St Michael's Cathedral Basilica, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Friday, 15 November 2019, 7:00pm

The building

Photo: ©Jfvoll and used under license It is the work of the 19th century architect William Thomas, who designed numerous churches, court houses and other government buildings, and monuments, primary in Ontario and Quebec. The building is an adaptation of the 14th century English Gothic style. It was consecrated on September 29, 1848. The interior of the church, divided into a large nave and two tall aisles, is lavishly decorated.

The church

The community gathered for the service attended by your Roving Ordinaut was not the cathedral's own community. This special Friday evening celebration was the beginning of a Conference on the Anglican Tradition in the Catholic Church being held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which provided for personal ordinariates for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Vatican. Attendees, many of whom were members of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter created under this Apostolic Constitution, came from as far away as California and British Columbia.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is located in the center of downtown Toronto, across the street from St Michael's Hospital and a few blocks from City Hall and Eaton Centre, a large urban shopping mall. While the spire on the cathedral's west tower, 26 stories tall, stands much taller than the immediately adjacent buildings, within a few blocks there are commercial office towers including Canada's tallest skyscraper, three times the height of the spire.

The cast

The celebrant and preacher was the pastor of the parish of St John Henry Newman in Victoria, British Columbia. Presiding from the faldstool was the Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, visiting from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, Texas. The celebrant was assisted at the altar by a deacon who sang the gospel, a subdeacon who chanted the epistle, a reader who chanted the first reading, a master of ceremonies, several acolytes, two torchbearers, a thurifer, and crucifer. Two members of the Order of the Knights of Malta were vested in choir. The mixed choir was accompanied by the cathedral's magnificent pipe organ.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn High Mass and Te Deum of Thanksgiving (Votive of the Holy Spirit).

How full was the building?

A bit less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived at 6.30, intending to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled musical prelude. The organizers were just beginning to pass out the service booklets, which included the choral matins and evensong scheduled for the next day. They were greeting people and asking where they were arriving from, and whether they were attending the conference or just the opening mass.

Was your pew comfortable?

The wooden pews had comfortable seat cushions and fold-down cushioned kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The bustling activity in the back gave way to a semi-darkened interior, where people were sitting or kneeling, while servers did some last-minute practicing for the upcoming liturgy, which they continued as the choir began its prelude of motets by Victoria, Wesley, Willan, and Tallis.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

After the singing of the entrance hymn, ‘All people that earth do dwell’ (Old Hundredth) and the Gregorian plainsong introit arranged by Healy Willan, the celebrant said: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ and then prayed the Collect for Purity: ‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known …’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

For the usual congregation of the cathedral, the pews have With Angels and Archangels, the 2016 hymnal of the Archdiocese of Toronto; and Living with Christ, the Canadian Sunday missal for 2018-19. But since this was a liturgy using the Ordinariate's musical and liturgical tradition, booklets had been prepared with hymns from the 1937 blue Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Merbecke/Willan Gloria, a Stanford double psalm-chant, and other music to be sung during the liturgy. Since most of the attendees know prayers such as the General Confession, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the Thanksgiving after Communion, they were not included. Other than the Gloria, the choir sang the ordinary of the mass from the Herbert Howells Communion Service Collegium Regale, and these parts of the liturgy were not needed by the people in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?

The cathedral organ, opus 3907 of Casavant Frères, Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, dating from 2014. The old organ, an opus of S.R. Warren and Sons of Montreal and Toronto, had become mechanically unreliable and ultimately unplayable. It was carefully dismantled and stored for future rebuilding.

Did anything distract you?

The gentleman in the pew in front of me was wearing ill-fitting jeans that appeared to have been pulled out of a garage grease pit. While I'm sure Our Lord doesn't expect all worshippers at mass to be wearing their Sunday best, especially at a Friday evening mass, I'll remember this man and hope that the wedding garment of his soul is better prepared to stand before Jesus when he comes in glory than those inglorious oil-soaked jeans. Unfortunately my attention was to be called to them once again – read on!

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

The title of the celebration was ‘Solemn High,’ and its execution did not disappoint. In the traditional fashion of masses celebrated according to the Ordinariate's missal, Divine Worship, the altar party faced east, leading the congregation in prayer. Communion was distributed in both kinds to Catholic communicants kneeling at prayer benches arranged to simulate an altar rail. There were no extraordinary ministers of holy communion. During the Solemn Te Deum, there were two thurifers doing their best to fill the vast space of the cathedral with incense.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

8 — Speaking from his own experience, an experience shared by many present, the pastor made his points in a clear and understandable manner.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

‘One Church, One Faith, One Lord.’ Ten years ago, the pastor was sitting in the rectory of St John's Anglican Church in Calgary when the news of the promulgation of Anglicanorum Coetibus was announced. He leapt up and shouted at the top of his lungs to his wife upstairs, ‘He's done it! He's finally done it!’ The Monty Python movie Life of Brian asks the question, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ They have given us Anglicanorum Coetibus, inviting us to enter into the full communion of Holy Mother Church, bringing our liturgical and pastoral traditions with us – and, in the case of St John's in Calgary, bringing an entire former parish and building of the Anglican Church of Canada. They have given us ‘realized ecumenism.’

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music was heavenly, especially the descant by the choir on the closing hymn, ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’ (Hyfrydol).

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

The constant fear that the jeans on the gentleman in front of me would droop – and wouldn’t you know it, they did – not once, but twice! The first time, I succeeded in unseeing the sudden view thrust upon me with a replacement image of his bald head. But the second time …

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

There was no opportunity to hang around looking lost. The announcement of the reception with Toronto's cardinal archbishop had been made, and within seconds of the final chord of the organ postlude, Jean Langlais' glorious Te Deum, the lights were dimmed and everyone was heading to the reception hall next door.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

This was an evening reception, and there was wine, sherry, gin and tonic, soft drinks, mixed nuts, chips and dip, and an hour or more of chatting with the bishop, the cardinal, and the members of the Ordinariate and other guests assembled from far and wide.

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

10 — While the cathedral was the venue for this celebration, it was organized by the Toronto Ordinariate community of St Thomas More, which I will be visiting on Sunday, and which would certainly be my parish if I were to move to Toronto. Look for my next report!

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

Yes. The patrimony that developed in England during the 450 years of separation, which has found its true home in communion with Rome, draws people into the worship of God with all the senses: the sight of the beauty of the building, the sound of the glorious music, the smell of the incense, and the taste and touch of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

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

At the reception afterwards, one of the clergy offered a toast that was memorable and which I will long remember: 'On this special occasion I have been asked to offer a patrimonial toast of loyalty this evening in recognition of the work of Your Eminence and so many others. Thinking about this, it came to me that no better toast could be offered than the one traditionally offered by Dr Healey Willan, the great church musician and another transplant to Toronto. Dr Willan was famously noted for his self-description as English by birth, Canadian by adoption, Irish by extraction, and Scotch by absorption. I invite you, then, to raise your glasses and to join with me in a toast to Our Lady, Queen of Heaven and our Lady, Queen of Canada.

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