Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ottawa

Cathedral of the Annunciation, Ottawa, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: LQ
Church: Cathedral of the Annunciation
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 June 2008, 10:00am

The building

A simple grey stucco building, dating from 1905, previously owned by a West Indian congregation of the Church of God. It lies on a modest plot in a residential neighbourhood, and thus there are no church grounds to speak of. Inside is a tiny chapel, with small, generic stained-glass windows. The chancel contains no windows but is beautified by several icons, each illuminated by a lamp. A room off to the side of the chancel houses the small electric organ.

The church

The congregation was established some 30 years ago by the Revd (later Bishop) Carmino de Catanzaro, the former rector of St Barnabas, the Diocese of Ottawa’s flagship Anglo-Catholic parish. Father de Catanzaro was deeply concerned over such issues as the ordination of women, the relaxation of rules around remarriage after divorce, and the introduction of modern liturgies. Today the church also takes a more conservative stance on homosexuality. Three masses are celebrated every Sunday, along with the eucharist and either morning or evening prayer on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They also conduct Bible study sessions and both Alpha and Beta courses.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is near Ottawa’s Corso Italia, a neighbourhood famous for its Italian heritage and events as well as top rate restaurants and family owned businesses. Corso Italia attracts an eclectic clientele, including politicians, hockey players and movie stars.

The cast

The Revd Peter Jardine, curate, was the celebrant. The Rt Revd Carl Reid, suffragan bishop and rector, was the homilist.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?

The tiny building was respectably full – about three-quarters so.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A woman asked me if I needed a prayer book and leaflet, which I accepted.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews were extremely creaky.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

My party and I got lost en route to the cathedral, and I'm afraid we arrived late – during the decalogue, of all things, which we felt very embarrassed about interrupting as we settled into our creaky pews.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?" from the introit of the day.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer, in the Canadian edition of 1962, and the English Hymnal were the main books. Also available was the English Gradual (Part III: the Proper), but the propers were included in a more convenient leaflet. I was also given, but did not need, a booklet containing the order of matins, evensong, and mass.

What musical instruments were played?

An electric organ in a small side room that contained a window through which the organist could see what was happening at the altar. The organist played competently. The mass setting was Willan's Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena, apart from the Gloria and Creed (both from the Missa de Angelis) and the Lord's Prayer (Merbecke).

Did anything distract you?

Not adversely so. There were two children who made some noise (as can only be expected), but they were generally well-behaved.

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

The service was formal Anglo-Catholic – it could be described as stiff upper lip, but not in a bad way. The Book of Common Prayer was followed rather faithfully, with the interpolation of minor propers plus the Orate fratres before the eucharistic prayer and the Ecce Agnus Dei before distribution of communion. The epistle and gospel were chanted. The homilist noted the lack of red-letter days in the ensuing week, and reminded us that Friday is a day of abstinence. The bishop, vested in rochet, mozzetta, and zucchetto, sat down on the floor to give a children's address before the sermon to two little girls who had come forward.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

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

6 – Bishop Reid was well-spoken and his homily was doctrinally rich, if not particularly polished.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus' parable about the blind leading the blind reminds us not to judge others, as we ourselves deserve judgment. Too often, the need for repentance is swept under the rug in our modern age, but it must not be neglected. Penitence, however, should not lead us to obsession or despair, but to joy in the infinite mercy of God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I was delighted that the chants were all congregational, unlike many Anglo-Catholic churches with choirs that take much of the service music. There was also a prolonged silence before the communion rite, which was just what my restless soul needed. Also, in a gesture that underlined how unsubtle our entrance had been, the homilist opened by welcoming "our visitors."

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

I am not a fan of the great eucharistic intercession of the Prayer Book ("Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church and the world," etc.) on even my most patient days, of which this was not one.

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

We queued up and greeted the bishop and curate (I kissed the bishop's ring), both of whom invited us to the reception downstairs. The curate promised that "We actually have reasonably good coffee." During mass I had whispered to a member of my party that I needed him to taste the coffee for my report, and I was afraid that the curate might have overheard me!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

In a word: impressive. Coffee and orange juice, some excellent miniature apple strudels, ham sandwiches on miniature croissants, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and a cake. Several people came to chat with us and were happy to answer our questions about the church.

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

9 – Despite some doctrinal differences, I would happily attend mass here if I lived in Ottawa, and will be sure to return when I find myself in town again.

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

It did. I thought the combination of high-churchery and hearty congregational participation was perfect.

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

The sight of the bishop, in full vestiture, sitting on the floor for the children's sermon.

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