Mystery Worshipper: Virginia Kneeling
Church: Blessed Sacrament
Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 June 2017, 10:00am
A large brownish-red brick building in a traditional style; it takes up most of a city block. I don't know when or by whom it was built, but it appears that the inside may have been gutted and redone in comparatively recent times. It has a very open and welcoming feel and is somewhat "in the round," which I don't think was its original orientation. A beautiful new baptismal font was installed in 2014. The aisles are wide and there are ramps at entrances.
At the time of the founding of the parish in 1844, the Shenandoah Valley had very few Catholics, and a single traveling priest was sent sporadically to meet the spiritual needs of the people. Since then, Blessed Sacrament has blossomed into an established parish with over 4500 parishioners from a variety of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. They have a youth ministry and young adult ministry, and formation classes for children and adults. They have a food pantry that is part of the Feeding America program, which receives donations of groceries from various supermarket chains. The parish is twinned with the Catholic parish of St Isidore on the small island of LaGonave, Haiti, and apparently does a significant amount of missionary work there. In addition to the Saturday vigil mass, there are two Sunday masses in English and one in Spanish. There are either morning or evening weekday masses, including a Thursday evening mass in Spanish. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is held on Wednesday evenings.
Harrisonburg is a city in the legendary Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and is known today as a bastion of ethnic and linguistic diversity. The language software company Rosetta Stone was founded in Harrisonburg but is now headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. Blessed Sacrament is smack in downtown Harrisonburg, next to the Justice Center, the co-op grocery, kitty-corner from a long-established Indian restaurant and a large parking deck. It's on the "other" end of Main Street from the rest of the big downtown churches, a little bit like the "red-headed stepchild" in this largely Protestant town.
The Revd Silvio Kaberia, pastor, was the celebrant. There was another priest (or he may have been a deacon) who preached, and another deacon, but I wasn't able to figure out what their names were. Janet Edmondson is musical director.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Mass
How full was the building?
Almost full, except for the overflow. There were Anglo, African-American, Asian, and Hispanic families sitting near me and mixed throughout the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, at least a half dozen people said "Good morning" to me as I entered.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very much so padded seat and back. Kneelers were also padded and comfortable. This church appears to have been designed with the people in mind. The overflow has closed-circuit TV so people can see as well as hear what's going on at the altar.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with some subdued chatting going on here and there.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The combination hymnal/service book Journeysongs was in the pew racks in both Spanish and English versions. Most people used it only for hymns, but I have been away from the Catholic Church for many years and was compelled to use it for everything.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, played extremely well. It appears the church does not have an organ.
Did anything distract you?
A bored middle-school aged child sitting next to me, who fidgeted constantly throughout the mass and went unadmonished by any parent.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard American Catholic mass, as near as I can tell. The congregation knew their part well and responses were strong and joyful. At communion time there was a large number of communion stations, and I suspect the eucharistic ministers are aware of some parishioners who may need communion brought to them in the pews (although there appeared to be none attending this mass). This being Father's Day, all the fathers in the congregation were called up for a special blessing. There was quite a number of them of all ages, many of the younger ones carrying babies or small children. After a prayer, the clergy went among them with holy water, and the implements they used looked rather like feather dusters. This ensured that all got well sprinkled, if not soaked, much to the delight of some of the little ones, and general laughter.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The preacher spoke so fast it was hard to make any sense of what he was saying. It was hard to tell whether he was just trying to get through it in the time allotted, or he was nervous, or if this is his normal style.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
When we share a meal, we share community. Jesus invites us to share his meal and to share community with him and in him forever.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The entire congregation holding hands as we said the Lord's Prayer. Also hearing the two traditional benediction hymns "O Salutaris Hostia" and "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum" beautifully sung in Latin by the small but well-trained choir.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Singing only two verses of "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" just enough to get the procession out. It's such a wonderful hymn and demands all the verses in the hymnal (there are four in Journeysongs) and everyone knows it!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The woman I had sat next to engaged me in some conversation and encouraged me to come back again. After mass there was a procession of the Blessed Sacrament outside around the church, which takes up a city block. It was impressive to take the Blessed Sacrament outside to the city, even if the city didn't know what it was seeing.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There didn't seem to be any. There is a Spanish mass after this one, so there may not be time.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I am not, at this point, a child of Rome, but this church could definitely make me think about becoming one.
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 generous Fathers Day sprinkling with holy water.