|785: Archabbey of St Meinrad, St Meinrad, Indiana, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Auntie Kate.
The church: Archabbey of St Meinrad, St Meinrad, Indiana, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery.
The building: It's a huge seminary/monastery complex within large grounds. The church itself is notable for two bell towers. Inside is a reliquary of St Meinrad, beautiful stained glass windows, an impressively large pipe organ and a mosaic floor. The walls are white with gold trim. Outside is a very nice garden with a re-circulating stream and a pond with koi.
The church: This is a Benedictine monastery. They have a wide range of ministries in various locations, including a seminary on site. It is also the home of Abbey Press, which has a local gift shop and a catalogue. The monks also make icons and build caskets. The volunteer fire department is just adjacent to the monastery – one wonders if most of the firefighters are monks.
The neighbourhood: The town of St Meinrad grew up around the monastery, and there is a Benedictine convent just down the road at Ferdinand. (They also have a stunning worship space , although it is much darker inside.) Both towns are located on the edge of the Hoosier national forest.
The cast: I was unable to determine this.
What was the name of the service?
Morning eucharist. The service sheet said "18th Sunday of the year." They must be counting from Easter, instead of from the 1st Sunday in advent.
How full was the building?
The available seating for guests, about 120 chairs, was nearly full. There was also seating for about 125 monks, but many of them are on missions elsewhere, so perhaps 70 were in attendance. The nave could easily hold four times as many people as were there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. A printed worship sheet was on each chair in the general congregation area.
Was your pew comfortable?
Individual wooden chairs, very comfortable, with kneelers. For my party, the kneelers stuck when we tried to pull them down, as if they had not been used for some time.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential. The monks came in during the "call to worship" in a formal double line, kissing the altar then proceeding to their assigned seats, chanting all the while.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"God, come to my help! Lord, quickly give me assistance. You are the one who helps me and sets me free: Lord, do not be long in coming."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A woefully inadequate four-page worship sheet. It contained only the closing hymn and the sung refrains to the entrance hymn, the gloria, and the psalm. It was unclear what the congregation was supposed to sing and what the monks were to sing by themselves.
What musical instruments were played?
Just a pipe organ. Most of the chant was acapella.
Did anything distract you?
The chairs were set up so that the two banks of about 60 chairs each were facing one another. One felt that s/he was constantly staring across the open space at the other half of the group. There were no good focal points except for the stained glass, especially since the huge pillars obstructed my view of both the priest giving the sermon and part of the altar area.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Every part of the service was chanted, except for the sermon. It was wonderful to hear gregorian chant, in English, done live by people who chant it five times a day.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 The sound system had a lot of echoing to it, which forced a steady, slow-paced delivery. He obviously believed what he said.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The centrality of the eucharist to the life of the church. The people must receive this spiritual bread from heaven frequently for their spiritual health, not separating themselves from the sacraments as did so many during the reformation, "to their spiritual impoverishment." (However, this church practices closed communion, as noted in the service sheet.)
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Gregorian chants were beautiful, and gratifyingly complemented by the pleasant, flower-scented incense. The stained glass was superb, and the white-and-gold interior made the sunshine coming in through the stained glass fill the sanctuary with beautiful, natural light.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The miserable service leaflet and the nearly silent congregation. As my companions and I (all first-timers to a catholic Sunday mass) struggled to fit in, it was impossible to tell when to sing. From time to time, a few people in the congregation from the community moved their lips, and a slight whispering occurred around us. But nothing that could be called song. Joyful noise? More like a pathetic whimper. The service leaflet also assumed that everyone knew all the responses (Lord, hear our prayer etc.), when to stand, sit, kneel, and the full text of the Nicene Creed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Monks were stationed at each door, holding them open as people left. We didn't stick around.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was coffee and tea in the retreat house nearby. My party went into that building to change clothes, but did not partake. The abbey press gift shop at the bottom of the hill has a small restaurant; several people who were at the service were seen there later, eating lunch.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 It's not really a parish church for families. They have a very active oblate program, however.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I have mixed feelings about monasticism. On the one hand, the young, middle-aged, and old monks are a rather inspiring sight, that people could give themselves so fully to the service of God. On the other hand, why take the most committed members of the church out of the gene pool by a vow of celibacy? Also, a newcomer who had not been brought up in the catholic church is more likely to feel confused than welcomed.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The quartet that did continuous gregorian chant during the distribution of the communion.