The present building replaced the 1848 church built by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, founder of the University of Notre Dame. The neo-Gothic structure was begun in 1870 and consecrated in 1888. It was renovated in 1968 and again in 1988. The building was elevated to basilica status in 1992 by Pope John Paul II. The interior, while not for all tastes, is gorgeous. It has a decidedly French feel to it, heavily laden with color and symbolism to the brink of kitsch in spots, but its still beautiful. The high altar, from France, made a stop at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia en route to Indiana, winning an award for its design. Above the high altar rests an enormous ornate twelve-sided tabernacle representing Jerusalem, crowned with the Lamb of God bearing the Cross. The baroque Lady altar is late 17th/early 18th century, the work of the Bernini studios in Rome, one of only nine that exist; its tabernacle door contains a relic of the table on which St Peter is said to have celebrated the eucharist in Rome. The stained glass consists of over 1200 panels in 116 windows and is from LeMans, France.
The basilica is the church on campus of the University of Notre Dame. As such, they get many visitors from alumni associations, parents of students, sightseers and other pilgrims. The staff, comprised of volunteers and students, are welcoming and friendly, but I was just one of a parade of worshiping tourists. The parish of the Sacred Heart has a separate website and its own schedule. Parish liturgies are held in the crypt of the basilica.
The unincorporated community of Notre Dame sits astride two townships and includes the campuses of three colleges: the University of Notre Dame, St Mary's College, and Holy Cross College, as well as the headquarters of three religious communities: Sisters of the Holy Cross, the Midwest Province of Brothers of the Holy Cross, and the Indiana Province of Priests of the Holy Cross. As an unincorporated community, Notre Dame has no government. There is a post office, but police and fire protection are provided by the various colleges themselves. A one-seventh size replica of the shrine at Lourdes, where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette, is around the corner from the basilica. The Rosary is recited daily in the grotto.
The Revd Michael B. Wurtz, CSC, was celebrant and preacher.
What was the name of the service?Saturday Vigil Mass
How full was the building?
It was comfortably filled without being crowded. I estimate 350 people were present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher told me "Good afternoon" as he handed me a bulletin some 20 minutes before the start of the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew was comfortable and the padded kneeler was quite comfortable for kneeling.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Several people were quietly milling about. Some hushed whispers, but no talking. There were signs at each entrance telling the faithful to behave themselves: that men were to remove their hats, and that shoes were to be worn, no food or beverage was to be brought into the space, and to remember that you were in a holy place.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon and welcome to all our visitors."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the service leaflet, which included two hymns and the mass setting complete with musical notation. The congregation also relied rather heavily on a card titled Congregation Responses for Mass found in the pews. Various editions of the Gather hymnal were in the pews but were not used.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ, which was located in a balcony in the liturgical west end of the nave.
Did anything distract you?
A few children behind me whispered incessantly. It wasnt terribly disruptive, but it was certainly distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard mass with cross and candles. No incense, no bells inside, but some bell ringing outside. The basilica has a 23-bell carillon dating from 1852, said to be the oldest carillon in the USA. They made the opening announcements difficult to understand.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Wurtz had a fine speaking voice and a good speed in his delivery. I heard every word clearly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about the gospel lesson of the paralytic being brought to Jesus. Father speculated on the motives of the four who brought the man and lowered him through the roof. We arent told in the text if they were family, friends, or strangers, or if they were simply opportunists trying to get close to this popular teacher themselves. The theme of the sermon was that the good news had everything to do with an encounter with this Jesus, the Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The space, bright with daylight through the stained glass, filled with mostly attentive cheerful worshipers, who acted like they wanted to be there.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cantor and readers were distressingly slow. I wonder if they were coached to speak slowly so as to be understood in the vast, acoustically live space. The cantor had a lovely voice that was quite nice when she was singing alone, but she didn't know how to pace the congregation we (and she) got slower and slower. I felt like we were marching through honey. The intercessory prayers, too, were a lumbering call and response.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We and several other pilgrim/tourists explored the several side altars. There were some smiles and nods, but no other interaction.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was offered.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – If I were attached to the university community, or the Society of the Holy Cross, I might sense greater community. But I inferred that most everyone there was an anonymous visitor. If I were really a resident of the neighborhood, I would certainly consider visiting the Sacred Heart parish in the crypt of the basilica.
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 massive main altar and its tabernacle in the midst of the church.