St Patrick's Cathedral, New York (Exterior)

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


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Patrick's Cathedral
Location: Manhattan, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 16 July 2016, 5:30pm

The building

Construction began in 1858 to erect a cathedral on the former site of a Jesuit school and chapel, which were closed in 1814. The new cathedral was to replace what is today known as Old St Patrick's in the Little Italy section of downtown Manhattan, which still thrives as a parish church. St Patrick's is in the Decorated Gothic Revival style and is the work of the 19th century architect James Renwick Jr, who also designed the Smithsonian Institution building in Washington, DC, the main building of Vassar College, and numerous churches and cathedrals throughout the United States. Work was interrupted by the Civil War but resumed at war's end. The cathedral was dedicated in 1879, with the spires and the archbishop's residence and a school (now closed) being added later. Many of the cathedral's original appointments were removed or altered over the years by various archbishops, most notably Francis Cardinal Spellman. Extensive and badly needed restoration was begun in 2012 and finished three years later. St Patrick's is a popular destination for both the devout and the tourist. Beautiful stained glass, numerous side altars and shrines, and several interesting works of art add to the splendor of the place. In the crypt can be found the earthly remains of past archbishops, including Cardinal Spellman and the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. A wax effigy of Pope Pius XII in a glass case once stood in the narthex, with His Holiness wearing the Triple Tiara that he gave to Cardinal Spellman to serve as a means of fundraising; the effigy was so lifelike that it fooled many a tourist into thinking it was actually the preserved body of the Pope himself.

The church

St Patrick's Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of New York but it also functions as a parish church. They have a young adults group that has as its mission (quoting from their website) "to follow the prescribed pastoral plan of the Catholic Church ... to bring Catholic young adults closer to our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church, to our Blessed Mother, and to each other." They sponsor an active concert and organ recital program, and invite guest choirs from the Archdiocese to sing at services. They recruit layman to serve as tour guides and information desk and gift shop attendants. Eight masses are celebrated each Sunday and each weekday except Saturday, which sees only two plus the Saturday evening vigil mass.

The neighborhood

The cathedral fills the entire block between 50th and 51st Streets, and Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, in Manhattan's midtown district. It is directly across from Rockefeller Center and the famous Atlas statue. Money talks in this neighborhood, with expensive shops and upscale restaurants dominating, along with office towers housing television studios and other important firms.

The cast

No names were announced, but I'm guessing that the priest was either the Revd Jose Marabe or the Revd Esteban Sanchez. He was attended by a bodyguard who was in a blue sport coat and wore an earpiece; and who stood about five feet away surveying the crowd. A few extra priests and deacons came out to assist with the distribution of communion. Stangely, especially for a cathedral, there were no servers. The lector was a bald gentleman wearing a grey suit whose name was also not given, and the organist was one of the several organists on staff at the cathedral.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

The cathedral's capacity is officially listed as 3000 and it was very full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Mrs Devote had her bag searched by one of the security guards. He was pleasant about it, though, so I guess you could call that a greeting.

Was your pew comfortable?

Pretty standard for a Catholic church.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A low rumble of people whispering.

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?

Standard missal by Liturgical Press for the hymns, along with a printed outline of the mass handed out by the ushers.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. Singing was provided by a cantor only; no choir. The cantor had a cassock and surplice on, though it did appear to have some green in it – I am guessing it was a particular type of choir robe. The cathedral has two organs, one in the chancel and another in the gallery, both by George Kilgen & Son of St Louis, Missouri. Restoration and augmentation were carried out in the 1970s and 80s by Jack Steinkampf of Yonkers, New York. Both consoles were replaced in 1993-94. Further repairs and restoration work were carried out by Peragallo Pipe Organ Company of Paterson, New Jersey in 1994-97.

Did anything distract you?

I thought it was odd that the lector did not appear to be repeating the congregational responses. There were also a number of late arrivals and there were a few tourists wandering around the periphery.

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

Formal, and typical of a Catholic mass. I would opine that it was celebrated with dignity, though the acoustics were a challenge. No incense; communion in one kind only.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

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

6 – The priest was OK. He had a bit of an accent and started off with the standard joke, which was actually funny.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

How we can get caught up in working too much and how it can become an escape from life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I thought it was pretty cool that the guy with his family behind me was saying the responses in Spanish. As a Catholic it's good to be reminded of the universal aspect of the Church.

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

The cantor was consistently drowned out by the organ. It's a very large church that needs a powerful organ, but I have to wonder if they could tweak the microphone settings a bit for the poor cantor.

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

It's not really a hang-around-after-mass type of place. Besides, Mrs Devote and I were looking forward to treating ourselves to an expensive dinner in one of the area's posh restaurants – without child, I should add.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No coffee.

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

2 – It's a beautiful church, but I found the chaos of it being a tourist site kind of tough. Also, not being able to hear the cantor was pretty brutal.

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

Yes, I am glad I finally made the pilgrimage to mass at St Patrick's Cathedral.

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

The Spanish speaking gentleman and his family and the fact that a uniformed bodyguard was guarding the celebrant.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools