|829: Regina Pacis, Brooklyn, New York, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Regina Pacis (Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace), Brooklyn, New York, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
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The building: Located at the corner of 12th Avenue and 65th Street, in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, Regina Pacis Church is a massive faux Italian Renaissance structure, of yellow brick with grey granite façade. The interior is vaulted and domed, featuring beige and coral marble columns and paneling with turquoise inlays. The décor is heavily Mary-oriented, with stained glass windows depicting scriptural references to Mary, and Latin inscriptions of various Marian prayers, especially the Salve Regina Mater Misericordiae. One of the frescoes on the vaulted ceiling commemorates the dedication of the church – the church building, school and rectory are shown looking exactly like they do today, except sitting in the middle of a field surrounded by rolling hills.
The church: The handout mentioned "many societies and parish organizations that may interest the newcomer" without going into detail as to what these might be. The church sponsors a neighborhood theatre and opera company of modest reknown.
The neighbourhood: My, oh, yes! Bensonhurst is a predominantly Italian poor-to-working class neighborhood that is home to the Mafia. Residents will furtively point out the garish, overdecorated homes of present and former capos and consiglieri, as well as the social clubs and pizza parlors that could be lifted off the set of the Sopranos if they weren't for real. Legend has it that once a gold jewel-encrusted chalice was stolen from the sanctuary of Regina Pacis. Mafia godfather Carlo Gambino, upon hearing of the theft, is rumored simply to have said "no police" and within hours the tat was returned. The alleged thief washed up on the Jersey shore a few days later... well, parts of him did, anyway.
The cast: The Rev. Msgr. Dino M. Zeni, pastor; Father King, visiting priest, was the celebrant. Names of the crucifer, lector and servers were not given.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass, Second Sunday of Easter.
How full was the building?
About 400 people. The church was two-thirds full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. There were greeters at the door who appeared to limit their compliments to people they recognized.
Was your pew comfortable?
Typical wooden church pews and kneelers – comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of quiet visiting and kissing among people who knew each other, but it was not overly distracting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen." The entrance procession included a crucifer, an honor guard of Knights of Columbus in their colorful costumes, the lector and servers (the lector bearing the altar Missal aloft in his hands), and the celebrant. Members of the congregation genuflected and crossed themselves as the procession passed; it was not clear whether this was directed at the processional cross or the Knights of Columbus Grand Master.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Heritage Missal. There was a handout containing miscellaneous information about the church and lots of paid advertisements, but no details of the service. A separate handout listed the readings for the day in Italian, although the service was in English.
What musical instruments were played?
A moderate size pipe organ, well tuned. There was a choir of about 12 singers, but no "leader of song" that you often find in a Catholic church. The choir was well balanced, but needed discipline in breathing, intonation and ensemble. The organist was good, a proper organist and not a pianist doing double duty, although he had an annoying habit of accidentally stepping on the pedals now and then.
Did anything distract you?
Not really. If I had to force the issue, I would say the Knights of Columbus were somewhat distracting, as their costumes are so colorful and not at all liturgical. In addition to supplying an honor guard for the entrance procession, the knights accompanied the offerings up to the altar at offertory time, and at the end of the service formed a sort of gauntlet (with swords drawn, no less) through which the congregation passed as they were leaving the church. (I discreetly waited until after they had sheathed their swords before attempting to leave.)
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified, prayerful and reverential.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Father King stepped down from the pulpit and out into the midst of the congregation to deliver the sermon. He was obviously prepared but did not speak from notes, and his discourse sounded quite extemporaneous. He spoke well and was easily understandable.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We need Easter. The world is searching for peace, and that's what Christ brought to his apostles and to us – not a temporary relief from our troubles, but everlasting peace in the kingdom of God. To arrive at Easter we had to endure the passion, but the reward is God's holy peace.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
On the whole, the entire service was dignified and reverential.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was beginning to think I would have nothing to criticize, and then came the Agnus Dei. The choir sang something in English that sounded like "I'm as corny as Kansas in August," which ended in the familiar "Dona nobis pacem" round in Latin. I asked one of the choir members later what it was, and his response was, "I don't know, I'd have to look in the booklet," and walked away.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Absolutely nothing. Although he did not participate in the mass, the pastor, Monsignor Zeni, was shaking hands at the back of the church. As he shook my hand I told him that I was Episcopalian. He then called Father King over and introduced me to him, telling him I was Episcopalian. They both said they hoped that I enjoyed the service and that I would be welcome back any time. Other than that, I might as well have been invisible.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I think I might go back once or twice, if only because of Monsignor Zeni's invitation, even though I was ignored by the congregation and brushed off by the choir.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was a spiritually uplifting service despite the boorish congregation.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Knights of Columbus with their pompoms, capes, and drawn swords.