|200: St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City|
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Mystery Worshipper: Holy Smoke.
The church: St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Vast and imposing marble-caked renaissance/baroque basilica.
The neighbourhood: More nuns per square foot than you'd expect anywhere else, and a good few monks for that matter. Did I mention priests and bishops? Also a number of gaily-dressed soldiers with brushes on their heads.
The cast: I have no idea who was in charge, but he was a Cardinal of some description, judging by the amount of other clergy at his beck and call.
What was the name of the service?
I am unsure of the name exactly, but anyone familiar with Fr. Adrian Fortescue's Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described would find much that is similar. The best description I can offer is Pontifical High Mass.
How full was the building?
At the altar, where it was all happening, a full house. The congregation was split into Gospel and Epistle sides, the Gospel side (left) being taken up almost exclusively by nuns from around the world.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A tall Italian chap with slicked back hair looked me up and down and asked, "Per la mesa?" "Si," I responded. This was as personal as it got.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very pleasant, thank you.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The low murmuring of those engaged in semi-audible prayer, accompanied by the frequent rattles of rosary beads...
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"En Nomine Patri et Filius, et Spiritus Sancto. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A hymn book and memory.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, along with a largish male choir.
Did anything distract you?
Some members of the congregation seemed to compose their own rules about when to sit and stand confusing, to say the least. Generally, most people (including me) took cues from the nuns on the other side of the aisle, which is always a safe bet.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The general atmosphere was one of "set ceremonials to stun", as one might expect, location considered. I suppose one might call it stiff-upper-lip, but that's very English isn't it? Anyway, there were all the trademarks of a Roman Mass: incense, bells and plenty of candles. Also the Mass was almost entirely in Latin, which I would reckon is justified by Vatican II on the basis that it is spoken and understood in Vatican City.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5. The 5 is rather a mediocre score, but this is my fault, not the preacher's. I cannot speak any more Italian than "si" and "ciao", and so all the meaning of the sermon was lost.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
I have no idea. He didn't change the tone of his voice much, or raise it, or foam at the mouth for that matter, so I guess the theme was rather a tame one.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
From start to finish this was a rather heavenly experience. The music was wonderful, the choreography faultless, and in fact the overall sense of reverence was much higher than I was expecting. Can't say much for the vestments, however.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Confession beforehand (but then that's another story altogether)...
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No time for that sort of thing. I had to plough my way through a sea of wimples and habits to the door before I missed the opportunity to get back to my hotel.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Sadly, there was no coffee after Mass. There was also nowhere to procure a cup even if I wanted one.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I can genuinely say it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The general sense of awe the Mass conveyed and the reverence with which it was conducted.