St Mary Magdalen, Berkeley, California

St Mary Magdalen, Berkeley, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Hart
Church: St Mary Magdalen
Location: Berkeley, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 3 June 2007, 9:30am

The building

A white stone structure with red tiled roof, not particularly impressive from the outside. The west door is flanked by two columns atop which rests a balustrade. Upon entering the church, one notices a rather large baptismal font and stations of the cross (with labels to help the less liturgically aware) and subtle, yet effective, stained glass. The eye is drawn to the much more striking stained glass triptych by local artist David Lance Goines at the east end depicting Jesus, Mary Magdalen and St Dominic. The sanctuary furniture is a little strange – the priest's chair looking rather more substantial than the altar.

The church

They appear to take their liturgy seriously, with a music ministry, liturgy committee, and groups for greeters, ushers and eucharistic ministers. They support numerous outreaches into the community as well as children, youth and adult groups, all enumerated on their website. The School of the Madeleine is also connected with the church.

The neighborhood

St Mary's is in the so-called Gourmet Ghetto of Berkeley, full of cafes and restaurants that not only look great but take gourmet dining to a height at which the pursuit of quality is absolutely uncompromising.

The cast

The Revd David Farrugia, O.P., pastor, and the Revd Bruno Gibson, O.P., associate pastor. One of them preached and one celebrated, but which was which I don't know.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Quite full, but it's a small church so that's probably only about 200 people. The lectors and eucharistic ministers sat in a special reserved section.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, I was looking at the notice board and one of the priests came over and introduced himself and we had a short chat.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was fine, as were the nice padded kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Rather quiet among the congregation (many of whom were late!), but we could hear the choir rehearsing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Before the service began, a member of the congregation stood up and invited everyone to coffee after mass, and asked us please to greet each other now. The greeting consisted primarily of shaking the hands of people within arm's reach, saying "Good morning" or "Welcome to St Mary's" and the like.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a hardback jacket into which had been slotted the paperback Oregon Catholic Press missalette/hymnal with a larger collection of hymns than I've seen in some. The hardback jackets were rather weird, but the book worked well.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, piano and guitar. I was informed that the saxophonist was on vacation. The choir was small, but sang harmony on the hymns with much confidence. They didn't offer any motets or other reflection pieces, which was a slight shame as I'm sure they could have handled something simple.

Did anything distract you?

I was surprised to find that we were going up for communion starting with the back pews and working forward. I'd heard tell of this, but had never seen it. It actually worked a lot better than I'd expected.

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

By-the-book novus ordo. The ordinaries were sung to modern folk-like settings, although the hymns leaned toward the traditional, with Anglican borrowings as well as Catholic hymns of the 70s and 80s. Congregational participation was quite good. Bells, but no smells. Communion under both species. I was very happy to see that the altar servers (two very competent teenage girls) were vested in cassock and cotta rather than the ugly cassock-albs you see in most parishes round here.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

9 – The Dominicans, or Order of Preachers, are always my first choice for Trinity Sunday. The homily was preached with a great deal of joy. It's hard not to like a preacher when he just seems so happy to be talking about God.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Trinity Sunday is our feast, as we were all baptized in the name of the Trinity. When we pray, we always pray to the Trinity. He gave examples of prayers and liturgical ceremonies and showed how they were Trinitarian in nature.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Witnessing the obvious joy of the homilist wishing us happy feast.

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

One of the choir members announced each hymn in the following manner: "We now sing the gathering song, 'All creatures of our God and King,' number 205 in the books, that's 205, 'All creatures.'" This was generally just annoying, but became hellish when she did it through a microphone part way through the distribution of communion.

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

I tried to find the after-service coffee, but failed. We had been invited to it at least three times, and each time we were told that it would be "downstairs in Norton Hall." Great, but exactly where downstairs is Norton Hall? I decided to follow the crowd, but that only took me outside to the parking lot.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Can't say – couldn't find it!

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

8 – I already have a regular church, but I think I may well be making this one of my irregulars!

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 ?

That this was our feast, and we celebrated it with joy.

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