Immaculate Heart of Mary, Grand Junction, Colorado, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Immaculate Heart of Mary
Location: Grand Junction, Colorado, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 July 2019, 10:00am

The building

A modern single-story building with a large narthex leading to the main church as well as to a large chapel, offices, and a meeting hall. The church is on a spacious campus shared with Holy Family Catholic Elementary School, originally founded in 1916 as St Joseph's School. The new complex of buildings was constructed during the administration of a former pastor who is now retired. The nave of the main church is a modified octagon with a central eight-sided sanctuary. At the entrance there is a large baptismal pool with flowing water. The stained glass windows evoke the walls of the nearby Monument Canyon, drawing worshippers’ eyes to the tabernacle and to the large cross seen through the clear top-center of the window.

The church

They have a number of spiritual, social, and support groups, as well as several service ministries, all described on their website. There are two morning masses and one evening mass each Sunday, plus the Saturday vigil mass.

The neighborhood

Grand Junction, in western Colorado, is in a beautifully scenic area popular with folks into outdoor activities. Famous sons include one John Henry Holliday, better known as ‘Doc’ Holliday, the notorious gambler, gunfighter – and dentist – who was a friend of the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp. The church is located in a typical Southwestern upper middle class neighborhood mixed with open agricultural space.

The cast

The retired pastor was celebrant at this mass. Even though in his eighties, he still celebrates at least one mass each week for the community.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

How full was the building?

About half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As we were walking from our car toward the church, one person said ‘Hello!’ At mass, all visitors were welcomed and asked to stand and introduce themselves. While I was looking in the Gather hymnal for the music for the Gloria, a gentleman in the pew in front of me handed me a leaflet with the music for the ordinary of the Mass of St Anne by the contemporary Catholic musician Ed Bolduc.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very. Spacious wooden pews with padded seats and comfortable, properly positioned pull-down kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential. The church was already quite full when we arrived some ten minutes before the starting time, and outside the nave, in the large narthex, there was a lot of quiet, busy activity. People understood that the narthex was the place to speak to friends before mass. About two minutes before the starting time, the youth minister greeted everyone and asked about birthdays, anniversaries, and visitors. ‘Happy birthday’ was sung by all present for the one person whose husband admitted that it was his wife's birthday. One of the three music ministers announced the opening hymn. The procession was led by an adult crucifer followed by two pre-teen girl torchbearers, a deacon, and the celebrant.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

After the opening hymn (‘Lift up your hearts’), the first words of the service proper were ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Gather hymnal and a leaflet with the Mass of St Anne. A number of people had their own copies of Magnificat to follow along with the proper readings.

What musical instruments were played?

A grand piano.

Did anything distract you?

While I was kneeling after receiving communion, there was some sort of kerfuffle right in front of me involving a communicant and two of the extraordinary ministers, after which something was thrown into a basket in front of the altar by one the ministers and the chalice being used was retired.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Standard ordinary form, neither casual nor unusual. But I was surprised that the Apostles’ Creed replaced the Nicene Creed, which though common in Quebec, France, and Portugal, in the USA is usually reserved for masses celebrated specifically for children. There were two readers for the first and second readings. A cantor sang the minor propers and the psalm, leading the congregation in the psalm responses. The deacon was accompanied by the torchbearers in a procession for the gospel reading. He also led the prayers of the people. At the communion, eight – count ‘em, eight – extraordinary ministers of holy communion came forward (three for the hosts and five for the chalices). The deacon also distributed hosts. The celebrant, using a four-footed cane, was unable to do so, and returned to the sedilia during communion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — It was a solid exposition of the readings.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His theme was that of the readings: God's merciful response to his people's persistence in prayer. The Lord's Prayer was a major portion of the gospel reading, and the sermon addressed the obligation for the faithful to be generous in forgiveness. He quoted Archbishop Tutu, who spoke of the ‘freedom that comes when we let go of our grievances.’ Holding on to a grievance is an unacceptable form of power and superiority over those who have wronged us, over those whom we must forgive in order to also be forgiven.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The window behind the tabernacle was stunning. The colors of Monument Canyon and the way it vanished into the cross in the distance made for a very moving image.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

When an announcement to the extraordinary ministers of holy communion was made, referring to them as ‘eucharistic ministers,’ I flashed back to an incident where an often irascible priest had angrily corrected a woman who had called herself a eucharistic minister, saying that he, the priest, was the only eucharistic minister present in the room. Canonically he is correct (only priests and deacons are eucharistic ministers), but this is a fight that is as futile as getting people to stop calling Canon copiers Xerox machines.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

A member of the pastoral staff approached me and asked me about my visit to the area. He gave me what turned out to have been an excellent suggestion for an afternoon activity that I would have otherwise missed. And he made sure that I noticed that there was a coffee hour in the parish hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was coffee, tea, and lemonade, and bagels, cream cheese, and donuts. Many people were sitting at tables, and we joined two couples and had a long and enjoyable conversation.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 — Like most ordinauts, roving or not, I'm just not a fan of the ‘it's all about me’ boomer music in the Gather hymnal, so I would have to see what's up at other parishes in the area, should I ever return to Grand Junction on a Sunday.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. The sermon addressed forgiveness and reconciliation, and this is exactly what Christianity is all about.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The stained glass canyon.

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