Mystery Worshipper: Francis Xavier
Church: Guardian Angel Cathedral
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 6 June 2008, 8:00am
The cathedral is a set of triangular peaks in a row, all white, with some modern artwork at the front. The grounds are average looking. To the left rises a tall cone-shaped tower topped by a large cross. The facade features a mosaic depicting a guardian angel watching over three figures depicting Prayer, Penance and Peace. Some of the exterior paint is peeling. The interior is replete with touches of Las Vegas: a baptismal font resembling an oversized marble hot tub; one stained glass window depicting hotels rising above a maze of concrete freeways; another depicting the Roman soldiers rolling dice at the foot of the cross; etc.
They celebrate four masses on Saturdays beginning at 12.10pm, and five on Sundays, with the latest being at 5.00pm. Worshippers are famous for depositing casino chips in the collection, which are gathered up by a "chip monk" and cashed in. Devotions to St Jude (patron saint of hopeless causes) and Our Lady of Perpetual Help are held during the week. On Christmas Eve each year, midnight mass is broadcast on local television and consistently receives the highest Neilsen rating for the evening.
The cathedral sits in the shadow of one of the massive Las Vegas hotels and is a rather unassuming structure on the Las Vegas Strip. I am sure it looked much more impressive before the 70 story hotel went up next door.
The Revd Alan Sislow.
What was the name of the service?Mass.
How full was the building?
About 20 per cent full (50 people) – good crowd for a weekday mass.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
No cushions, but the wooden pews were comfortable enough. The kneelers were padded and were very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Wonder, Love and Praise missalette.
What musical instruments were played?
None. A cantor intoned the alleluia verse before the gospel, but there was no other music.
Did anything distract you?
The modern artwork was a bit distracting. At first I couldn't make out whom the figure behind the altar was supposed to depict, but then I noticed nail marks in his hands and realized that it was the risen Christ.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road. The celebrant was very animated, but the congregation remained reserved. It was, after all, 8.00 on a Friday morning in Las Vegas.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Very lively and engaging. He walked down from the pulpit to give the homily.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In St Paul's time, persecution meant physical suffering, but in our time it more often than not means ridicule. We must receive Jesus and become an example and support to others. Our beliefs can bring quality to humanity.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The eucharistic celebration was very reverent. The priest made many references to the supernatural reality of what was taking place here.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The priest changed one word in some very common Catholic prayers. Instead of saying, "The Lord be with you," he kept saying, "The Lord is with you."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I am new at this, and am not sure I did a good job of looking lost. I looked over the bulletin board at the entrance and leafed through the welcome literature, but no one said a word to me – not even the security guard! The priest walked by and sort of glanced in my direction, but kept on going without stopping to speak. I browsed the gift shop for awhile and made a purchase, for which the clerk said, "Thank you."
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, as is typical of most daily masses.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It seemed more like a cathedral to me than a parish. Too disconnected. Maybe a Sunday mass would change my mind. The bulletin claimed a membership of over 1,000 families.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The mass was the same as in all other Catholic churches I have attended, and I felt the universality of the Church in this service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The interesting modern artwork I spoke about earlier as distracting.