him in a sack.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"As we celebrate the new year, I have given you a bean." Father explained that we were to hold up our beans during the general confession, signifying all the negative things that had happened in our lives in the previous year. See below under "what part was like being in heaven" for more on this!
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Missalettes were passed out before the service.
What musical instruments were played?
None – the impromptu choir sang various parts of the mass such as the Gloria and Sanctus.
Did anything distract you?
The rocking of the ship from side to side was distracting at times; I had trouble getting a clear picture during the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was surprisingly reverent considering the setting. But then, this group clearly came to worship because they wanted to, not just to fulfill an obligation. The congregation took an active part in the liturgy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — Father spoke well and offered a good meditation on the lessons. During other parts of the service his general tone was very prayerful and meditative.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God looks at us as his children – he gives and gives to us. He wants our hearts. He wants us to live under the law of Christ, to be Christ to one another. In Luke’s Gospel the shepherds were amazed – are we amazed at God’s work in our lives? Dedicate your life to him in the coming year and let God’s peace reign in you.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the general confession we all held our beans heavenward. Then, as the choir sang the Kyrie and Gloria, we all came forward and put the beans in a stone pot in which they were then drowned. I found this little ritual moving.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing, really – well, maybe the fact that the holy sacrifice of the mass had to wait on a bingo game.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone left immediately. I shook hands with Father Moore on my way out.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. The congregation scattered to get ready for dinner and various New Year's eve festivities.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 — Not very practical as I’d have to live on a cruise ship! But I’d give a 10 to any church that regularly approaches worship with the prayerful devotion I saw during this service.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The ritual with the beans. Also, seeing Father Moore at one of the ship's pubs wearing a "Happy New Year" hat later that night.