Church of the Assumption, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Assumption
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 May 2020, 10:00am

The building

This is the second building for this parish, with ground broken in 1870 and the church dedicated on October 18, 1874. It is the oldest existing church in Saint Paul, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is in a Romanesque Revival style, modeled after the Ludwigskirche in Munich. The original altar is still in place against the east wall, with a stunning reredos, at the top of which is a statue of Mary from the congregation's first church. The organ is in a rear balcony. The apse has a half-dome, with a fresco of Mary's assumption into heaven.

The church

The parish has the usual mix of Christian formation, sacramental preparation, and social justice activities. The music program is reputed to be quite excellent.

The neighborhood

Saint Paul, in eastern Minnesota on the east bank of the Mississippi River, is the state’s second largest city and adjoins Minneapolis, the state’s largest city. Together the two cities form ‘the Twin Cities.’ Saint Paul was originally called Pig’s Eye, after the nickname of the owner of a popular tavern. But the first Roman Catholic priest to arrive in the area built a chapel out of logs and named it after his favorite saint. He insisted that the settlement, too, be called Saint Paul, saying that such a name ‘is short, sounds good, and is understood by all Christians.’ The modern day city enjoys a thriving cultural life, hosting numerous musical and theatrical events. Assumption is an urban parish, located in the heart of downtown Saint Paul.

The cast

Because of the coronavirus, this was a virtual service, accessed through the parish's website. There were three priests and a lector, cantor, and organist.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Only the six aforenamed participants were present, as far as I know, plus however many people it took to operate the camera(s).

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The priest, after the usual ‘In the name of the Father...’ did acknowledge and welcome us who were watching online.

Was your pew comfortable?

In terms of comfort, the recliner in my living room pretty much beats the various church pews I've sat in over the years.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Can't say, as the video of the mass began with the entrance of the clergy.

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?

Loose-leaf binders prepared for this service were used by those participating. A service leaflet, with hymn tunes and texts, and the order of service, was available online.

What musical instruments were played?

A pipe organ. Originally installed in 1935 by the Kimball-Welte firm of Chicago, it was restored and renovated in 2004.

Did anything distract you?

The sound from upstairs, where Materfamilias was watching another televised mass from her home parish.

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

Straightforward Sunday mass. It was truncated, though, clocking in at just under 34 minutes. The penitential rite and creed were omitted, the Gloria was pruned to only its opening phrase (sung twice), and the Alleluia shorn of its verse. There were four hymns, each reduced to a single verse. Eucharistic Prayer II was used. Although three priests were present, there was no concelebration. There were, though, three chalices: one for each priest.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

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

10 — The priest is a very effective public speaker. He succinctly tied together events in his archdiocese and the feast of the day (the Ascension).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

‘It's been an interesting week,’ he began. While on a fishing trip, on Wednesday evening he noted an e-mail from the archbishop announcing that permission had been granted to return to the celebration of public masses, albeit with smaller congregations due to the continued need for social distancing. He noted that there was still much work for the parish to do to prepare for this, and then asked, ‘How do we relate this news to the feast we are celebrating?’ We've been on a pretty wild roller-coaster ride since the earliest days of the church. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?’ Jesus replied that it wasn’t for them to know, but that the Holy Spirit would come upon them. Under the roller coaster is a foundation: God's enduring love and presence.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The beautiful interior of the church.

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

Not being with my home parish throughout this Easter season.

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

It's hard for me to feel ‘lost’ in my own living room. Materfamilias came downstairs after watching her mass, and we compared notes.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Club sandwich, chips, and sparkling water.

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

10 — I look forward to visiting this church in person the next time I am in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. It's a genuinely beautiful and historic space, and I'm eager to hear their choir.

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 beautiful apse and reredos.

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