All Saints, University City, Missouri, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: All Saints
Location: University City, Missouri, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 June 2019, 10:00am

The building

The parish was formed in 1901, and a wooden structure was built in 1902. That building burned in 1917, and a second building of stone was built in 1918. The current building was dedicated in 1937, and is octagonal in structure. The influence of the incipient liturgical movement can be seen in the complete lack of columns, giving everyone in the congregation a clear view of what would have been known in the 1930s as the ‘liturgical altar.’ The most impressive elements of the interior are the eight stunning stained glass windows designed by the Emil Frei & Associates studio of St Louis, whose works grace churches throughout the United States. Each window reflects one of the eight beatitudes in Matthew 5 (the gospel for the parish's feast of title); these were installed in 1948. The stone altar is impressive, with three mosaics on the front. The two mosaics on either side depict the eucharistic symbols of loaves and fishes; the mosaic in the center, the Lamb of God. The original communion rail is still partially present, but with cut-outs for the ambo and access to the presider's chair.

The church

This is a small parish, with only one weekend mass (Materfamilias counted about 75 in attendance). If this is representative of the size of the parish, they manage to be quite active, judging from their Sunday bulletin and website – a collection of school supplies for children in need was announced, an annual trivia night, a choir, a handbell choir, and – on the Sunday we attended – a talent show following mass. There is also a chapter of St Vincent de Paul and various Christian formation activities.

The neighborhood

The St Louis area has a strong Catholic presence, and the area has sometimes been referred to as the Rome of the West. University City is a suburb of St Louis that gets its name from the presence of Washington University, one of the nation's preeminent private research universities. All Saints is not far from the Delmar Loop, full of ethnic restaurants, performance venues, and specialty shops. The area immediately surrounding the parish is apartments, apartments, and more apartments – many of them, I assume, occupied by ‘Wash U’ students.

The cast

A priest celebrated and gave the homily; there was one acolyte (adult). There was a lector/intercessor, and two chalice bearers. Musically, there was an organist/pianist, cantor, and, on the opening and closing hymns, a tambourinist.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Materfamilias counted about 75 in attendance; the space was less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, but we arrived early.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

'Good morning, and welcome to All Saints.' We were then told where we could find the readings, asked to silence our cell phones, and invited to join in the opening hymn.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Saint Augustine Hymnal, a joint publication of International Liturgy Publications, Nashville, Tennessee; and Custom Hymnal, Inc., Notre Dame, Indiana. Also, Gather Comprehensive, a 1994 publication of GIA in Chicago. Lead Me, Guide Me, a 1987 African-American Catholic hymnal also published by GIA, was in the pews but not used at this service. This is the first parish I have visited with three different hymnals in the pews!

What musical instruments were played?

An electronic organ, baby grand piano, and tambourine. Mostly the piano.

Did anything distract you?

For a first-time visitor, juggling two hymnals was a challenge, although the hymn board had fairly complete information.

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

No fuss, no muss. Fairly typical ordinary form celebration for a North American parish. Bells were rung before the institution narrative and at the elevations. Musical selections were all contemporary, including the ubiquitous Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

9 — Short and sweet, one of the shortest Sunday homilies I've heard. The preacher is on the faculty of the local seminary, and an excellent public speaker.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Corpus Christi celebration is meant to enliven our sense of awe at the holy mystery of the eucharist. We celebrate at an altar where sacrifice is offered, not a table; we use a chalice, not a cup, to administer the Blood of Christ. Eucharistic vestments are not something you’d ever wear to a local restaurant.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The pianist/organist was quite fine; consequently, this congregation sings better than many Catholic communities.

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

We were visiting St Louis and had no car, so we walked to mass from our hotel. St Louis' humidity in the summer months must average around 110 per cent, and is truly like being in the other place.

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

An usher offered us a bulletin; when I declined to take one (Materfamilias already had hers), he assured us we could have two, if we wished.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Typically, coffee and pastries are on offer every other Sunday. Today, though, there was a sit-down, potluck breakfast and a talent show. That was a bit more than we wanted to sit through, so we made our way back to our hotel.

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

9 — Such a beautiful space; would love to attend on a Sunday when their choir is singing.

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


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

The stained glass windows. On future visits to St Louis we will seek out other of Emil Frei's works.

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