St Clare of Assisi, Surprise, AZ (Exterior)

St Clare of Assisi, Surprise, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Clare of Assisi
Location: Surprise, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 September 2011, 9:00am

The building

The parish was established in 2000 and ground was broken for the present church in 2006. It's a large stone building with Byzantine influences evident in its style. The interior is still unfinished, with bare concrete floors and chairs instead of pews, and is rather dark, with a grey ceiling and very pale green walls. Behind the altar is a colonnaded reredos that shelters a domed tabernacle. To the left is the baptismal font, backed by a painting of the baptism of Jesus. To the right is a statue of the Blessed Mother holding in her lap the boy Jesus, who looks to be of an age slightly too old to be sitting in his mother's lap. He holds a chalice and communion wafer in one hand.

The church

They appear to be a very active parish, sponsoring adult spirituality groups, a charismatic prayer group, Bible study, Knights of Columbus, a Mothers' Guild, men's fellowship, Legion of Mary, and many services and outreaches too numerous to mention but well described on their website. There are four masses each Sunday in addition to the Saturday vigil mass.

The neighborhood

The city of Surprise, the northwestern-most suburb of Phoenix, still encompasses many large tracts of undeveloped land. The church is located on Bell Road west of what is called the Loop 303 Freeway but is in reality a two-lane secondary road for most of its length. There are some new middle-class housing communities and shopping centers nearby, but this area is very much "out in the boonies," as we say.

The cast

The Revd Hans P. Ruygt, pastor; the Revd Mr Donnan Lukaszewski, deacon. There were also an unnamed crucifer and acolyte as well as lay readers. Robert Strahota, music and liturgy director, was in charge of the music.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?

Designed to hold 2000, capacity is at present limited to 1400 due to zoning restrictions related to the number of available parking spaces. It was about seven-eighths full, a goodly mix of men and women of all ages plus quite a few children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A greeter said "Good morning" and handed me a music sheet. I helped myself to a missalette from a nearby table. A gentleman entering the row of chairs in front of me also wished me a good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?

The upholstered chair was comfortable. There were no kneelers; we sat for the eucharistic prayer.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People entered quietly. There was some quiet visiting. The musicians did some twiddling about on their instruments.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, everyone, and welcome." This by one of the lay readers.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The paperback Today's Missal and a handout with all the musical selections.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano, electronic keyboard, acoustic guitar, saxophone and drums. There was a choir of about 20. All the musicians sat at the far end of the north transept, and their distance from the congregation was problematic. The sound was poorly amplified and lacked bass, as if it were coming from another room (which it almost was).

Did anything distract you?

A lady sitting in front of me wore a blouse from which the size tag protruded (she takes a medium). A little boy belonging to the family sitting behind me said all the prayers in a loud little boy's voice. Many would find this cute; I found it annoying.

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

Typical novus ordo. The congregation, to their credit, sang with gusto, which I thought admirable even if I didn't approve of the music. We began with Hyfrydol, although with different words (after a false start from the music director using the right words) and at a tempo that sounded like everyone was running to catch a bus from which Hyfrydol was being played out of a speaker on the roof. The rest of the music was downhill from there, although the Agnus Dei was sung to a lullaby-like setting I hadn't heard before and was actually rather nice. The per ipsum and Lord's Prayer were sung to their chant settings. We received communion under both kinds.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

33 minutes.

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

5 – The pastor's style was relaxed and informal, but he rambled on for far too long and I didn't like one comment he made about Protestants and the Bible - read on.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Entitled "New Missal 101: The What, Why, and How of the New Missal," this was the first of a series of sermons explaining the new Roman Missal that will go into use in the United States beginning the First Sunday of Advent. What's coming is not a new mass - the text has been in use ever since the Second Vatican Council, although in Latin. The new translation is an improvement over the present English version (he claimed) and brings the text more into conformity with the Latin and with translations into other languages. It's still the Roman Rite, and the Roman Rite deserves to be done well. The texts are richer, more poetic, and might be hard to get used to. But they do not represent a change in faith or doctrine. In some cases the rubrics have been clarified, such as how many crosses may be presented for veneration on Good Friday. The bottom line is that change is coming - are we ready?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Some of the music was good, e.g. the aforementioned Agnus Dei and a communion hymn entitled "Jesus the Lord" by Roc OConnor, one of the "St Louis Jesuits" regarded as the fathers of contemporary American liturgical music. Another number entitled "I want to walk as a child of the light" was also very nicely done. And among the intercessions was a prayer that "those of the Jewish faith may have a blessed and happy Rosh Hashanah." I thought that was nice, especially in light of...

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

some decidedly unecumenical comments that Father Hans made during his sermon, to wit: "The Protestants dropped those books out of the Bible that they didnt want in there" and "Non-Catholics who present themselves at communion don't know what they're getting." Sorry, Father, but even St Jerome doubted the canonicity of the apocrypha, and we do know what were getting even though you don't believe that the eucharist is valid in other churches.

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

Most people stayed in their place until the final hymn had concluded (remarkable for Catholics). After that, there was quite a bit of general visiting as people were leaving. I went up to snap a photo of the Blessed Mother statue, but had to wait patiently until several people had finished praying in front of it. After they had gotten their spiritual fill, I snapped my photo and went over to the parish hall for my gustatory fill.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee, iced tea, fruit juice and donuts were available in the parish hall, which was a long walk across the parking lot from the church. The coffee was weak and flavorless, but I threw dietary caution to the winds and helped myself to a bear claw, which was fresh and delicious. People sat around in family groups at tables, but I really wasn't in the mood to get to know anyone. A football game was playing on a TV set.

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

4 – I admire the spirit of this parish, and I understand the difficulties posed by the fact that the church is not yet finished, but I look for a stronger music program. And I really didn't appreciate the pastor's remarks about non-Catholics.

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

I had no feeling one way or the other.

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

The statue of the Blessed Mother and her bouncing baby boy.

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