The building dates from 1935 and replaces an earlier wood frame structure. It was elevated to a cathedral in 1986, when Pope John Paul II created the Diocese of Tyler from portions of three other dioceses. The cathedral is in the Spanish Renaissance style, a simplified version of the ultra-elaborate Spanish take on Baroque known as Churrigueresque. The interior is stunning in its elegant simplicity. The eye is drawn down the long nave to the sanctuary, where the versus populum altar is backed by a large suspended crucifix. Behind the altar is a smaller altar holding the tabernacle, and an arched alcove framing a stained glass triptych depicting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, attended by an angel holding a chalice.
The Diocese of Tyler has been very much in the news lately. The bishop, known for his ultra-conservative views that often conflict with those of the Vatican, refused Pope Francis’ request that he resign, and so the Pope removed him forcibly from his episcopal duties, placing the diocese under the apostolic administration of the Bishop of Austin. But setting that aside, parish life at the cathedral is very active, as documented on their website. I’ll just mention one of their ministries: the St Paul Street Evangelization, whose members (quoting from their website) ‘hand out rosaries, holy cards and medals in various public locations… and talk to people and often pray with them.’ Mass is celebrated weekdays in the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul. Saturday vigil mass is celebrated both in the chapel and in the cathedral. There are six Sunday masses in the cathedral, including one in Spanish, one in Latin, and one in Vietnamese once each month, and three Sunday masses in the chapel.
Tyler is a city in northeastern Texas. Known as the Rose City, it features the largest rose garden in the United States. Despite that, erm, flowery reputation, the city has an ugly side too dating from the late 19th/early 20th centuries, when they preferred to burn African American men at the stake who were accused of crimes, rather than take them to trial. Tyler’s demographics today are comprised of about 25 per cent African American, 25 per cent Hispanic, and the rest primarily Caucasian. The downtown area features several carefully preserved examples of Art Deco and neoclassical architecture. The cathedral is located in a primarily commercial area featuring fast-food joints and mom-and-pop businesses. The Caldwell Auditorium, whose website calls it ‘an East Texas legend in performing arts,’ is nearby.
One of the parochial vicars, assisted by crucifer, acolyte, cantor, two lay readers, and two extraordinary ministers of the eucharist. I believe a choir was present, although the camera did not pick them up. Nor did the microphone, at least very well – see below.
What was the name of the service?Saturday Vigil Mass, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
How full was the building?
I could only see the first three or four rows of pews, but they appeared to be very sparsely populated indeed. The YouTube counter stood at 16 views. Quite a crowd came forward for communion, but I didn’t count them as I was busy typing.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not being at leisure to travel to Texas at the moment, I watched the service via YouTube.
Was your pew comfortable?
My desk chair was its usual comfortable self.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. The acolyte, vested in cassock and surplice, puttered about getting things set up. One of the lay readers entered and sat down. At length she got up and walked to the lectern.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good evening and welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.’ The procession entered, led by crucifer and followed by acolyte and celebrant. To their credit, all the verses of the opening hymn, ‘Come thou almighty king,’ were sung – although it was hard to tell how many, if any, were actually singing.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Gather hymnal. A bulletin was available online for download, but it contained only announcements and advertisements, as is common in Catholic churches.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The microphone placement was such that it picked up the organ and (if there indeed was one) choir very poorly. The sound kept fading in and out and it was impossible to hear them with any degree of appreciation. Fortunately this failing did not extend to the celebrant, cantor or lay readers.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was your standard by-the-book Catholic mass. No ad-libbing, as you hear in some churches. Bells but no incense. I was impressed by the quiet dignity with which the liturgy was celebrated. The hymns were all old standbys – no Singing Nun ditties here! But from what I could see of the first several rows of pews, it did not appear that anyone was singing along. Not surprising in a Catholic church. The eucharistic prayer was the Roman Canon. The exchange of peace was very perfunctory – the only exchange I saw was between the celebrant and acolyte. No one in the congregation appeared to greet anyone else. Two prie-dieux had been placed in front of the altar. At communion, people knelt at (or stood in front of) them to receive the host, and then walked over to where the extraordinary ministers were standing to receive from the chalice – at least some of them did, as many (as is also common in Catholic churches) walked right past the precious blood without so much as a glance in its direction.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — The celebrant spoke clearly and was easy to understand. I was expecting that he would mention the events of the past few weeks in his sermon, and so he did – but he tied them in nicely with the scriptural readings for the day.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Disaster can come suddenly to people who are at peace. That is how many of us felt when we learned that our bishop had been relieved of his duties. Like it or not, he was the father of the diocese. But St Paul tells us that we are children of the light and that we will not be overcome by darkness. By baptism we were made children of the light, but we live as children of the light only by how we use God’s free gift. So how do we live as children of the light here, in Tyler, amid so much darkness? The servants in the gospel story would have had nothing if the master had not given them money to invest. Likewise, God has given us much, both personally and as members of this congregation. We were given the gospel, the faith, the sacraments, clergy who gave their lives to God. Perhaps, like one of the servants, we have done little or nothing with our gifts. Perhaps we have been living a tepid faith. If so, let the removal of our bishop be a wake-up call. Put your faith in action in your lives. Don’t waste the faith that God has given you. We are anxious about what the future holds for our diocese, but this is not helpful. God does not ask us to worry about the future – he asks us to increase his gifts. There is one tried and true solution: grow in devotion to the Lord, to the eucharist, and to his most immaculate Mother.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
As I said above, I was impressed by the quiet dignity of the liturgy and the choice of music.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But surely there is at least one member of the congregation who knows something – even if only a little – about microphone placement.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the recessional, everyone appeared to remain in place while the recessional hymn was being sung, although there was only one verse. But then they all cleared out pretty quickly while the organist played a postlude. As for me, I finished up this report and prepared to file it.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The priest said that refreshments would be available after the Sunday masses, but I don’t believe there was anything on offer at this vigil mass. I had already had my dinner and was not yet ready for a bedtime snack.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — I can’t imagine any business or pleasure that would bring me to Tyler, Texas. But should that happen, I wouldn’t mind dropping in. It’s a beautiful church, and I like a well-celebrated mass.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Well – sorry to say – the amateurish microphone placement.
Photo: Google Maps