St Rita’s, Show Low, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Rita’s
Location: Show Low, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 January 2021, 10:30am

The building

The Roman Catholic mass was first celebrated in Show Low in 1949 at a local lodge and later in the local school auditorium. Ground for the present church was broken in 1961. The building was designed by Anthony A. Van Wagenen, Jr, a local attorney whose hobby was architecture. Van Wagenen and his wife traveled to Spain, where they gathered appointments for their church from antique shops that carried artifacts from churches razed during the Spanish Civil War. Mass was first celebrated in the new building in 1962, but the church was not dedicated until 1968, on St Rita’s feast day. Renovations have taken place over the years. It’s a simple structure, the pitched roof over the porch and nave suggesting an attitude of prayer. The interior is rich in wood paneling There was a portrait of St Rita propped up against the pulpit, and two icons on the wall on either side of the altar. The focus wasn’t clear enough for me to make out whose icons they were, although I think one might have been the Madonna and Child.

The church

All of their in-person activities – women’s club, Legion of Mary, Knights of Columbus – are suspended at the moment, although they do offer on-line Bible study. Limited in-person attendance at mass is permitted, although the Sunday masses are also posted on YouTube – but see below.

The neighborhood

Show Low sits in east-central Arizona on the escarpment of limestone and sandstone cliffs known as the Mogollon Rim (pronounced MUG-yun). The area wasn’t settled until 1856, when a cattle rancher from New Mexico named Corydon E. Cooley relocated there with his family, naming the place Cooley’s Ranch. In 1876, a dispute between Cooley and his business partner, Marion Clark, reached the point where the two men felt that there wasn’t enough room for the both of them. And so they settled the matter via a game of cards, declaring that whoever could ‘show low’ (i.e., draw the lowest card from a deck) could stay, and the other would have to leave. Cooley drew the deuce of clubs, the lowest possible card, exclaiming ‘Show low it is!’ The main drag through town is named Deuce of Clubs Avenue in honor of the event. To this day, whenever a mayoral election requires a runoff, the contest is settled by the draw of a card. When a post office was opened in 1880, with Cooley as postmaster, the town’s name officially became Show Low, but it was not incorporated as a city until 1953. Show Low experiences cold, snowy winters, but its relatively cool summer climate makes it a favorite getaway destination for folks from Phoenix and other low desert locales. Famous residents include George Takei, better known as Sulu from Star Trek, who has a summer home in Show Low. St Rita’s Church is neighbor to several other churches of varying denominations. Show Low Seminary, a Mormon school, is just around the corner.

The cast

The parochial vicar, vested in green. He rang the sacristy bell upon entering the sanctuary. He was not assisted by servers. There was, however, a lay lector.

What was the name of the service?

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mass.

How full was the building?

Impossible to say. I heard folks in the congregation giving the responses, singing the chants and reciting the prayers, but I couldn’t tell how many there were.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

My desk chair was fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The mass is not streamed live – rather, it is recorded and then posted later on YouTube. Their website promised that the video of today’s mass would be posted by 2.00pm, and gave a link to click on. Well, I clicked at 2.00 – and no posting. I clicked at 3.00 – and still no posting! Finally I searched YouTube for ‘Saint Rita’s Catholic Church Show Low’ and found the posting that way. After mass I clicked again on the link provided on the website, but still no posting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

After some incomprehensible (due to poor miking) introductory words by someone, and an equally incomprehensible verse chanted by a cantor: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ spoken by the celebrant.

What books did the congregation use during the service?


What musical instruments were played?

None. The aforementioned cantor handled all the singing by herself, but what she was singing was incomprehensible due to the poor miking. She did have a pleasant voice, though.

Did anything distract you?

There was something wrong with the buffering in the YouTube transmission – it kept breaking up every few seconds. I discovered, however, that by pulling the pointer back a minute or so, I could receive the buffered transmission without interruption.

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

It was a standard parochial mass, with all the usual parts chanted. No bells save for the sacristy bell at the entrance; no incense. The celebrant donned his mask and sanitized his hands before ministering communion to the congregation, but the camera did not follow him down into the nave and so I could not see who communed, or how. It took him quite a bit of time to minister to everyone, however. I understand that the rule in the Diocese of Gallup is that only priests and deacons can minister the eucharist – no extraordinary ministers allowed! Mass ended with announcements and the Leonine Prayer to St Michael the Archangel.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

5 — The parochial vicar spoke with a heavy African accent that was hard to follow. I thought his premise was interesting, although he tended to ramble quite a bit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Today’s gospel reading is about a man possessed by demons, a ‘crazy man’. Do we listen to God, or are we possessed by demons? Are we interested in things outside of our own lives, or is it just all about ourselves? The Old Testament promised that the Messiah would come, and that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. When Jesus spoke, the devil obeyed. He proved that no one can ever be possessed by evil powers if he is owned by God. You can’t find the kingdom of God by searching for it on Google. It is in our hearts – it is the presence of Jesus in us. The Bible tells us that there is no other name by which we can be saved. The man possessed by demons, whom Christ healed, is us! Pride, envy, lust, greed, hatred – these are all unclean spirits, and there are some who are possessed by them. Jesus can free us from all of them, but only if we commit ourselves to doing whatever is necessary to stay free once Jesus has done his work. To be a Christian is to be semper et ubique fidelis – always and everywhere faithful. The only demon that Jesus cannot free us from is the demon we hide from him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Despite all the shortcomings of the YouTube recording, I was impressed by the slow dignity with which the parochial vicar celebrated this mass.

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

But why no servers? Why no choir, even a rudimentary one? Why no organ or other accompaniment? There were clearly people present in the congregation; a slightly larger altar party would have done no harm, I should think. And oh, that YouTube buffering problem, and the fact that the video was not posted when promised.

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

Nothing. After the priest exited, the YouTube recording ended abruptly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was too early to start thinking about dinner.

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

1 — This is a tough one. It was a dignified if stripped-down mass, but the YouTube recording had problems other than the fact that it was not posted when promised. I wouldn’t want to struggle with listening to another one. But should I spend a weekend in Show Low after it is safe to do so again, I might consider attending mass at St Rita’s.

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


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

You can’t Google the kingdom of God.

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