Mt Calvary Church, Baltimore

Mount Calvary, Baltimore, Maryland, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Mount Calvary
Location: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 June 2019, 10:00am

The building

The cornerstone of Mount Calvary Church was laid 175 years ago in 1844. The main altar is of white Vermont marble, the Good Shepherd window was made by Tiffany & Co., the bell was cast at the McShane Bell Foundry, and the organ is an Andover-Flentrop by CB Fisk. During a blizzard in 1914, the spire collapsed and has not been replaced. More details of the historic building may be found in the Wikipedia article.

The church

Founded in 1842 as the first Oxford Movement parish in the United States, Mount Calvary spent its first 168 years as one of the three flagship Anglo-Catholic parishes of the Episcopal Church. In 2010, the congregation was the first Anglican congregation in North America to vote to join the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter. A more thorough discussion of what they call ‘the story of a parish going home’ can be found on their website. Since joining the Catholic Church, Mount Calvary has thrived; and, led by its pastor, a married Catholic priest with nine children, the community has become a magnet parish for large families.

The neighborhood

Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, is struggling to reinvent itself after decades of urban decay. The neighborhood where Mount Calvary Church is located is no exception. There is a methadone clinic across the street, and the parish provides a hot breakfast (‘the Bus Stop Breakfast’) to people fighting addiction. In doing so, Mount Calvary provides continuity with its roots in the ministry to depressed areas of London by other Oxford Movement parishes.

The cast

The pastor led the service, chanted the gospel, preached the homily, and received and confirmed several new Catholics. The organist played a prelude, a postlude, and accompanied the hymns. Other participants will be mentioned below.

What was the name of the service?

Whitsunday: The Sunday of Pentecost – Sung Mass.

How full was the building?

About two-thirds full, and it seemed like there were more young people under 18 than adults.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Because I entered through the kitchen door from the parking lot, the cooks who were busy in the parish hall preparing the breakfast that would be served later were the ones who said hello and invited me to stay afterwards. Upon finding my way upstairs, I encountered other friendly visitors, and we helped ourselves to the service leaflets, and entered the church, which was still not fully illuminated.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews were standard wooden pews, with plenty of room between them. There were individual, comfortable, unattached kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was very quiet. The church was still dimly lit, and mostly empty until just before time for the service to begin, except for a few servers quietly working out the special arrangements for the Pentecost liturgy. An ideal environment for contemplative prayer.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

V: ‘Let us go forth in peace.’ R: ‘In the name of Christ, Amen.’ After which, the thurifer led the altar party down the main aisle, swinging the thurible in full circles. The entire congregation then joined in the procession for the singing of ‘Hail thee, festival day!’ After a station at the font, the procession continued all the way around the inside of the church, singing ‘Spirit divine, attend our prayers.’ The procession was so long that the altar party, upon returning up the main aisle, had to wait for the tail of the procession to pass.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The only book in the pews was the Hymnal 1940 of the Episcopal Church. However, it was not needed, since the 20-page 8½ x 11 service leaflet contained all of the text and music of the hymns, liturgy, and readings, as well as notes on the music, announcements, and the schedule of services for the week and month. No advertising. We sang an assortment of traditional hymns – all the verses! – as well as the Healy Willan Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena, the Pentecost Golden Sequence, and the Lord's Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

The Andover-Flentrop CB Fisk pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?

There were a lot of small children. This is a good thing, and any distraction by children (within reason, which it was) must be excused. There were two peculiar errors in the printed leaflet, which only a perfectionist such as myself would even notice. And one phone did go off but was quickly silenced, and its distraction was soon forgotten.

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

As is to be expected of one of the flagship ‘Ritualist’ parishes in the country, the ceremonial was of very high quality, precisely the liturgical patrimony that Pope Benedict called ‘the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.’ The thurifer, accompanied by the crucifer and two torchbearers, led the solemn procession at the beginning of the service. A lector read the Pentecost lesson from Acts. An instituted acolyte chanted the epistle. Two altar servers assisted the priest with the preparation of the elements and the ablutions after communion. A cantor chanted the introit and other minor propers, and a soloist sang an offertory anthem and a communion motet.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

9 — Well written and well preached.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Holy Ghost brings the people of the Church together in unity and obedience to the Magisterium, while encouraging us to do mundane things (such as changing a baby's diapers) in the joy of the Spirit.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music was wonderful, the building's interior gorgeous, and the congregation were clearly in love with the Lord.

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

Since I had not yet looked at the service leaflet, but had opened the hymnal to #107 as the procession started, I was sorely embarrassed to be the only one singing the Pentecost refrain (‘Day whereon God from heav'n shone in the world with his grace’). It seems the person who had prepared the leaflet had forgotten to change it from the Easter refrain (‘Day whereon Christ arose, breaking the kingdom of death’). Oops!

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

There had been an announcement just before the end of the service inviting everyone to come downstairs for breakfast, so it was hard to ‘look lost.’ The breakfast tables were so crowded it was difficult to find two seats together, and we eventually found a table freed up by some children who had eaten quickly. My recommendation to other visitors: if you want to meet and talk to the parishioners, get yourselves downstairs before the tables fill up. After talking to the other visitors who joined us at our table, I wandered around introducing myself to various people.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was a complete hot brunch: biscuits, jam, fruit, cakes, cookies, quiches, croissants, etc. Large thermos dispensers with coffee, decaf, and hot water for a selection of teas. Paper plates and cups.

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

10 — I went back for evensong at 4.00! And even though I live almost seven hours away, I seriously considered returning in two weeks to join them in their Corpus Christi procession to the Mother Seton shrine down the street and their catered parish picnic. But alas, it is a long drive, and I'm scheduled to be the reader back home.

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

Yes, so much so that I would even consider moving closer to where my mother-in-law lives, just to be able to make this my new parish home!

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

Being present for the reception into the Catholic Church of a long-time friend (and erstwhile Mystery Worshipper) along with his entire family.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools