St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland


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Mystery Worshipper: Thurible Addict
Church: St Mary's Pro-Cathedral
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Date of visit: Friday, 1 August 2008, 11:00am

The building

With an often overlooked splendour in the building of churches these days, St Mary's, or "the Pro" as it is known to the locals, is a masterpiece of architectural design and is quite simply a prayerful and truly amazing building. The exterior is in the classical revival style, with a porch modeled after the temple of Theseus in Athens. The interior is based on the church of St Philippe-le-Roule in Paris and is quite ornate. Although the two elaborate original side altars are still intact, the high altar, by all accounts a masterpiece of early 19th century ecclesiastical design, was demolished in the late 1970s in the wake of post-Vatican II reordering. In its place sits a new versus populum altar in the centre of a new paved area in an expanded sanctuary.

The church

Visitors often ask what the term "pro-cathedral" means. Dublin's first cathedral dates from 1172, when Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke (better known as Strongbow), worked with the second archbishop of Dublin (St Laurence O'Toole) to rebuild and expand an earlier wooden church. The new building, Christ Church, was designated by Pope Alexander III as Dublin's cathedral under the name Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. In 1536, however, King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Irish church and seized the cathedral for the Church of Ireland, which claims it to this day. But the Roman Catholic Church has never officially relinquished its right to the cathedral, nor has anyone since the time of St Laurence petitioned the Holy See to designate any other church as the cathedral of the archdiocese. For political reasons, though, St Mary's has functioned in place of a cathedral (hence pro-cathedral) since the 1880s, when Archbishop William J. Walsh confirmed the use of the title. The church is open daily to sightseers, although visitors are cautioned to respect the sacredness of the place and not to move about during services. St Mary's is proud of its music program, hosting a roster of visiting choirs and soloists throughout the year. Its Palestrina Choir sings at Friday evening vespers and a Latin mass each Sunday.

The neighborhood

The Greek astronomer Ptolemy (AD83?-AD168?) wrote of a village on the island known to the Romans as Hibernia. Ptolemy called the village Eblana, possibly a corruption of the Gaelic Dubh Linn, meaning black pool. From its beginnings as a Viking settlement, Dublin has now become one of Europe's most well known cities and is renowned for its beauty, friendliness, culture and fun. Modern Dublin, like most major cities, is a smorgasbord of people going about their daily (oftentimes busy) lives. The Pro sits in the midst of it all down a quiet street just on the edge of the town centre, and once inside you feel like you're a million miles away.

The cast

Unfortunately I didn't catch the name of the presiding priest, but I think from overhearing some of the old dears it was the Revd Damian O'Reilly, one of the curates.

What was the name of the service?

Daily Mass.

How full was the building?

Considering the general UK attendance at a daily mass, I was pleasantly surprised to see a good 50 or so people there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Well, not quite – a few people managed to barge past me following the completion of their prayers after the previous mass. It was sort of like a substitution at a football match.

Was your pew comfortable?

Bog standard pew, although the "in memoriam" plates made things a little more bearable during the sermon – at least there was something to read.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I felt as if I had been transported into a new world, although the serenity and peace I normally look for weren't there. Once you blocked out the old dears nattering about the Legion of Mary, it was quite simple to meditate on the mysteries of the celebration I was about to be part of. However, it has to be accepted that there was quite a bit of talking, which always ruins the atmosphere. If you are like me, blocking it out becomes second nature.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning!" – somewhat unusual for the Catholic liturgy, as the majority would start with the sign of the cross. Still, when in Ireland... so I replied with as much dignity as I could muster, "Good morning, Father."

What books did the congregation use during the service?


What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Well, there was the constant clicking of rosary beads from the pew in front making a nice accompaniment to the eucharistic prayer. I also noticed that in the book stall, a small card reading "No sales during mass" had been placed with each item – which I suppose is only right.

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

I suppose bog standard Catholic novus ordo mass.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

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

3 – Great speed in delivery but lacking ideas and engagement.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

I couldn't honestly tell you, as it was delivered with such haste (along with the rest of the mass – see later questions) that I only managed to pick up the last line about praying for each other.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The throng of people attending weekday mass made for a nice change.

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

The fact the mass lasted eighteen minutes (of which six were taken up with the sermon). I don't like rushing what should be a really solemn service.

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

An old lady approached and asked if I would pray for her – but then she walked right past me. Nice!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Distinctly non-existent. However, the after-service pint of Guinness was magnificent.

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

3 – I couldn't be there all the time if mass is so rushed.

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

Not particularly, although as I said earlier it was nice to be in the large community.

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

The fact that they deemed the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be worth only 18 minutes of their time.

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