Our Lady of Joy, Carefree, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Our Lady of Joy
Location: Carefree, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 21 September 2019, 5:00pm

The building

A long, low, flat complex of buildings in the Spanish Mission style, set amid desert landscaping. The grounds feature miniature bronze three-dimensional Stations of the Cross by sculptor Max DeMoss, known for his statues, candlesticks, tabernacles and monstrances in churches throughout the United States, most especially in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The interior is a square, bright room. Over the altar is a life-size crucifix over an arch on which is inscribed ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One.’ Sedilia are to the right, credenza to the left. Organ pipes are mounted on either side of the altar. To the left is the Adoration Chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. Choir seating is at the rear to the left, along with a grand piano and the organ console. A large baptismal pool is in the rear. Stained glass windows depict various saints, including Pope John XXIII.

The church

They support several ministries all described on their website, including chapters of the Knights of Columbus and the St Vincent de Paul Society. I’ll just briefly mention Our Lady’s Guild, whose purpose is (quoting from their website) ‘to embrace, support, and encourage the women of Our Lady of Joy Parish through spiritual development, fellowship, and fundraising;’ and their prison ministry, which (again quoting from their website) ‘consists of providing regularly scheduled daily eucharistic services and, as requested, one-on-one counseling.’ In addition to the Saturday vigil mass, there are four masses each Sunday, including one in the late afternoon, as well as a mass each weekday, with confessions being heard Tuesday through Saturday.

The neighborhood

Carefree is the northeastern-most suburb of Phoenix. Founded in 1955 as an upscale planned community, it was intended right from the start to give its residents the ‘carefree’ lifestyle that only money, and lots of it, can buy. With street names such as Easy Street, Lazy Lane and Primrose Path, the community features elaborate homes set in breathtakingly scenic surroundings. In the center of town is a 35-foot-tall copper-plated sundial, said to be one of the largest in the world, that points to the North Star. The church is on Pima Road just north of Cave Creek Road, the main drag through town.

The cast

The associate pastor celebrated, assisted by a deacon. Both wore full eucharistic vestiture befitting their offices. There was also a crucifer in cassock, cotta, and (I’m pleased to say) black slacks and black shoes – but he wore white socks! Oh, the horror! Also assisting was an acolyte in alb – and white sneakers! Double horror!

What was the name of the service?

Saturday Vigil Mass.

How full was the building?

I counted room for about 500, and it was about three-quarters full. An all-age crowd, leaning toward the elderly, and all smartly dressed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

After snapping photos outside, I sat down on a bench to watch people come in. An elderly nun sat down next to me, told me her name and asked me mine, and asked me where I lived and what was my parish church. We chatted a bit. At the door, a gentleman said ‘Hello’ and another gentleman said ‘Welcome.’ But that was it.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes – padded wooden pew with very comfortable kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People sat quietly waiting for things to get underway. The church bell was rung.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good afternoon, everyone!’ by the deacon, to which people replied ‘Good afternoon, Father!’ even though it was clear (at least to me) that he was wearing a dalmatic, not a chasuble. Surely regular parishioners knew who he was – his photo is on the website, where he is clearly identified as a deacon.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The paperback Breaking Bread 2019 and a laminated card entitled The Roman Missal, Third Edition, The Order of the Mass.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano, in perfect tune and well played, plus guitar. There was a choir of four people. The organ remained silent.

Did anything distract you?

A gentleman was wearing a t-shirt on which was written ‘Not the moon nor the Irish can control the tide’ – well, the moon can, but I don’t know about the Irish. Another gentleman who was wearing shorts sported a tattoo on his leg. Miss Amanda was wearing shorts too, but her legs are tattoo-free.

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

Typical RC mass. The music was all Singing Nun stuff – the congregation sang along lukewarmly at best. I don’t know if ‘my’ nun sang, as I couldn’t see her from where I was sitting – I assume she did. The mass began with visitors being asked to stand (I remained sitting); those who stood were applauded. The obligatory meet and greet took place at start of mass. A young girl whose quinceañera it was (rite of passage for an Hispanic girl celebrating her 15th birthday) was asked to come forward and was given a blessing; she, too, was applauded. Otherwise the mass proceeded without further unpleasant moments. Bells at the consecration but no incense. Communion was ministered under both species, with the priest and deacon ministering the bread and extraordinary ministers of holy communion handling the chalices.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

5 — The assistant pastor spoke with a heavy African accent that was difficult to understand. I believe he read his sermon, as he flipped through several pages of notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was the gospel reading, Luke 16:1-13 (the parable of the shrewd steward). Jesus is not telling us to do bad things so that shady characters will befriend us. What we do in this life will govern what will happen to us in the next life. The steward seemed to be doing something generous when he had his master’s debtors reduce their debts, but in reality he was being dishonest, not generous at all. Be genuinely generous toward others. Pray for everyone.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I really don’t think that anything rose to that level. If pressed, I would say the bronze Stations of the Cross outside the church, as they really are quite stunning and thought-provoking.

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

Well, all the applause. And I thought the piano, although in perfect tune, sounded rather tinny due to how it was being amplified via microphone.

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

I was surprised (well, no, I really wasn’t, given what I have seen in almost every other Catholic church I’ve visited) at the number of people who left church immediately after receiving communion. At least one-third of the congregation, I’d say. I was sitting in the back and saw it all. As for the rest of them, they high-tailed it out of there as soon as the altar party had recessed down the aisle, not bothering to wait until the final song had finished.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

0 – Carefree is not a place I would ordinarily visit; I was there today attending a seminar. Should my ship come in and drop anchor on Easy Street or Primrose Path, I’d seek out one of the many other churches in town. I would have today, except that none of them have a Saturday evening service, so far as I could tell, except Our Lady of Joy, and I wasn’t about to drive up to Carefree again Sunday morning.

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

You know, it really didn’t. I didn’t even feel disposed to take communion.

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

The bronze Stations of the Cross outside the church.

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