St Adalbert, Grand Rapids, MI (Exterior)

Basilica of St Adalbert, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Basilica of St Adalbert
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 November 2014, 10:30am

The church

In the 19th century, there were three Catholic parishes on the west side of Grand Rapids, all quite close to each other, but serving different ethnic communities: St Mary's (German), St James (Irish), and St Adalbert's (Polish). As time passed, the ethnic identities in the neighborhood declined. In a 2012 reorganization of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, St Adalbert and St James merged (although services are still held in both locations). It is anticipated that St Mary's will join the merged parish at some point in the future. The basilica is known for its exceptional music program. They support Steepletown, a faith-based organization that promotes understanding among diverse ethnic groups; several groups for youth and young adults; and a chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

The neighborhood

Grand Rapids is on the southwest side of Michigan, and is the second largest city in Michigan after Detroit. It is located on the Grand River, some 25 miles east of Lake Michigan. Health care and furniture manufacturing are prominent in the local economy. The area around St Adalbert's is mixed use: some middle class residences (homes and rental properties) and businesses. A large building near the parish is owned by Spectrum Health, but it was not possible to tell if this is a medical facility or administrative offices.

The cast

The Revd Scott Nolan, associate pastor, was celebrant and homilist. Peter Kurdziel, director of music, was organist and conductor of the Basilica Chamber Choir. Nate VanHaren was cantor, and James Metzler, a member of the chamber choir, played the concluding organ postlude.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

An usher estimated seating capacity of around 1200; it was perhaps two-thirds full. The congregation were racially and generationally diverse, and included lots of young families with children. The liturgy is televised and broadcast in the lower level of the basilica for those with young children or anyone else who needs to step out.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher handed us a service leaflet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Well, tolerably so.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Our opening hymn, 'We shall rise again', can be found on page 2 of your service leaflet."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The service leaflet had readings and all of the hymns and service music in it. Those of us who have not fully adjusted to the new missal translation could find the Order of Mass in Worship, 4th edition (2011), a publication of GIA Publications in Chicago. I found both easy to use.

What musical instruments were played?

A three-manual, 72-rank pipe organ installed by the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, Illinois, in 1980, and revoiced in 1999. Also in 1999, the instrument was rededicated as the Joseph Westdorp Basilica Memorial Organ, in honor of the basilica's music director of 40 years. Organ and choir are located in a rear gallery.

Did anything distract you?

The pews. When a congregation of several hundred sits or stands, there is quite a racket, magnified by some very live acoustics. And when folks are both sitting and putting the fold-down kneelers back under the pew in front of them – oh, my!

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

Stiff upper-lip, without a hint of happy talk. There was a bit more ceremonial than one typically sees in a novus ordo celebration. Torches accompanied Father Nolan when he left the presider's chair to read the gospel. The response to the intercessions was chanted, as was much of the service from the offertory to communion (including the Agnus Dei in Latin; Father Nolan chants beautifully). Bells were rung at the consecration. The Gregorian canon was used. Materfamilias (who went to communion on this visit – I did not) says that the chalice was administered at some of the communion stations, but not all. I suppose the regulars know where to sit if receiving in both kinds is important to them.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

7 – Father Nolan used a lot of hand gestures and spoke rather quickly. In the basilica's live acoustics it was sometimes difficult to hear everything he said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began by emphasizing the words of the reading from Romans 8: "What will separate us from the love of Christ?" He reiterated Paul's affirmation: nothing will! Then he noted what had been read from Isaiah 25: "He will destroy death." Then he pointed out that we don't yet fully receive this promise, and noted the differences between All Saints and All Souls. On All Saints Day we ask the saints to pray for us; on All Souls Day we pray that all of the departed may on the last day receive the love of God wholly. He concluded with a reference to the gospel (John 14:1-6) where Jesus says, "I will come again and take you back to myself, so that where I am you also may be."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The beautiful music: one of Bach's greatest chorale-preludes – Vor deinen Thron tret' ich (Before your throne I now appear); two movements from the Duruflé Requiem (Lux aeterna and In paradisum); and "Resurrection" from Marcel Dupré's Passion Symphony, Op. 23 as organ postlude. The Basilica Chamber Choir is quite fine, as are both of the organists we heard.

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

The pews (see above).

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

I remained seated to hear Mr Metzler's fine performance of the Dupre, while Materfamilias took some interior pictures. No one spoke to me, although in such a large congregation (and with two parishes recently merged), I doubt that I would have been easily recognized as a visitor.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Freshly-brewed coffee in styrofoam cups and a variety of juices, accompanying several different kinds of pastries, which all seemed to be homemade. Coffee was good, and I stayed away from the calorie-laden pastries.

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

8 – The liturgy is celebrated with great care, and the music is splendid. The former is a little more conservative than I am used to.

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

Yes, it did.

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

The beauty of this space, and the opening Bach chorale-prelude – long one of my favorites.

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