St Patrick's Cathedral, Manhattan, New York, USA

St Patrick's Cathedral, Midtown Manhattan, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Pax Romana
Church: St Patrick's Cathedral
Location: Midtown Manhattan, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 6:30pm

The building

St. Patrick's Cathedral is the largest decorated Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States. It has a high vaulted ceiling and large stained glass windows. The sheer grand size of the building can be intimidating, but it is undeniably beautiful.

The church

The Cathedral receives about 3 million visitors a year, many of whom come to attend services. I have always felt very anonymous there. It's a very convenient place to attend mass on a weekday, though, or to drop in for confession. St Patrick's is also one of New York City's most famous tourist attractions. So in addition to the large numbers of worshippers, there are tourists visiting the church. There is also a small gift shop in the rear of the building.

The neighborhood

St. Patrick's is on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, not far from the Rockefeller Center. Fifth Avenue has a lot of upscale shops and office buildings. It also has the usual heavy automobile traffic, including the ubiquitous yellow taxicabs, and very heavy pedestrian traffic. It is a bustling area.

The cast

Names were not given.

What was the name of the service?

Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

How full was the building?

The cathedral seats about 2,200 people. I estimate it to have been about half full. This was the last of several masses held that day.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. This would have been very difficult, anyway, with so many people.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was your usual wooden pew with a padded kneeler attached to the back of the pew in front. It was comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Unfortunately, I could not get out of the office on time, so I was a few minutes late and the mass was already in progress when I entered. I have attended other services at St Patrick's, though. The ushers have to play traffic cop before and during the services in order to direct the pious to their seats while relegating tourists and others who are not interested in attending the service to the back and sides of the building. The atmosphere is one of bustle.

What books did the congregation use during the service?


What musical instruments were played?

There was no music at this mass, which was a shame because they have a splendid pipe organ. In fact, they have three organs.

Did anything distract you?

I was happy there were not a lot of noisy tourists milling about, which made it fairly quiet for this church. The church building itself can be overwhelming, though, because it is so huge and cavernous.

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

It was a plain low mass. There was no music, and the service itself was very quick. I had the feeling of an assembly-line mass.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

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

4 – He was short and concise. He was not inspiring, but he presented clear definitions of Catholic teaching about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It was nothing I had not heard before, but it might have been news to someone else.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The priest spoke about the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and gave a short explanation of what this meant. He also pointed out that Mary was always open to God's will.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Being able to receive Jesus in the eucharist. This is a very moving experience for me.

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

The quick, assembly-line service, and the way the usher wouldn't let me enter via the middle aisle (because I was late) but made me go to the side.

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

There was no point in doing this, because the church is too big; there are too many people there, and I was quite anonymous.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

3 – St Patrick's Cathedral is very convenient, but very impersonal

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

I'm always glad to be a Christian. This service didn't affect that one way or another.

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

Not being allowed to take a seat in one of the pews in the center aisle.

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