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|1563: St Maryís,
Wells, Maine, USA
Wells, Maine, USA.
Roman Catholic, Diocese
A very well kept plain white building, part clapboard and part
stone and with a grey shingled roof, speaking Americana from
every square inch. A white belfry and steeple reach upward from
the roof. The interior is strikingly plain, especially for a
Catholic church, but tasteful. Dark pews face a small altar
backed by a beige wall that angles out as it joins the ceiling,
thus focusing sound into the auditorium.
St Mary's is one of three churches that make up Holy Spirit
parish. They minister to seasonal vacationers as well as permanent
residents of the town. Two masses are celebrated every Saturday
evening, three on Sunday morning and one daily mass during the
week. St Mary's is one of the few parishes in the United States
that sings solemn vespers every Sunday evening, as encouraged
by Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
Wells, on Maine's south seacoast, is blessed with outstanding
beaches as well as good rail connections both to Boston and
to Maine's largest city, Portland. As such, it is a favorite
summer destination especially with the middle classes –
their wealthy cousins being content to vacation at upscale Kennebunkport
to the north or the artsier Ogunquit to the south. St Mary's
Church sits on the road that connects Moody Beach to the town.
The Revd Mr Darrell Blackwell, deacon.
The date & time:
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi),
Sunday, May 25, 2008, 4.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Vespers and Benediction.
How full was the building?
Six, including yours truly. However, it was Memorial Day weekend,
a feast of much higher rank in the American calendar, especially
for those who have managed to get away to coastal Maine for
this, the unofficial first weekend of summer.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the narthex, a woman greeted me warmly and asked
me if I was there for vespers, and another woman (who I learned
later was a nun) handed me the service sheets.
Was your pew comfortable?
Average modern pew, with cushion.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
When I learned that vespers would be sung, and on Memorial Day
weekend no less, I thought it an opportunity not to be passed
up. I set out in plenty of time to cope with the holiday beach
traffic, but even so arrived with only ten minutes to spare.
While Deacon Blackwell, the greeter woman and the nun finished
setting up for the service, those of us in the congregation
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
"God come to my assistance."
What books did the congregation use during the
The proper texts from the liturgy of the hours had been reproduced
onto a handout. There was a separate handout with the texts
for benediction as well as two sheets for the office hymn and
What musical instruments were played?
No instruments were played, though I saw two electric keyboards
in the corner. But miracle of miracles in the American Catholic
Church, the people actually sang! I heard American Catholics
chanting and singing nicely without a piano, organ, keyboard,
guitar, or hectoring leader of song. Deacon Blackwell had a
very nice voice, as did a couple members of the congregation.
Did anything distract you?
Everything was going very nicely, when midway through the first
psalm the PA system gave out a crackle as if lightning had struck
it, which made everyone jump. It went off twice more before
it was finally tamed by the efforts of the nun. Perhaps it and
the keyboards were feeling unloved.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was a hybrid that I would have condemned as an unholy monster
had I not been there. The psalms were chanted, fairly well,
between the congregation and the good deacon, and the tunes
for the benediction motets were traditional, but the office
hymn printed in the handout ("Father we thank thee")
was replaced with "I am the Bread of Life." Likewise,
the traditional Magnificat was replaced with John Michael Talbotís
"Holy Is His Name." I despise both of those songs
and their ilk. But it was a beautiful Maine day and here was
a parish that actually bothered to have Sunday vespers. And
people were singing, even without a leader of song flapping
his arms and someone at the keyboard playing riffs and bridges
more suited to a hootenanny. (Perhaps thereís a lesson here.)
I got into it and belted out the hymns with everyone else.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 A very nice ex tempore homily with solid exposition
and inviting delivery.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Deacon Blackwell spoke on the gift of the real presence and
how it prepares us to share Christís presence with others.
Which part of the service was like being in
Benediction literally is heaven coming down to earth, so I suppose
thatís as close as it gets. But on a more mundane level, it
was like heaven to see a Catholic congregation singing the divine
office as naturally as if it were no big deal. Why can't they
do this in every Catholic church, I thought.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I would have to say it was the PA system thundering like an
angry god because we had forsaken it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I chatted with the nun who had given me my service sheet, and
we were joined by the deacon and another man and woman from
the congregation. We talked for about five minutes. It was very
warm and friendly.
How would you describe the after-service
No coffee or nibbles, but my next stop was a Memorial Day cookout
at a friendís house one town up the coast.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 St Maryís seems to be a lovely place. They seem to
be heavily into folk music, though, which isnít my thing. That
said, I have to give major points to any parish that sings vespers
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Very! I was so glad that I didn't know beforehand what kind
of music they'd be singing I might not have stayed. I
was filled with love and charity – or was it sea air and
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
The rumbling of the jilted PA system and singing "I Am
the Bread of Life" without minding.
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