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  1389: Il Gesú, Rome, Italy

Il Gesú, Rome, Italy

Mystery Worshipper: Hart.
The church: Il Gesú (Church of the Holy Name of Jesus), Rome, Italy.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: This is the mother church of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. It occupies the site St Ignatius Loyola chose for his headquarters shortly after he founded the order in 1540. Six architects, including Michelangelo, participated in its design. II Gesù's façade served as the model for Catholic churches for centuries to come. The building is suitably sumptuous given its pedigree. Left undecorated for almost 100 years after its consecration, it is today second perhaps only to St Peter's Basilica itself in the grandeur of its appointments. Probably its most well-known feature is Il Baciccia's fresco The Triumph of the Name of Jesus dominating the ceiling of the nave. To save neck-ache, they've installed a mirror along the central aisle which one can use to admire the ceiling. The earthly remains of St Ignatius rest in an explosion of Baroque splendour in one of the several side chapels.
The church: Tours are given of the church and the adjoining apartments. I was pleased to see that there were several notice boards discussing the present day work of the Jesuits in the area, including their AIDS education work.
The neighbourhood: Il Gesú is in the Centro Storico (the historic center of Rome), near the Pantheon. This area is something of a maze of small streets, piazzi and overpriced pizza vans.
The cast: The celebrant, a monsignor whose name was given but which I forgot to make a note of, was accompanied by two other priests and three servers. A man and a woman traded off duties as organist, choir director and cantor at different times.
The date & time: Vigil of the Epiphany, Friday, 5 January 2007, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Mass with Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

How full was the building?
It varied over the course of the two hour service between about 200 and 400.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one at all. We even had to nab our song sheets from the choir's pile!

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was fine, but the kneeler was unpadded. I decided to be prepared to be a little cold and construct some padding out of my jacket.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The congregation were reasonably quiet, as were the choir (half of whom arrived halfway through the first hymn!). A server was walking the celebrant through some of the parts of the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Most of the service was in Italian but a few bits and pieces here and there were in Latin, such as the opening.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None, though I managed to find a glossy sheet called Domenica on my way in which contained the text of the readings and other variable elements, along with the gloria and creed in Italian. This sheet definitely proved useful to me in my travels. There were also the song sheets which one could pilfer from the choir's pile of spares.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ accompanied most of the singing, though we did a few verses of some of the hymns unaccompanied. The choir sang harmony from memory (they just had the words-only song sheet) very competently.

Did anything distract you?
Some people in a side chapel seemed to be staring at something very intently for a long period of time but I never quite figured out what it was.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty formal. One slightly modern element was the recitation of prayers over a hummed Taizé style chant, which was sung in between petitions. During exposition, one old gentleman spent a whole hour on his knees in adoration.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I can't rate it any higher as I didn't understand it all. This was no fault of the preacher's, who spoke very slow and clear Italian, but unfortunately it was still a little beyond my grasp.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke about movable feasts such as Easter as well as the other feasts of the Church and how each one is represented each Sunday. He also said something about the Magi not having access to the Internet, but I'm afraid I didn't understand it any better than that.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Everything! From the stillness at the consecration, to the old man on his knees, to the moment I heard them singing Anima Christi and realised I could join in the singing even without the purloined song sheet.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact I had to steal a song sheet from the choir's spare pile. Why not make it easier for people to join in?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people either stayed to pray, left, or looked around the beautiful church. I did the first, then the third, then the second.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't think they do this in Rome. The vino rosso I had afterward was lovely, though the torta di mele could have been fresher.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Almost worth learning Italian and moving to Rome for!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Also glad to be in the company of such caring and reverent fellow worshippers.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The old man who managed to spend an hour on the uncomfortable kneeler in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
 
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