Mystery Worshipper: Paterfamilias
Church: St Anthony of Padua
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 October 2022, 11:30am
This is the parish's second church, built in 1957, and remodeled in 1994. The exterior is unassuming, but the interior is striking. It is a modern design, with seating on three sides of the altar. The presider's chair is to the left of the altar, while the musicians are to the right. The altar is bathed in natural light, with windows in the ceiling above it. The stations of the cross, which are bas-relief metal on wooden squares, are on the back wall, and are rather small. There is a small shrine to the Blessed Virgin on the right as one enters, with a small chapel on the left, where I gather some weekday masses are celebrated.
The parish was founded by Polish immigrants in 1906. It has grown over the years, and now has 1,700 registered families as parishioners. There is a school, serving ages 3 through 8th grade. It seems to be a quite active parish – a recent ministry fair had over 200 people sign up for parish ministries – with a fairly normal mix of sacramental preparation, Christian formation, and social justice ministries. There are four masses each weekend.
Grand Rapids is three hours east of Chicago, and about two and a half hours west of Detroit, on the banks of the Grand River. The parish is on the west side of Grand Rapids. The church and school are on a beautiful wooded campus near a nature reserve.
The pastor of the parish preached and presided. There were two lectors, nine musicians, six lay eucharistic ministers, and one acolyte who served as crucifer.
What was the name of the service?Polka Mass.
How full was the building?
Full to overflowing. Each year a different parish in the Grand Rapids area hosts a Polka Mass as a part of Pulaski Days, held in early October and named in honor of Casimir Pulaski, the Polish general who fought in support of the American Revolution.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a lovely lady in native Polish attire welcomed me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Chairs had been added to accommodate the large turnout. Mine was quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I’m not quite sure. With so large a crowd, parking was a bit of a problem, and I arrived after a gentleman had begun speaking. He was explaining that this service was a special event, in celebration of 50 years of Pulaski Days, an annual event in Grand Rapids.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
After the opening hymn, the usual ‘In the name of the Father...’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Words to the musical portions of the service, and the Nicene Creed, were projected on two screens behind the altar.
What musical instruments were played?
Two trumpets, tenor saxophone, baby grand piano, concertina, accordion, two electric guitars, and drum set. This is a fairly standard instrumentation for a polka band. I should note that polkas are not danced at a Polka Mass. Some of the musical pieces used in the service were borrowed from polka repertoire and adapted to Mass texts; others, including ‘Amazing Grace’, were simply arranged for this ensemble. A couple of movements of the Mass setting were done only by piano and drums.
Did anything distract you?
The presider's red shoes.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A fairly standard Sunday morning celebration in a North American parish (except for the music), until after communion. At that point there were lots of thank yous for people involved in the planning of this special Mass, a couple of additional pieces of music, and announcements – for example, that the 14 social clubs for Grand Rapids' Polish and Lithuanian communities would all be open in the afternoon.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 — The pastor has an informal presentation style, speaking from the head of the nave. He was quite effective in focusing on the Gospel for the day (Jesus heals ten lepers, only one of whom returns to thank him), while incorporating references to the Pulaski Days.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began by recalling his first Polka Mass (the pastor is of Polish descent). He was celebrant at an outdoor Polka Mass at a Knights of Columbus hall, but rain forced the service indoors. Today, though, was going to be better. Why? We can take up a collection! He then began to talk about the Gospel, asking ‘Where are they?’ – referring to the nine who were healed but did not return to thank Jesus. Well, he said, they were likely celebrating, because they no longer had leprosy. They wanted to be with family and friends. We can probably relate. But we, like the lepers who were healed, need to remember that this weekend, as we celebrate our heritage, we should also be giving thanks – God speaks Polish, too!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A beautiful arrangement of ‘Amazing Grace’, combining elements of country and jazz, performed after communion. The opening solo on lead guitar was quite impressive.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The 20 minutes of thank yous and announcements that followed communion. People deserve to be thanked, and announcements are necessary, but all of this could have been done just a bit more efficiently. The Mass altogether lasted some 80 minutes.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went to ask the band leader about the keys we sang some of the music in. He acknowledged he had had to transpose some of the sung music to keys better suited to this kind of ensemble. For example, ‘Blessed Are They’ by David Haas is usually sung in A-flat, but I would guess we sang it in F. We then talked briefly about the wonderful version of ‘Amazing Grace’ the ensemble had performed after communion.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. During the announcements, we were reminded that the 14 social halls in Grand Rapids would all be open during the afternoon, and that you didn't have to be Polish to join in the festivities.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — This is a welcoming parish, worshipping in a beautiful space. The pastor is a fine homilist.
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 opening lead guitar solo to ‘Amazing Grace.’ Musical perfection.