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763: St Charles, San Diego, California, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
St Charles, San Diego, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: ChemicalGrl
The church: St Charles, San Diego, California, USA
Denomination: Roman Catholic
The building: The church is an A-frame building in a contemporary design. There is a large cross and steeple at the front entrance and a large marquee welcoming people to St Charles. The gardens on all sides of the church are very well maintained. A huge parking space covers three sides of the church, and the church, rectory, parish hall and school buildings are on their own enclosed campus. Inside, the narthex is nothing to sneeze at and looks old, with walls of white painted brick. Stairs on either side lead up to a balcony. They have a large Toaster Oven electric Allen organ, and a furniture-looking Yamaha baby grand piano behind that, plus heaps of chairs for what looks to be a large choir. The pews are arranged in a cruciform style, and appear to be able to seat 900-1000 people. The Eucharistic Chapel has the most exquisite rail right in front of the tabernacle. I was told it used to be a part of the old communion rail before they took that down. Wonderful carving.
The church: The congregation is mostly Filipino and Hispanic – no surprise there, as the church is located relatively close to the border between the US and Mexico. The people seem very quiet and very reverential. That's an amazing breath of fresh air, considering that many Catholic congregations I've come across tend to treat any "quiet" time as a time to visit and socialize quite loudly.
The neighbourhood: There are a lot of shopping areas nearby. As far as the immediate area surrounding the church, Marian High School is on the south side, to the east there is a large shopping area, and to the north and west there are apartments and houses. The church itself is located just off of the interstate.
The cast: No names were announced, and there was no printed order of worship. All I know is that there was a rather old priest, who doesn't appear to match the names of the pastor or the pastoral associate (both with Spanish names, and this priest was a white man). There was an organist, who really seemed more a pianist than an organist, and a cantor.
What was the name of the service?
5.00pm Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
Approximately two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher smiled, said hello, and handed me a bulletin. Another usher was very friendly when I asked him, "Where may I find the ladies' room?" The people in the pews, however, were mostly silent.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was your standard hard, wooden pew, complete with kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential. Except for the occasional cough, you could hear a pin drop. But when the priest who was going to preside over the mass walked by, the people in the front row started complaining, saying, "Oh, this guy mumbles, and everyone is going to fall asleep during his sermon because you can't understand a word he is saying." The prelude the organist offered was really just a hymn with no special arrangements – "Angels We Have Heard on High." He didn't play it particularly well, and something tells me he's not the regular organist. It seems to me that he's a pianist trying to play the organ, and it shows quite clearly. He made many, many mistakes.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon. Welcome to our celebration of the eucharist."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
They had the Oregon Catholic Press publications in one plastic binder: The Music Issue 2004 and Today's Missal.

What musical instruments were played?
The Toaster Oven Allen and the furniture-looking Yamaha baby grand piano were used. There was a cantor. Naturally, all the instruments and the cantor's voice were piped through the sound system, and all were unnaturally loud. Sometimes the organ and the piano drowned out the cantor.

Did anything distract you?
The occasional crying kid. What I didn't expect was the sound of a parent, sitting in the back, loudly telling the kid to shut up. It was very easy for the mind to wander because the priest, although he was speaking into the microphone, really did not enunciate his words very well, so his speech sounded very muddy.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship seemed rather formal. Definitely no clapping, swaying, anything of that sort. I was very pleasantly surprised (considering the "hymnal" that was in the pews) that none of the typical Catholic schlock was chosen for the service music.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Well, the people who complained before the mass that this priest was hard to understand certainly were not kidding. It was so hard to follow him. He didn't appear to read from any prepared notes, and he also took some time before he started his sermon to organize some things at the ambo. As predicted, some members of the congregation fell asleep during the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He pretty much stuck to the readings of the day. As it was the Feast of the Holy Family, his sermon centered on the family, making references to virtues being learnt within a family, the 4th Commandment ("honour thy father and mother"), and that the holy family (Joseph, Mary and Jesus) was the model family. He ended his sermon by reading excerpts from a book called "Cradle of Redeeming Love: the Theology of the Christmas Mystery". It was very obvious he was speaking on the fly and had not prepared his sermon beforehand.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I'll have to admit – the way this priest did the eucharistic prayers was a total breath of fresh air. He was reverent, and some of the prayers, and the actions that went along with it, were quite wonderful to see. It was also refreshing to see a Catholic congregation understand that being in church and going to mass means that you are reverent. I very, very much appreciated that.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cantor was extremely distracting, flapping her arms like a huge albatross trying to look for a place to land when trying to cue the congregation in to sing. Naturally, as this is a Catholic congregation, they did not sing. Also, after Communion, and before the post-Communion prayer, the priest made mention of some American football match, which made me wonder – why? And this has to do with the mass how?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were milling about, visiting all the shrines in the church, going past the Nativity set and touching the baby Jesus, and stopping in at the eucharistic chapel. Again, I was struck at just how reverent these people were. No loud talking, no loud socializing, just some hand-shaking, hugging and a lot of post-mass prayer. People were mostly keeping to themselves, or to others they knew – so not much socializing with an obvious newcomer.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There did not appear to be any coffee or refreshments. But then again, this was a late Sunday afternoon mass.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – There were some things I really liked, and a lot of things which really irritated me. For me, music is an essential part of worship, and what's a music program without a real organ and a real organist? I'm sorry, I'm a snob about that, but that's just how I feel. So I'm not sure if I would really make this my regular church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Part of it did. But at the end of the service, the congregation applauded after the closing hymn, which ruined it completely for me.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
There was one very strange incident. During communion, a girl of around 10 or 11 years old received communion in the hand, but just walked off with the host. It looked like she was going to put it in her pocket. The eucharistic minister followed her and told her to consume the host. The girl's father also got out of line and ordered to her eat it. That was weird, and will probably be the thing I remember the most.
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