Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Atlanta, Georgia, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 June 2019, 10:00am

The building

Opened in 1880, the church was originally called St Peter and St Paul. It is built in the French Romanesque style using red brick. Inside, the community used wallpaper to make the background a striking red, and parts of the pillars in the church are gilded.

The church

The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and was made a minor basilica in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.

The neighborhood

It's located in a busy part of downtown Atlanta near Centennial Olympic Park. Formerly the spires were the tallest structures in this area, but they have been eclipsed by the hotels. There are few residential buildings in the area, but that does not seem to have affected mass attendance.

The cast

The pastor an a visiting priest from Food for the Poor.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass (with choir).

How full was the building?

About 90 per cent full. It was an impressive array of people: young, old, and of various backgrounds.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. The pastor welcomed us outside and an usher welcomed us and showed us a seat.

Was your pew comfortable?

Generally, yes. It was a standard wood pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We arrived during the beginning announcements before mass began. Interestingly, they encouraged everyone to ‘greet their neighbor.’ So it was relatively lively.

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 Worship hymnal (pre-2011) of GIA Publications, Chicago, was used, as well as common hymns from the Latin mass on a laminated paper.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ was played while a cantor sang. The cantor's voice was beautiful.

Did anything distract you?

Two things: (1) I have never seen seats placed in front of the altar before (the sanctuary is tight) so I frequently couldn't help glance at the priests, who were front and center. (2) At communion, a man took the host and carried it away. When the eucharistic minister motioned to him to eat it, he sniffed at it and then carried it in his hand to the back of the church. This is highly unusual for a Roman Catholic church, where you are encouraged promptly to consume the host! Hopefully he did not have nefarious intentions.

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

It was reverent. The chants were in Latin and there were altar boys in cassocks and cottas. The cantor added gravitas to the mass with her beautiful chant, as did the organ. The community was clearly involved in readings, eucharistic ministry, ushering, the choir, and various other areas.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

7 — The preacher was from Wisconsin and I could tell by the accent!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The preacher was a guest Augustinian who was speaking for Food for the Poor, an ecumenical charity that provides food, medicine, and shelter, among other services, to the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean. His sermon was about caring for our fellow man and how it is done through Food for the Poor. He also discussed trips he took with the organization, like to former concentration camps, and how it impacted his life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The use of Latin chants and the choir.

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

The setup for the lay participation wasn't great. The first reader didn't know how to turn on the microphone, so she kept trying until someone was able to turn it on. The second reading was apparently on the wrong page, so the preacher rushed up to change the page.

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

I took some photos and went to the bookstore. People were friendly (those who didn't rush out) but it was clear there were activities after mass (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, etc.).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

8 — The music was beautiful but I would like to see them a little better organized.

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

It did, indeed.

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

The use of Latin chant in the Ordinary Form.

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