St Leo’s, Murray, Kentucky, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Leo’s
Location: Murray, Kentucky, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 22 May 2021, 4:00pm

The building

Their original building, dating from 1943, was replaced in 1963 by a new structure across the street from the old. However, it was small and did not include a Blessed Sacrament chapel, parish hall or restrooms, and was not handicap accessible. Extensive renovations and expansion took place in 2010. It is a plain but pleasant looking red brick building with bell tower.

The church

They sponsor several ministries, including a chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a senior group called Young At Heart, a youth group, adult faith formation, counseling, and others. They also support a number of local charities. There are two Saturday evening masses, one in Spanish, and two Sunday masses. Weekday masses are celebrated either in the morning, at noon, or in the evening, depending on the day. I watched today’s mass via their YouTube live stream.

The neighborhood

Murray is a tiny city at the southwestern tip of Kentucky. It is a college town, home to Murray State University. Other than that, it seems like a quiet, laid-back place with not much going on. Murray was once known as the 'snuff capital of the world,' as tobacco farms that grew the dark green plant destined to be made into chewing tobacco, or snuff, were an economic mainstay of the area. Tobacco is still grown here, although the industry is not as important today as it once was. Famous sons include the literary critic and scholar Cleanth Brooks, who collaborated with his friend and fellow scholar Robert Penn Warren to produce many works of literary criticism and pedagogy. Together they championed the movement known as New Criticism, which emphasizes examination of a literary work’s technical elements with rigor and precision.

The cast

The Bishop of Owensboro, assisted by the pastor and another priest who was not identified, as well a lay reader. There was a server vested in alb and red cincture, but the only thing he did was hold the book for the bishop; he did not otherwise assist at the mass. Eleven candidates for confirmation were presented.

What was the name of the service?

Mass for Pentecost Sunday with the Sacrament of Confirmation.

How full was the building?

The online counter registered 39 at its highest point. The Confirmation candidates and their sponsors were present in church, but I couldn’t tell how many others there may have been. Quite a mob came forward for communion, but I didn’t count them. At one point the assisting priest referred to ‘those of you in the chapel,’ so I suspect there was an overflow crowd.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

My desk chair was its usual comfortable self.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet. Some miscellaneous puttering in the sanctuary.

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?


What musical instruments were played?

A rather out-of-tune piano accompanied the entrance procession and provided some tinkly bits at communion. But there was no singing.

Did anything distract you?

The bishop’s chair was not well miked, and so any time he spoke from there he was barely audible.

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

A well celebrated low mass. The pastor and assisting priest did not concelebrate with the bishop. The bishop administered the sacrament of Confirmation after the sermon and before the offertory, with the candidates lining up at the sanctuary steps, with their sponsors standing behind them, and the bishop walking down the line to administer the sacrament to each one. There were bells at the consecration (with the pastor doing the honors! – where was that server?) but no incense. At the peace ceremony, the altar party bowed to one another but did not liturgically embrace. I couldn’t tell what the congregation might have been doing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

9 — The bishop spoke clearly and conversationally, frequently looking down at notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Have we ever had the wind knocked out of us? Have we ever held our breath in excited anticipation? Have we ever felt stifled, exhausted, like we were running out of air? We cannot have life without breath. Pentecost is a matter of life and breath. Today we commemorate the moment when Jesus’ disciples were literally resuscitated with the breath of God. The disciples were ‘scared to death’ for fear of the Jews, and had locked themselves in a room, a self-chosen tomb. But there’s no keeping Jesus out! Jesus appeared to them and breathed on them. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ he said. He literally brought them back to life. This is not just a quaint story, ancient history, something that happened 2000 years ago. Can we feel the breath of God breathing on us today, in 2021, in this church and in our homes? We so often gasp for God’s breath as we struggle and strain to live. Let our prayer be: ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Call me opinionated, but it was heavenly to witness a Catholic mass not spoiled by the usual Singing Nun drivel that passes for music. On a more positive note, it was heavenly to witness the sacrament of Confirmation being administered.

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

I couldn’t help but note how things have changed over the years. When I received Confirmation (granted, it was a very long time ago), we knelt before the bishop at his seat, and our sponsors placed their hands on our shoulders. And the bishop slapped our cheek gently at the Pax tecum. None of that happened today.

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


How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

6 — I can’t imagine anything that would take me to Murray, Kentucky, but if I were to visit I would not begrudge myself a stopover at this church.

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


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

The pastor ringing the bell at the consecration.

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