Our Lady of Victory, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Our Lady of Victory
Location: New York City, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 September 2011, 10:00am

The building

A small, brick Georgian revival building, dwarfed by the surrounding office towers and difficult to photograph for lack of space. It was commissioned in 1944 by Francis Cardinal Spellman, then Archbishop of New York, in thanksgiving for the Allied victory in World War II (perhaps His Eminence had divine foreknowledge of the war's outcome, or perhaps he was simply jumping the gun a bit). If it weren't for the life-sized art deco statues of Our Lady of Victory over the unused Pine Street entrance and next to the William Street door, it would bear more than a passing resemblance to one of those post offices erected under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. But the interior is surprisingly light, and has a really interesting life-size art deco statue of Christ the King and another of Our Lady of Victory, both of which are set off against mahogany backgrounds. The chrome streamline moderne tabernacle, which sits on a marble plinth before the altar (an unusual position), is especially fine.

The church

The church is dedicated as a memorial to all veterans. Often called the "parish church of Wall Street," there's a running joke about attendance rising when markets start to tank. The parish does indeed offer a robust work-day ministry, with six daily masses and three on Sunday, and as many as 12 masses on holy days of obligation. Ash Wednesday sees long lines of workers snaking around the corner waiting their turn to receive ashes. They also have a prayer group, sewing guild, Wall Street adult social group, and adult education classes.

The neighborhood

The church is located at the corner of William and Pine Streets in the heart of New York's financial district, just a block north of Wall Street. The New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission are its immediate neighbors, along with new upscale residential towers and older residential lofts that once housed insurance companies and brokerage firms. About 50,000 people live in lower Manhattan full-time, but the population swells to more than 300,000 during business hours.

The cast

I don't know, as the priest's name wasn't listed anywhere and he didn't introduce himself, but they have an unusually large staff listed on their website. There was also an acolyte and a lay reader, as well as a cantor to lead the songs.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass

How full was the building?

There were about 15 at the start, 75 by communion.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

It was a pretty standard pew with kneeler. It wasn't particularly uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The organist played a really nice modern meditation, but I have no idea what it was since it wasn't listed anywhere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A small-print paperback Today's Missal and Today's Missal Music.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and a cantor who led all the singing, and thank goodness for the cantor, because nobody else sang, not even the priest.

Did anything distract you?

The exterior looks a little, well, institutional, so I really wasn't expecting the interior to be at all interesting, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's a real mixing and matching of styles, with colonial brass chandeliers alongside very Italian Baroque stained glass windows and, of course, all of the deco elements. It sounds sort of weird when described all together, but it works and is really pretty.

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

Middle-of-the-road novus ordo. There was a chapel bell and some chant, but no incense and really horrible 1970s hymns.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

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

No rating – Given the state of the sound system, which I'll talk about later, only every third word was intelligible, so it's really not fair to judge.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

From what I could gather, he was riffing on the day's gospel reading, Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the laborers. His point was that God's justice isn't necessarily our justice.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organ meditation at the beginning of the service was really well done.

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

To be honest, I wanted to leave five minutes in, and would have if I hadn't been there with a friend, because the sound system was just so over-the-top. The church is probably no more than 3,000 square feet, but the sound system seems designed for a stadium. There was so much reverb (there was an actual echo!), it rendered just about everything unintelligible. It was also very loud, so loud as to be painful. And it was just so unnecessary, because when the priest wasn't using the microphone when preparing the elements, you could hear him with no difficulty, even over a baby crying, and we were sitting near the back. By the end of mass my ears were ringing. I walked out feeling as if I had been at a rock concert.

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

Not a chance. Everyone was bustled outside through a receiving line of priests and servers handing out parish bulletins as we left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No coffee. I spent the time checking to see if my ears had started to bleed.

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

1 – Not ready for a hearing aid just yet.

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

Not particularly.

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

The really cool tabernacle.

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