Cathedral of Sts Simon & Jude, Phoenix (Exterior)

Cathedral of St Simon & St Jude, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral of St Simon & St Jude
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Monday, 21 November 2016, 6:30pm

The building

The church was dedicated in December 1966 and became a cathedral with the formation of the Diocese of Phoenix in 1969. It is apparently the only Roman Catholic cathedral in the world whose name honors the two apostles in question. It's a large, modern, red brick building with white stone trim. The sanctuary features a free-standing white marble altar atop a white marble platform, with baldachin. There is a matching Blessed Sacrament altar behind it. A large Renaissance Crucifixion icon hangs over the altar, and portraits of Saints Simon and Jude are located on either side. Colorful, abstract stained glass windows line the side walls.

The church

Rather than list the cathedral's ministries, which are well documented on their website, let me describe the new organ. It is an opus of the Peragallo Organ Company of Paterson, New Jersey. Located entirely in the gallery, it has six divisions and forty-seven ranks, regulated by a four manual console. It replaces an electronic instrument which, although large and by a reputable manufacturer, always impressed Miss Amanda as having a rather tubby electronic sound that never could quite fill the vast cathedral space.

The neighborhood

As the city of Phoenix has grown, once fashionable neighborhoods have become less so. Such is the fate of the 27th Avenue/Maryland Avenue site of the cathedral. Apartment complexes catering to those who would prefer not to sign long-term leases are interspersed with strip malls anchored by pawn shops and auto-title loan establishments.

The cast

The Most Revd Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, presided. He was assisted by the Very Revd John Lankeit, cathedral rector, and by two unnamed deacons, crucifer, a thurifer, boat boy, 14 (count em, 14) torches, a master of ceremonies and an assortment of servers.

What was the name of the service?

Pontifical Vespers and Blessing of the Pipe Organ.

How full was the building?

It was a little more than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, although I arrived very early. I noticed later on that greeters had stationed themselves at all the entrances and were handing out service leaflets to all who arrived. I had helped myself to one upon entering.

Was your pew comfortable?

The plain wooden pew could have been better, but it was OK.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People arrived quietly and either knelt in prayer or stood gazing up in the gallery at the organ. At 6:00 the cathedral's electronic bells rang the Westminster Chime and sounded the hour; this was followed by ringing of the Angelus.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The choir sang the German Renaissance composer Hans Leo Hassler's Cantate Domino: Cantate Domino canticum novum; cantate Domino omnis terra (Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth) (Psalm 96).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A very nicely prepared service leaflet had all the prayers and chants (in Gregorian notation).

What musical instruments were played?

The cathedral's new organ, which remained silent until the bishop blessed it at the beginning of the service. Organists were Matthew J. Meloche, director of sacred music and principal organist at the cathedral; Emma Whitten, the cathedral's assistant organist; and Mark Husey, principal organist at Blessed Sacrament Church, Hollywood, California. The cathedral's schola cantorum sang from the gallery.

Did anything distract you?

The Sisters of Loreto, who staff the cathedral school, looked splendid in their traditional habits of light blue with black veils. There were other nuns present also in traditional habits, but I didn't recognize their orders: grey habit with blue veil, and white habit and veil with red scapular. Seats had been reserved for the cathedral youth group, and I noticed that when they entered the girls sat separately from the boys. Also, I spotted two young men from my piano class at school among the retinue of acolytes. I had no idea they were associated with the cathedral.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

What you'd expect pontifical vespers to be. The procession entered through a side door and went down the aisle as the choir intoned Palestrina's Ecce Sacerdos Magnus (Behold a Great Priest). Then the bishop, his MC, the thurifer and boat boy, and two acolytes ascended the stairs to the gallery, where the bishop blessed and censed the organ. Then back down the stairs to rejoin the rest of the procession, and up the aisle to the sanctuary for the beginning of vespers, while the organist played a processional (she had to repeat it three times, the procession moved so slowly). The service was a mixture of Latin and English and mostly sung, using Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. The cathedral easily lived up to its reputation of strict adherence to the very best of liturgical traditions. The service leaflet invited the congregation to sing the responses, but I didn't hear anyone sing except for the Lord's Prayer and the concluding hymn, which was "Sing of Mary, pure and lowly" to the tune Pleading Savior.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – Bishop Olmsted had notes in front of him but glanced down at them only now and then. He spoke clearly and made good eye contact with the congregation. It was obvious that he was really into what he was saying. Call Miss Amanda picky, but her rating reflects the fact that she would have preferred to hear the bishop make at least a passing reference to the liturgical feast of the day – the Presentation of Mary, which is mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The bishop began by quoting St Augustine's remarks about sacred music in his Confessions. He then went on to say that tonight we lift our voices and hearts toward heaven. God uses music to transfigure our minds. Sacred music is a prayer and draws us into prayer. It unites us and lifts us beyond the worldly. It is linked to the beauty of holiness, the beauty of Christ. It gives voice to worship. It makes us uncomfortable with the secular. He concluded by thanking those whose donations and work made the new organ possible, and said that the organ will help us rejoice in the radiant love of Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Just about everything.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Well, let's talk about those electronic cathedral bells, shall we? Aside from being electronic, which is two strikes against them right off the bat, they started tolling the hour at 7.00 just as the deacon was beginning his reading. Someone quickly threw the switch, which had the effect of cutting them off in mid-toll. Should have thought of that earlier, like the day the decision was made to install them.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

After the altar party had recessed out, most people stood looking up at the gallery as the organist played the postlude; this was followed by applause well earned, I must say. A reception had been announced, but it was late and I wanted to get home to start writing my report. No collection had been taken up, so I left my Mystery Worship calling card on a table where leftover service leaflets were stacked. I caught up with the two young acolytes who are in my piano class, and congratulated them on not having broken character as they processed past me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didnt stay.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – Assuming I could fully embrace the teachings of Catholicism, which I cannot. The cathedral has come a long way from the days when I used to take my father to the Saturday evening mass, where a lone cantor would lead the congregation in tiresome Singing Nun ditties. Nowadays, if the Sisters of Loreto sing, it will have to be Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony, if you don't mind, Sisters. I am more than happy to attend special services here to experience the wonderful liturgy and excellent music, but I cannot make the cathedral (or any Catholic church) my regular. One last thing: there is a tiny voice in my head that keeps nagging me that I would soon grow tired of the notion that Western church music stopped evolving after the death of Palestrina.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Seeing the two young men from my piano class.

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