Worshipper: Acton Bell.
of St Patrick, New York City.
of New York.
The Prefecture Apostolic of the United States of America was
established in 1784 and was elevated to the status of diocese
five years later, with its seat at Baltimore. The Diocese
of New York was carved out of it in 1808, and the cornerstone
for this, New York's first cathedral, was laid the next year.
The exterior is a tipsy melange of Georgian and Gothic elements,
which isn't surprising, since Old St Patrick's was built precisely
at the moment when architectural styles were moving away from
neo-classical to the Gothic Revival. A fire ravaged the building
in 1866, but even though work on the "new" St Patrick's
Cathedral was well underway uptown, the church was rebuilt
although on a somewhat plainer scale. The interior is rather
ornate, with the eye drawn to the huge marble high altar surrounded
by an intricately carved gold leaf reredos. St Patrick's reverted
to a parish church in 1879 with the completion of the new
cathedral. In 1966, the building was one of the first sites
to be named a New York City landmark. It was elevated to the
status of minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. The
crypt beneath the church, as well as the surrounding graveyard,
is the resting place for the earthly remains of New York's
earliest bishops as well as notables of the newly independent
United States. The baptism scene in the film The Godfather,
as well as the award ceremony in The Godfather Part III,
were filmed at Old St Patrick's.
They seem to be quite the active parish, with community outreach
to the homeless, eucharistic ministry to the homebound, menís
and womenís small groups, sports night, prayer warriors, and
other outreach and services, all listed on their website.
There are five masses on Sunday, with one in Spanish and one
in Mandarin. There are two masses daily during the week and
two on Saturday.
When it opened, Old St Patrick's sat well outside the settled
areas of New York City, surrounded by farmland and the country
houses of the rich. Today the area is known as NoLiTa (North
of Little Italy) and has recently seen an influx of new, wealthy
residents, bringing with them an explosion of trendy restaurants,
bars and boutiques. Besides being home to Old St Patrick's,
it is home to the Puck Building, one of the city's most famous
buildings and the setting of Grace's office in the TV series
Will & Grace. Also next door is St
Michael's Chapel, one of only four Russian Catholic churches
in the United States.
The Revd Jonathan Morris, parochial vicar. He wasn't introduced
anywhere, but I recognized him from the ultra-conservative
cable TV station Fox News, where he is an on-air personality.
The date & time:
October 30, 2011, 12.45pm.
What was the name of
How full was the building?
I stopped counting at 350. My guess is slightly more than
400. I'm not sure if this is their regular turnout, or if
the attendance was high because there were seven baptisms
to follow the service.
Did anyone welcome you
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a regular pew with kneeler, which was fine, if a little
narrow. I was disturbed to find graffiti on my pew and several
others in front of me. Its the first time I've ever seen that
in any church in the city.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Hmm... A Macy's one-day sale comes to mind, and we're talking
the Macy's in Herald Square. There was so much to-ing and
fro-ing and hustle and bustle (and babies crying) that it
was well nigh impossible to get one's pious on.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon ... I said, good afternoon!" Father Jonathan
wasn't pleased with the first response, and demanded a second,
more hearty greeting from the congregation.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
There was a nice hand-out of the music to be sung, but the
order of the mass wasn't included in it, nor were there any
missals. You were out of luck if you didn't know it by rote.
What musical instruments
There was a cantor and a small choir of men and women. The
organ is a spectacular 1868 opus of the legendary organ builder
Henry Erban, one of the first to build tracker organs in the
United States. It is the only example of an original three-manual
Erban still in existence. The organ case is in the Carpenter
Gothic style and was built to complement the reredos.
Did anything distract
The distractions were plentiful and varied, with perhaps the
biggest distraction being cell phones going off. And yes,
one person near me actually answered his phone and had a brief
chat. And then there were the latecomers. I would guess that
a good third of the congregation arrived late, almost all
walking up the center aisle to the front, jockeying for seats
in already full pews. This lasted until at least the gospel
reading. Communion was a total rugby scrum. They could have
definitely used a cadre of ushers. I would also say a good
third left after right after taking communion, including the
couple who brought the elements up during the presentation.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Novus ordo, but with a real attempt to move it several
notches up the candle. I got the sense that this move was
something new, as the priest gave instruction on what to do
during a sung Kyrie ("listen and pray") and the Sanctus ("here
we pray by singing it"). And they were well worth listening
to: the Kyrie, Gloria, offertory, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei were
by Tomás Luis de Victoria and were all nicely done,
but marred by the use of a rather incongruous "singing
nun" style memorial acclamation and great Amen. I wasn't
sure why they didn't go all way with the Victoria.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
6 Father Jonathan is quite a good speaker, as one would
expect of a television personality. He is immensely telegenic
and spoke with authority albeit from notes. The sermon was
definitely old-school didactic, so no messing about with anything
feel-good or squishy hugs, hearts and flowers. The sermon
was interesting, but I felt that some things were left a little
incomplete and could easily be misinterpreted. It is more
than a little loaded when you say God is our lover in the
way that a spouse is, and I'm not sure that was fleshed out
so that all would understand. I wondered if he was hinting
at something like ecstasies a la St Teresa of Avila, but I'm
really not sure, and if he was that would have been totally
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
Why, if God has such love for
us, do we seek to replace that love with love for other things?
God seeks our good through his love, and the search for that
love involves a discipline that we must practice to the exclusion
of other loves. God alone is our true lover, and he loves
us unconditionally. We may find this reflected in the love
we have for a spouse, child or partner, but those are incomplete
in comparison. Nothing, then, should come before our quest
to return such love to God, and that means putting the love
we feel for our spouse or child or job in its proper context.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
It wasn't particularly numinous, although the choir were quite
good and there was real effort to elevate the liturgy. If
only the congregation had played along.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Two young women came in really late, at the gospel reading,
reeking of cigarettes, each decked out as walking billboards
for luxury brands, something that isn't uncommon in that neighborhood.
They forced their way into an already packed pew directly
in front of me, and talked to each other through much of the
rest of the service. At the offering, their Louis Vuitton
handbags remained tightly closed, and they left directly after
taking communion. Also, I did feel the subject of Father's
sermon might have been better suited to a different day
I couldn't help but feel that it would have been a a real
downer to be a parent sitting there and having that sermon
delivered before my baby's baptism.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Not a chance I was going to stick around for seven baptisms!
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
3 The temptation to knock heads would be too great,
and that isn't a particularly Christian sentiment, now, is
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes,. After all, patience is a virtue.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"God is your lover." I will still be puzzling over exactly
what he meant.