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of St Andrew, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
of St Andrew, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.
of Grand Rapids. The cathedral as parish church is administered
by priests of the Missionary Society of St Paul the Apostle,
more commonly known as Paulist
It began in 1833 as a mission church and was replaced by a new
church in 1850 and again in 1875. The bell of the second church
was rung not only to summon the faithful to worship, but also
to summon firefighters to their duties. Moved from there to
the present church, the bell finally cracked in 1901 and was
replaced by a peal of ten bells refurbished in 2006. When Pope
Leo XIII established the Diocese of Grand Rapids in 1882, the
church became its cathedral. It was badly damaged when struck
by lightning in 1901, but was restored and expanded. The present
cathedral is a neo-Gothic structure seating, I would guess,
about 750. Twentieth century renovations include new electrical
wiring, a chapel, a new altar, enlargement of the sanctuary,
and a baptismal pool, allowing for baptism by immersion.
The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Grand Rapids, but
as a parish church they sponsor the typical educational activities,
including sacrament preparation. As an inner city church, there
is a strong emphasis on social justice issues, including a clothing
center and a jail ministry. There is a strong music program,
with some seven different choirs, as well as a diocesan choir.
They celebrate five masses each weekend, including one that
is televised locally (it is thought that the cathedral was the
first Roman Catholic church in the nation to broadcast the mass
each week), and one in Spanish. There are two masses each weekday.
Grand Rapids is located in southwestern Michigan on (as its
name implies) the Grand River at the site of what used to be
rapids (no longer there). It is the headquarters of several
major furniture manufacturers and so is often called Furniture
City. Famous sons include former president Gerald Ford; the
president and his First Lady are buried on the grounds of the
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. There is a strong Catholic
presence in this part of the city, with diocesan offices, the
Catholic Information Center, Catholic Central High School, and
St Mary's hospital all in the immediate vicinity. To the north
of the cathedral is the Heartside neighborhood, with a significant
homeless population, with several organizations (God's Kitchen,
the Guiding Light Mission, Degage Ministries) serving that population
The Very Revd John Geaney, CSP, pastor, presided. Organist,
pianist, and choir director was Nick Palmer, director of liturgical
music at the cathedral.
The date & time:
First Sunday in Advent (vigil mass), Saturday, November 26,
What was the name of the service?
Mass and Baptism.
How full was the building?
About 150 were present. Keep in mind that it was the Thanksgiving
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted by one of several ushers. He handed me a service
leaflet, and, as this was the weekend that the new missal translation
was being introduced, a colorful trifold with all of the congregational
parts of the mass that were changing.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden, but thoroughly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
A bit chattery; because there was an infant baptism, a number of children were present, and the child being baptized did not seem to be enjoying the service.
What were the exact opening words of the
A cantor stepped up to the microphone and announced: "Good afternoon.
Mass will begin in just a moment." She then went on to explain
that a new translation of the mass was going to be used, and
asked the congregation to pay particular attention to the card
with the new texts.
What books did the congregation use during the
There were no hymnals or missalettes in the pews; the congregation
used only the service leaflet and the cue card with new texts
What musical instruments
The chancel organ, one of three (gallery, chancel and chapel)
installed by the Canadian firm of Orgues Létourneau Limitée,
Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. Also played were a Bösendorfer
concert grand piano and a clarinet (in an arrangement for clarinet,
piano, and unison voices of Bach's Wake, Awake from
Did anything distract
Mostly, our soon-to-be newest member of the church just really did not want to be there.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Well, I'd say "or what" a formal novus
ordo liturgy with some informal moments. Although this
was the day for introducing the new missal translation, it was
also a day on which a baptism was being held, and so there was
some confusion as to which parts should be said and which could
be omitted. Father Geaney noted the omissions but added, "We
did just get through the first prayer, and we're all still here."
And at the end of the service, after not being able to find
the blessing in the new missal, he said, "Let's just do it the
old way." Music was eclectic: everything from a plainsong hymn,
to choir anthems by Bach and Distler, and the Grammy-Award-winning
gospel singer Andrae Crouch's "Soon and Very Soon."
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Father Geaney is an accomplished speaker. He spoke
without notes and walked among the congregation as he spoke.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He noted that people who survive a heart attack or cancer often
have a new focus; life takes on new meaning. It is important
to be watchful and careful about the things we do, and about
our relationship to God. Advent is not just about being more
aware of our sins, but also about being more aware of the many
gifts we have from God.
Which part of the service was like being in
The new translation of the mass. I especially liked the invitation
to communion: "Blessed are they" rather than "Happy are they"
followed by the restored quote from Matthew: "Lord, I am
not worthy that you should come under my roof." Although
not fully tested, with several parts of the usual mass liturgy
omitted due to the baptism, the congregation generally acquitted
themselves fairly well. Nick Palmer is a fine organist, with
good improvisational and accompaniment skills.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, the new translation of the mass. "Chalice" in the
eucharistic prayer rather than "cup" just, to my ears,
grates. And there was an odd pause in the baptism service, immediately
after the baptism. The child to be baptized had been unclothed
and then immersed in the baptismal pool three times. Then his
mother took him to another room to be dressed in his baptismal
gown, which took a few minutes; after an awkward silence, Father
Geaney said (presumably to Mr Palmer), "You might want to sing
that hymn." We were rewarded with a fine performance of Hugo
Distler's heavenly setting of "Lo, How A Rose."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. The congregation filed out fairly quickly.
How would you describe the after-service
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I am not likely to make this my regular church, as
I am not Roman Catholic. But my wife is, and she would approve
of the strong commitment to social justice. The music program
seems to be excellent.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How long it takes to undress an infant so he can be immersed.
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