|953: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Chicago, Illinois, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Misericord.
The church: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Situated in Chicago's East Lakeview neighborhood, the church building is in the gothic revival style, with matching rectory and school, and dates from 1914. It was built as the north side's English-speaking parish (think of all the separate Italian, German, Polish, etc. parishes being built around that time). It is beautifully maintained, the whole plant forming an attractive part of this north side neighborhood.
The church: The parish is known for its music program and supports a well-regarded school. It seems very healthy, with a predictably rather full weekend schedule of masses that includes a Sunday evening service for the Archdiocese's gay and lesbian outreach. The make-up of the congregation seemed to reflect the mostly upwardly-mobile neighborhood.
The neighbourhood: East Lakeview is a vibrant and exciting place to live. The density is high, public transportation is good, the lake and park are right there, and every manner of retail, dining and entertainment experience you can imagine is within a short walk. Hence high housing prices and tight parking. The church operates two parking lots for visitors' convenience.
The cast: The celebrant's name was unannounced, but let's assume he was the pastor, the Rev. Thomas E. Srenn. Father Srenn was assisted by a second priest and a cantor/leader of song whose names were likewise not given.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass, twenty-first Sunday in ordinary time.
How full was the building?
About 60 percent full, maybe 500 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, although when I arrived the altar party was already in position for the procession there may have been greeters present earlier. The peace ceremony was very friendly, though.
Was your pew comfortable?
Fine old wood pews with the usual drop-down kneelers. The seats were not padded, I presume for acoustical reasons.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Much praying and very little talking. When I arrived, the organist was already well into his prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Their custom bound and imprinted service book/hymnal, and nothing else.
What musical instruments were played?
A fine pipe organ (one of two in the room see the website) in the loft. There was also a cantor/leader of song who indulged in the usual singing-nun-style of song-leading and arm-raising.
Did anything distract you?
There being no service sheet, I had considerable trouble following the service. By communion I was completely lost.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not stiff, but rather middle of the road worship. It was low church by any Anglican/Episcopal standard, but the congregation seemed to sing more enthusiastically than other Roman Catholic folk I have known. The parish's music program has a fine reputation, and that may account for the better singing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes, 30 seconds.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 I have not read the book that Father referred to, but I wasn't convinced he was making his points all that clearly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father drew parallels to the book The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm to show how God's love resembles fatherly love as well as motherly love. Fatherly love is the "make me proud" type and is conditional, whereas mothery love is unconditional.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The church interior is quite pretty and very nicely maintained. The windows (all viewable on their website) are of a romantic glass not exactly what you would find in a French cathedral, but lovely in their own right.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The room was a tad too small, I thought, to accommodate two organs. The organist's technique, both for the hymns and the postlude, seemed a bit awkward, especially in his rather startling registration changes. The stops include two sets of horizontal trumpets; I'd hate to hear them both engaged at once. The organist's playing surprised me in light of the church's good reputation for music. Worse than that, though, was the puzzling custom (which I have only seen in Roman Catholic churches, including this one) of people bolting out the door directly after receiving communion. Eat and run, as it were.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The room cleared, and I too wandered out into the beautiful weather. The celebrant and the assisting priest wished me welcome out on the church steps.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 I'd have to look around a bit more. In busy Catholic parishes, mass seems like something you do, but fellowship and welcoming the stranger are not a feature of most of them. Maybe a small struggling parish would be better for that.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Glad yes, but not really refreshed or invigorated. The lovely weather on that particular Sunday did the trick though.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Two fine (and very different) organs in one room. I should come back in the fall to check out the choir.