St Michael's Cathedral, Toronto

St Michael's Cathedral, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Michael's Cathedral
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 August 2014, 9:00pm

The building

St Michael's Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in Toronto. The cornerstone was laid in 1845 and the building dedicated to St Michael the Archangel in 1848, during a time when the Roman Catholic population of Toronto was swelling with refugees from the Great Famine in Ireland. It was designed in the Gothic Revival style by local architect William Thomas, who also built eight other churches in the city. There are side chapels, but no actual transepts, so the cathedral is not quite cruciform. It is, however, an iconic local landmark, with its tall steeple and statuary outside, which marks it clearly. The cathedral is under extensive renovation at the moment and the entire nave was covered in scaffolding. For this reason there were very low ceilings, but despite all that it was very well lit.

The church

This is the cathedral church of His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, the largest English-speaking archdiocese in Canada. They offer a variety of outreach programs for vulnerable people, as well as opportunities for ministry within the church.

The neighborhood

The cathedral was built on the outskirts of mid-19th-centry Toronto, but was soon surrounded and is now very centrally located. It is just a few blocks from the downtown financial district, and the lively shopping and entertainment offerings of Canada's largest city. There is a teaching hospital with a Roman Catholic foundation nearby, as well as the campus of Ryerson University, Canada's largest business school. The cathedral's prominence is enhanced by its own boys' choir school and social ministries.

The cast

The celebrant was a visiting mission priest from the Philippines, plus one concelebrating priest, an American from Virginia, but neither name was given.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Mostly full – very full for a the late mass on a Sunday night! It was a surprising mix of people. There were many single young men (though not young women), very attractive. I thought to myself that this would be a great place for a young lady to find a husband. In addition there was the mix of more eclectic downtown types – a couple of overly pious folks who likely went to two or three masses that day, some older people, and a very large percentage of Filipinos of various ages. In the pew a few rows ahead of mine were two young men who appeared to be a couple – which may indicate that this parish would be a gay friendly congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A greeter said hello, as did a security guard (who was actually a parishioner in security-man shirt, it turns out).

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a pew and it was fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was quiet in the church as people were taking their pews. There were many people wandering around the cathedral – it was quite busy in the back of the church. Within the pews, people were quietly praying and it was very reverent.

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?

The green Catholic Book of Worship (Canadian).

What musical instruments were played?

This was strange. It was one man with a guitar for the entire mass. He was the guitarist and the cantor. His tone was almost like you would hear in a children's musical CD. I felt like he was singing to school children.

Did anything distract you?

It was very warm in the church – very! I don't know if there is no air conditioning or if it was out for the construction, but I imagine a noon service would be stifling.

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

The worship seemed very dated to me, although it was what you typically hear in RC churches nowadays. The music was all stuck in the 1980s. It was David Hagen/Marty Haugen stuff, of the St Louis Jesuit school, on guitar. The Gloria itself was hard to follow and they used the revised Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen for the mass parts. It was not inspiring.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

6 – The unnamed priest's accent, considering he was a visiting priest from the Philippines, was quite good. He was easily understandable. And he was there asking for money so it helps that he was likeable.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke for the first five minutes specifically about the first reading (1 Kings 19:9-18, Elijah finding God not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but in the silence) and the gospel (Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus walks on water and commands Peter to do so). He spoke about God speaking to us in quiet and our need to listen, and then discussed the power of Jesus to work miracles in our lives if we will listen for him. In the second part of the homily, Father spoke about the mission appeal and the work he was doing in his home Diocese of Sorsogon, Philippines.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The mass was celebrated reverently.

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

The music was very strange and not uplifting at all. It was so dated – the type of hymns that are about us instead of God. Many people (50 or more) left at the final blessing without waiting for the priests to leave or the closing song. Also, the remainder applauded at the end of the mass after the recessional, which I thought was odd given that the music was mediocre.

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

There were lots of people wandering around. As soon as the recessional was over, most people moved around to a wider open pew or walked to statuary to pray or light candles. Several Asian tour groups then swarmed in (at 10.00pm?) to take pictures. A few parishioners spoke to me, including the lector.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none. It was 10.00pm, I was hoping for a beer!

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

3 – I couldn't handle the guitar mass week after week, but with a choir school and an organ in the cathedral, I'm sure this was the exception, not the norm.

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

The eucharist certainly did.

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

The guitar player (negative) and the large number of faithful young adults (positive).

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