St Mary Star of the Sea, Oceanside, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary Star of the Sea
Location: Oceanside, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 November 2018, 10:00am

The building

It dates from 1927 and is in the Spanish Renaissance style. It is the work of architect Emmet G. Martin, who designed several churches primarily in the Los Angeles area. Above the west door is a mosaic picturing the Madonna, created from Norwegian, Danish and Italian tile. The marble altar is from Italy. The sanctuary furniture was all hand-crafted by a local artist. The interior was extensively renovated in 2002.

The church

They have a chapter of the Legion of Mary and sponsor faith formation groups for children and adults. They have a library of (quoting from their website) ‘family-friendly and educational movies, books, and CDs.’ There are two Saturday vigil masses in English and Spanish, and three English and one Spanish mass each Sunday, including an evening mass. There is one weekday mass plus adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

The neighborhood

Oceanside is a city on California’s Pacific coast about 40 miles north of San Diego. In 1798 Franciscan priests founded a mission around which grew a small but prosperous community known as Rancho Margarita. It didn’t take residents long to discover the area’s fabulous ocean beaches, and the expression 'go oceanside' came to describe their favorite pastime – hence the name adopted by the city when its post office was opened. In 1942 the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base was established, and since then the military has loomed large in Oceanside’s economy and demographics. Toward the end of the 20th century the city had gone rather to seed. But urban renewal set in, and nowadays trendy restaurants, smart boutiques and expensive ocean view housing exist alongside the military supply stores, barber shops and beer joints catering to the Marines. The church is located on Pier View Way, directly across from City Hall and the public library, the first of the urban renewal projects referred to above.

The cast

The priest was not identified as to his connection with the parish. He was either unusually short or was wearing the longest chasuble I've ever seen – it almost reached the floor! He was assisted by a crucifer, thurifer, two acolytes (all in albs, but oh, their footwear!) and a lay reader in street clothes.

What was the name of the service?

Mass in English: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

How full was the building?

I counted room for about 400 and it was completely full. A mixed crowd of all ages.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Someone standing at the door said 'Good morning' but that was it.

Was your pew comfortable?

Wooden pew – it was OK.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Outside the church door was a sign that read: ‘Before entering church, please silence cell phones and dispose of gum.’ Inside, the musicians were rehearsing (are there no choir rooms?) but otherwise all was quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning. Welcome to St Mary Star of the Sea parish.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The paperback Breaking Bread 2018 in a plastic binder. The paperback Spanish hymnal Flor y Canto was also in the pews but not used. There was also a laminated card bearing the Stewardship Prayer, which we read aloud in unison before the mass started.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano, violin, two guitars. The guitarists also sang – one more prominently than the other. An electronic organ in the choir loft remained silent.

Did anything distract you?

I was a bit surprised to see several Marines in the congregation. They were in street clothes, not in uniform, but they were unmistakably Marines. They don’t call them Jarheads for nothing. They provided some pleasant eye candy.

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

A very nicely done mass. Plenty of incense at all the usual places (except that the celebrant and congregation were not censed), bells at the consecration. With two exceptions, and possibly a third, the music was all Singing Nun pabulum. The exceptions were the opening hymn, ‘Come, Christians, Join to Sing’ to the tune of Madrid; and ‘The King of Love My Shepherd Is’ to the tune of St Columba. The possible third exception was the communion hymn: something called ‘In Christ Alone My Hope is Found,’ which was identified as being by ‘Thank You Music.’ I rolled my eyes when I read that, but it turned out to be a rather catchy tune and not at all unpleasant. The musicians played their hearts out, but all the music would have sounded much better accompanied by organ. Children were dismissed with a blessing after the collect and before the lessons, and returned behind the crucifer as the offerings were brought up. Communion was in both kinds.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

7 — The priest spoke with a heavy Indian accent that was hard to understand, but his sermon was well organized and repetitive enough that we could get what he was saying the second time if not the first. He had a habit of peppering every dozen or so sentences with ‘My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,’ which was sort of endearing.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Christ is the king of the universe, who redeemed the whole world by his Precious Blood. He is the way to love, the beginning and the end. My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ: Invite him to be your king, as the apostles, saints and martyrs did. Who is your king? The world intrudes: politicians, entertainers, merchants – but our lives must reflect Jesus. We must make him our king. Decide to do it today! There is no other reason to celebrate Christmas.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The mass was very well done, with dignity of movement, no ad libbing, and all the customary bowing whenever the acolytes handed the priest something. No sloppiness here! And to the musicians’ credit, we sang all printed verses of every song – unusual in a Catholic church in my experience.

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

But the altar was not miked, although the pulpit was. It was very difficult to understand what the priest was saying as he stood at the altar. Unfortunately his accent didn’t help matters. And even on the good old standby hymns, very few people sang. I was the only one in my immediate vicinity who did, but even I remained silent for the Singing Nun stuff.

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

The musicians belted out the closing song, ‘Holy Holy Holy Cry’ by the contemporary church composer Rick Modlin, and the altar party recessed down the aisle. The congregation followed close on their heels, ignoring the musicians except for two or three rows of groupies who stayed behind in the front pews.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was announced as being served in the parish hall, but no indication was given of how a visitor might find the parish hall. Truth told, it was not easy! But once I found it, I enjoyed hot tasty coffee and a donut. A lady said to me, 'That's my favorite kind!' but no one else said anything.

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

6 — I did enjoy the liturgy and the preaching, but I would want a stronger music program. I might stop by when I am again in Oceanside.

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


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

‘Before entering church … dispose of gum.’

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