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

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: Saturday, 2 June 2007, 10:00am

The building

The building 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 altar atop a white marble platform; on the rear wall hangs a large copper sculpture of Christ Victorious. Portraits of Saints Simon and Jude hang on either side of the sanctuary; while handsome, these have been criticized by some for anachronistic details – for example, St Simon holds a sheaf of papers which in his time would have been scrolls, and St Jude wears a gold chain which he surely could not have afforded. In the north transept are the organ console, a piano, and chairs for the choir. Colorful, abstract stained glass windows line the side walls and the rear wall of the gallery.

The church

The cathedral sponsors several ministries, including a St Vincent de Paul Society, bereavement counseling, youth groups, scouts, and Knights of Columbus. They also maintain a school and gift shop. Each Sunday the 9.00am mass is broadcast over local television.

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 payday loan establishments.

The cast

The Most Revd Thomas James Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, presided, assisted by a cast of priests, deacons, and lay servers too numerous to mention by name. Concelebrating mass with Bishop Olmsted were over 100 priests, probably every priest in the diocese, as well as the Most Revd Thomas J. O'Brien, former Bishop of Phoenix who resigned in 2003 after an incident involving an automobile accident. Three masters of ceremony were listed in the bulletin; special mention surely goes to one of them (see below), but which one by name I don't know. Matthew Sprinkle, music director at St Thomas Aquinas Church, Avondale, Arizona, presided at the organ. James Wahl conducted a choir of guest singers from throughout the diocese. Richard Rodriguez was commander in charge of the Knights of Columbus honor guard.

What was the name of the service?

Ordination of Eugene Florea, Craig Friedley, Kilian McCaffrey, John Muir, Ernesto Reynoso and Paul Sullivan to the Sacred Order of Priesthood.

How full was the building?

Completely full and then some, including the gallery. The cathedral can hold upward of 1,000 people. Nearby buildings hosted the overflow crowd.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher asked me if I was there for the ordination and handed me a bulletin. The ushers wore brown aprons that made them look like restaurant waiters.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. The wooden pews were quite comfortable both downstairs and in the gallery.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Festive, with lots of talking and visiting. I arrived an hour early, having been warned to expect a full house, and already crowds were milling about outside waiting for an earlier mass to finish. Once we were able to enter, the church filled up quickly. I headed for the gallery so as to secure a good vantage point for photos. The choir and musicians practised a bit.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." I won't begin to try to describe the entrance procession except to say that it seemed endless – thurifer, crucifer, servers, deacons, priests, candidates for ordination flanked by the Knights of Columbus honor guard, and the bishop with his retinue of attendees. All of the priests wore identical white chasubles with green piping and a red cross emblazoned on the front. I couldn't imagine where they found well over 100 identical chasubles, but then as I was driving out of the parking lot afterwards, I saw them all being loaded onto a truck. Rent-a-Robe, I guess.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A special leaflet contained everything we needed.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, piano, and a small chamber orchestra of strings, brass and tympani. The organ is an electronic instrument with excellent voicing, but even at full blast it can't come close to filling the space with sound like a proper pipe organ would.

Did anything distract you?

Before mass began, people in the gallery kept popping up and down, moving about and fidgeting while trying to find a better vantage point. I tried snarling at the most egregious offenders, but to no effect. Various members of the altar party kept sallying forth into the sanctuary, in various degrees of vestedness, for last-minute choreographic run-throughs. During mass, I noticed from my gallery seat two ladies sitting downstairs who wore black capes with red lined hoods and a white cross on the left shoulder. I kept wondering if they were the religious habit of some order.

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

Very solemn and dignified – one of the most nicely done liturgies I've seen in a Catholic church in a long time. The Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were chanted in Latin, as is customary at the cathedral, but the Gloria and Lord's Prayer were sung in English. The eucharistic prayer was the old, longer form, giving each newly ordained priest a chance to recite a paragraph or two of it. The bishop did not intone any of his parts except for the Great Amen, when he broke out in a most sonorous and pleasing baritone. Incense was plentiful and dispensed with proper ceremony. The bishop's attendants knew exactly what to do, when to do it, and how – grasping his mitre and crosier with veiled hands, for example. After Bishop Olmsted had laid his hands on each candidate, every priest present did likewise. It took forever, but it was most inspiring. At one point there were well over 100 people in the sanctuary, but everyone moved about with proper grace and very few missteps. Even the candidates for priesthood missed hardly any of their cues.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

8 – Bishop Olmsted delivered the sermon from his chair and read it from notes, but he spoke clearly and intimately.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Last Supper occurred 2,000 years ago, whereas the mass occurs here and now. But it is still Christ who is present when the bread and wine are consecrated. No priest can say, "This is my mass." It is always Christ's mass. Priests are needed to minister the sacraments, but the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is part of the never-ending, always-in-progress banquet taking place in heaven. As the priests being ordained today go about their duties, they should keep in mind that humility is essential for effective service, just as Christ humbled himself on the cross. Trust in the love of God to help you through the burdens you will face.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The entire service was heavenly, thanks to a great degree to the efforts of one of the three masters of ceremonies – I don't know which one. He had clearly memorized the rubrics to perfection, and was able to lead everyone through their parts with just a slight nod of the head or a subtle gesture of the hand when required. It was heavenly just watching him work!

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

The choir attempted the Franck Panis Angelicus as a communion anthem, with violin and organ. I say "attempted" because by that time the violin had become badly out of tune with the organ, and the result was excruciatingly painful.

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

There was no collection, so I was wondering what to do with my Mystery Worshipper calling card. After descending the gallery steps, I walked about a bit looking for someone to give it to or some place to lay it down. I saw a suggestion box and was tempted to drop it into there. But just then I spied Bishop Olmsted shaking hands outside and knew what I had to do. As I shook the bishop's hand, I gave him my folded card, saying, "I usually put this in the collection plate but I'll give it to you directly instead, bishop." He replied, "Thank you. I'll let my deacon take care of it," whereupon he handed it to the deacon. I'm sure he thought it was a check.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Nothing was announced, but everyone was moving toward a nearby building. Once inside, I saw people milling about with refreshments in hand but couldn't quite make out where they had gotten them from. There were several long lines, and I joined one, but realized they were lines of people waiting to congratulate the new priests. Just then I saw the table where refreshments had been laid out. There were chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, coffee, iced tea, lemonade and apple juice. The coffee was strong and served in styrofoam cups. I looked around for the two caped ladies as well as for a Shipmate I had spotted earlier, who makes the cathedral his parish church, but found none of them. There were far too many people there to strike up a conversation with anyone, so I enjoyed my coffee and cupcake and then left.

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

7 – I couldn't say based on this service, which was elegant but out of the ordinary. I often drive my father to church at the cathedral, and I must say they put on a very impressive mass. Were I to re-embrace Roman Catholicism, I would be tempted to make the cathedral my parish church.

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

Yes. These priests were ordained using the very same gestures, and perhaps reciting the very same words, that the apostles used to ordain their first priests.

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

I was going to say I would remember two bishops and 100 priests concelebrating mass, but I think handing my Mystery Worshipper card directly to Bishop Olmsted trumps that.

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