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2932: Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, Alabama, USA
Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: William Dewy.
The church: Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, Alabama, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Birmingham. The shrine is administered by the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration who are resident at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery. Its founder, Mother Angelica, is well known to viewers of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the cable channel also founded by her. Now 92 years old and in poor health, Mother Angelica nevertheless continues to participate in the affairs of the Shrine and EWTN as her health will permit.
The building: The shrine buildings and grounds are reminiscent of 13th century Italian church architecture. One approaches the chapel through a large piazza with a central pillar and statue of the Divine Child. Surrounding the piazza is a colonnade. The interior of the chapel is a magnificent space filled with light. The walls are white with a little color from stained glass. Mostly, however, gold dominates. Upon entering through bronze doors depicting the Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows of Mary, one's eye is drawn to the high altar backed by an arched reredos of gold. The tabernacle in which the Most Blessed Sacrament is reserved is a miniature replica of a Gothic cathedral. Above the reredos is a huge gold monstrance in which the Sacrament is displayed for adoration; it is visible both from the nave and from pews behind the reredos where the cloistered nuns gather for prayer. Other structures on the grounds of the shrine are the Castle San Miguel, a Lourdes grotto, a substantial permanent near-life-size crêche, and the John Paul II Eucharistic Center.
The church: The shrine is available for pilgrimages and tours. The divine office is prayed and mass is celebrated daily, and confessions are heard most days. Many of the services are broadcast over EWTN.
The neighborhood: With a population of about 3000, Hanceville is a quiet town in rural northern Alabama. Our Lady of the Angels Monastery and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament are the principal attractions.
The cast: The celebrant was identified only as Father Joseph.
The date & time: Sunday, October 4, 2015, 7.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Conventual Mass.

How full was the building?
About 100 people were present. I wondered if most of these people were tourists or pilgrims like I was. Also notable was the prevalence of chapel veils. Iíve seen chapel veils before, but close to 90 per cent of the women present had their heads covered.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Well, yes. I was confronted by a woman who, upon spotting my camera, told me in no uncertain terms: "Photographs are not allowed in the shrine! There is a sign outside that states they are not permitted!Ē I apologized for the offence, saying I didnít notice the sign. Actually, I was distracted by another sign advising that shorts and sleeveless tops are also banned.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew was quite comfortable, with a substantial kneeler that seemed like it would remain comfortable for a long use.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The nuns were singing the morning office as I arrived. People were quietly reverent and were thoroughly aware that the Sacrament was present in the monstrance high above the altar. A few minutes till service time, a screen was mechanically raised to block the Host from view. That is, the Sacrament remained, but it was screened from view until after the dismissal.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The Sign of the Cross in Latin: In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Adoremus Hymnal (Ignatius Press, 1997) and a card with service material from the Roman Missal 3rd Edition. Also in the pews were service books for Holy Hour and a healing service.

What musical instruments were played?
An Allen electronic organ. The mass setting was the Gregorian Missa de Angelis, which we sang in Latin.

Did anything distract you?
The sound system was fine for the music, but seemed more than a little hissy during the sermon. About the time of ablutions, the fire alarm went off, complete with siren and flashing lights. Everyone did their best to ignore it. A security worker told me after mass that it was caused by the incense, but surely they use incense all the time here.

Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was one of the most conservative celebrations of the eucharist I have ever seen. The liturgy was in Latin excepting the scripture readings and the sermon. The priest faced east. A houselling cloth was used at communion, and the people communicated in one kind only.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Joseph had a friendly yet formal style.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How does one live out the gospel in Franciscan life? God is all. St Francis was poor but generous, devoted to God and man.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The incense was heavenly. I noticed no smoke (although the alarm must have), but the fragrance was full and marvelous. The incense was handled with great decorum – no exaggerated swinging of the censor to show off the thurifer's skill.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had the sense that things were just a little too perfect – or a little too dated. The people in the pews seemed to come from central casting, circa 1961. I felt as if I was at Our Lady of Disneyland. The place needed some leavening.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. The screen masking the Blessed Sacrament was lowered and the Sacrament was exposed again. Outside, I talked with a nice man who told me he lives in the neighborhood and goes to church here regularly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The liturgy was so well executed, I think I would get over feeling like I went to church in a museum.

Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL (Mother Angelica)

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The overwhelming gold reredos.
 
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