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  1184: St Margaret Mary's, Oakland, California, USA

St Margaret Mary's, Oakland, California

Mystery Worshipper: ACOL-ite.
The church: St Margaret Mary's, Oakland, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: A rather attractive stone building. Outside there is a small garden where some children were playing. The inside looks like a traditional Catholic church, with holy water fonts, stations of the cross, and a few statues. The sanctuary features an ornate reredos to which the altar is affixed.
The church: St Margaret Mary's is the only parish in the diocese in which both the Tridentine and novus ordo mass are regularly celebrated.in Latin, with the permission of Bishop John Cummins according to the indult granted by Pope John Paul II. The church seems to be a lively community. There is a very active St Anne's Guild and St Vincent de Paul Society. Religious education is offered, and there are social events such as a St Patrick's Day dinner, Oktoberfest, and an All Saints party for the children.
The neighborhood: Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, has a reputation for being a poor city, but is actually quite leafy and residential.
The cast: Fr Michael Wiener, the Episcopal Delegate for the Traditional Latin Rite for the Diocese of Oakland, presided. He was assisted by seven acolytes and servers. Fr Zak, the church's pastor, assisted in the distribution of communion. The Pacific Collegium, a professional chamber ensemble based in San Francisco, made a guest appearance.
The date & time: October 23, 2005, 11.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Indult mass, 1962 Missale Romanum (better known as the Tridentine mass).

How full was the building?
Reasonably full, probably about 300 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but after mass I spotted an acquaintance who introduced me to some of the choir members.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was fine. I thought that there was plenty of legroom when sitting, but not nearly enough when kneeling. I must either have short thighs or long calves!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet. There was a long line of people waiting for the confessional.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Mass was preceded by the asperges: Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor (You will sprinkle me, Lord, with hyssop and I will be made clean).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Most had brought their own missals. There were a few to borrow at the back and I ended up with something entitled Latin-English Missal for the Traditional Mass. There were Oremus hymnals in the pews, but they weren't used.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The Pacific Collegium sang rather well. It was a sung mass and the chanting was clear with good diction. No acrobatics, but no slip-ups either.

Did anything distract you?
The family in front of me were fun to watch. The four children had queued up for confession, but their turn didn't come until the homily had begun. By then the pew that their mother was in was full, but there was enough space in the one directly in front. So as each child emerged from the confessional freshly absolved, the mother would vigorously wave to attract each to the right seat. After the two girls were settled into their pew, she readjusted both their mantillas. She also decided that her elder son hadn't been at his prayers long enough, and so pushed him back to the kneeler after he'd gotten up. The younger son got off without correction! I'm ashamed to say that I was paying so much attention to them that I missed the consecration. It was only after the bells had been rung that I realized I should have looked up.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A Tridentine sung mass through and through. Very formal. With the exception of a very small number of exchanges, the mass was a recitative between the priest and the choir, with the servers and congregation providing only choreography.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – He had a very clear speaking voice. I'm not sure about preceding the homily with announcements, though: it seems to risk separating it from the gospel reading.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He called our attention to the gospel reading – two examples of Jesus healing someone. In each there was some sort of profession of faith or act of adoration before the request was made. He then turned to how the structure of the mass follows the same pattern – faith or adoration, then healing. I didn't quite see how this was linked, but there was a nice comment that he like long alleluias, because they made one impatient for the gospel!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir was very competent, but I think the being-in-heaven award has to go to the servers. They handled themselves with reverence and decorum, with a sense of the importance of the occasion and their office, without looking self-important. Congratulations to whoever trains them!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Father Zak may be a wonderful man, but a good chanter he ain't! It was rather embarassing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were people milling about, and Father Zak played with the children in the garden (lovely in a way, but the adults needed welcoming, too). I spoke to a couple of people and then left to stand in the sun and wait for a bus (mercifully only 10 minutes). While mass was in progress, the day had turned rather hot.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. I had heard that a lavish spread is usually offered, but I guess everyone was busy today preparing for the Oktoberfest.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I'd enjoy the numerous opportunities for adult religious education, but would want to see more evidence of community service. And I'm not sure if I'm quite ready for Tridentine every week, but the parish also does two novus ordo masses (one in English, one in Latin) each Sunday.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It also made me feel glad that I have options. The Tridentine rite is awesome, but also rather aloof. I don't think I'd have ever stepped foot inside a Catholic church if the novus ordo hadn't first drawn me in.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Missing the consecration!
 
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