Immaculate Conception, Denver, CO (Exterior)

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Denver, Colorado, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Location: Denver, Colorado, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 July 2012, 6:30pm

The building

This very impressive neo-Gothic cathedral was built between 1906 and 1911, with an exterior of Indiana limestone and a foundation of Colorado granite. The twin spires are 210 feet tall, and the building stretches 195 feet from the main doors to the apse. The interior piers, vaults and arches are of white-painted masonry, with a Carrara marble altar, reredos and other furnishings. There is a beautiful cycle of 75 windows of romantic-style stained glass by the FX Zettler firm of Munich. According to the website, which has a good, if brief, description of the windows and the general and architectural history of the cathedral, this is the largest number of stained glass windows in any American church of any denomination.

The church

It is difficult to gauge the make-up of the cathedral parish, but those present at this mass were possibly a little younger than I am used to seeing. This may be explained by the fact that it was an evening mass with contemporary music. Since I was a tourist worshipper myself, I assume that the striking building and the fact that it is a cathedral basilica draw worshippers who normally attend mass elsewhere.

The neighborhood

The website notes that this is an "inner-city" parish. The immediate area is a main east-west thoroughfare of downtown Denver, and the capitol, federal courthouse, museums, library, performing arts center, convention center, and the 16th Street pedestrian mall are all within a determined persons walking range. Across Colfax Street are a collection of rather modest retail businesses, including a tavern, uniform store, various bodegas, dry cleaners, ethnic restaurants and some vacant storefronts. Immediately to the east of the cathedral close is a drive-through McDonalds.

The cast

The Revd Monsignor Thomas Fryar, pastor, celebrated. He was assisted by another priest who was not introduced or listed in the service sheet. The assistant was also the homilist.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday 6.30pm mass

How full was the building?

It was 35 to 40 per cent full, so there were perhaps 300 people at the fullest point.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was handed a service sheet (really just the words to the music) but nothing was said.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very nice old wooden pews with drop-down kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was quiet and prayerful. Confessions were being heard in three of the four confessionals in the nave side-aisles. This other sacramental activity continued throughout the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening and welcome to the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There were copies of the paperback Heritage Missal 2012 in the pews, and the distributed sheet with the words to the service music.

What musical instruments were played?

A contemporary choir with piano, violin, electric guitar, and three amplified singers.

Did anything distract you?

The recent changes to the words of the mass were an interesting distraction, and the graceful neo-Gothic space was a good distraction. Otherwise there was nothing unusual going on.

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

Very correct novus ordo mass with music that was contemporary in the 1970s and '80s. The recently changed wording of the order of service (things like "consubstantial with the Father", in place of "one in being with the Father") that were implemented this past winter in the Roman Missal Third Edition were quite noticeable, as I hadn't worshipped in a Roman Catholic church in awhile. Incense was used correctly, and there was a nice sense of dignity evident in several aspects of the service: namely a good and well-practiced procession, crossing, kneeling, the Word preached from the pulpit, etc.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

8 – The assisting priest was fairly effective, well prepared and listenable.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He preached on Mark 6:1-6 (a prophet without honor), and on the apostle Paul noting in 2 Corinthians about that which was a "thorn in his side." He pointed out that God answers prayers but not always in the way that we hope for. He speculated on the specifics of that "thorn in the side", without ever mentioning the "gay thing" which is what I have most often heard suggested as the explanation.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The cathedral is a beautiful space (especially the stained glass), and a well attended mass on a Sunday evening was very uplifting.

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

The only irritating thing was the music. It was tepid stuff with an over-amplified mass choir. No printed music usually means, in my experience (and borne out in this case), that participation will be poor. I would like to hear what a choir would sound like with the organ in the loft, but that will have to be another visit. The acoustics seemed marvelous.

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

Nothing. I wandered around looking at the symbolic conopeum (umbrella) denoting a minor basilica, the side altars, and the stained glass in the waning light. As I expected, Catholics pretty much bolt following an evening mass. The confessions, which had continued throughout the mass, were winding down by this time.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None offered.

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

4 – Not that enthusiastic. If I lived here I would try a Sunday morning choir mass, with modest expectations, but I was just visiting.

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

I was glad to visit, but I don't feel the experience contributed to my positive outlook.

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

Im not sure I will remember anything except the building.

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