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Peter's, New York City
|Mystery Worshipper: Acton Bell.
The church: St Peter's,
New York City.
Denomination: Roman Catholic,
of New York.
The building: The British banned Roman Catholics from worship in New
York, and it was only when they were finally driven out of
the city during the Revolution that a church could be built.
With the cornerstone for "old" St Peter's laid in
1785, this is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in New York
State. But anti-Catholic sentiment remained high, and a near
riot ensued on Christmas Eve 1806 when Protestants massed
to protest the Popish superstitions going on inside. The current
"new" Greek Revival building dates from 1836. While
small, it is quite imposing if somewhat severe – perhaps
it's all the gray granite and the six Ionic columns that frame
the gold doors. The interior is equally restrained, although
bright. It has recently undergone an extremely sensitive renovation,
with discreet lighting hidden in recesses and a wall of glass
to enclose the sanctuary, allowing it to be air-conditioned.
The major decorative motifs are panels of white plaster fretwork.
Over the altar is a painting of the Crucifixion, a gift from
the Archbishop of Mexico City in 1789. Elizabeth Ann Seton,
the first US citizen to be canonized, often prayed before
the painting, and it was at "old" St Peter's that
she was received into the Roman Catholic Church from the Episcopal
Church in 1805.
The church: St Peter's serves the Financial District with daily masses,
and was the first church in the archdiocese to offer mid-day
services. St Peter's also has a mission chapel, St
Joseph's, in Battery Park City to serve that development
as well as the Tribeca neighborhood. There is also a monthly
The neighborhood: Located less than a block away from Ground Zero, the church
was hit by a portion of the landing gear from one of the planes
that struck the Twin Towers. Even so, it served as a staging
area for emergency services. The body of Father Mychal Judge,
chaplain to the New York City Fire Department and officially
the first casualty of the attack, was brought to St Peter's
by firefighters and laid before the altar. Father Judge has
been declared a saint by the Orthodox Catholic Church of America,
and many Roman Catholics consider him a saint even though
no formal process for canonization has yet begun.
The cast: The Revd Arthur Leone, curate. There was also a lay reader who
The date & time: October 2, 2011, 12.00pm.
What was the
name of the service?
Sunday Mass (offered for the oppressed everywhere).
How full was
100 people were present.
welcome you personally?
No, but a lady who arrived with a rolling cart chock-a-block
with stuff greeted me as she sidled into my pew with me.
Was your pew
Yes, surprisingly so, since it was just a wooden pew with kneeler.
How would you
describe the pre-service
Very quiet, with many at prayer. About ten minutes before
the service, the organist, who was particularly fine, played
what sounded like selections from Handel's opera Rodelinda.
That was a total surprise!
What were the
exact opening words of the
"Good afternoon, and welcome to St Peter's. Today's celebrant is Father
Leone." (And how nice was it to have the priest's name announced; a
total rarity in most Catholic churches in the city!)
What books did
the congregation use during the
A softbound copy of Seasonal
What musical instruments
A very warm-sounding organ, an opus of Geo. Kilgen & Son
St Louis, Missouri, installed in 1927 and enlarged shortly
thereafter. The organ was newly refurbished in time for the
September 11th tenth anniversary commemoration. The postlude,
selections from Bach's cantata Ich
habe Genug, BWV 82, just sounded great.
Did anything distract
You could hear the bells ringing in the silence after the
organ prelude, and it just seemed to set the right tone for
quiet contemplation. I was also struck by the plaster festoons
of fruit and flowers and papal tiaras that decorate some of
the panels on the walls, as it seemed like a really quirky
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
A stiff-upper-lip version of a novus
ordo mass, if such a thing is possible. Quite frankly,
it was the most Anglican of Catholic services I'd ever been
to. The hymns weren't 1970s abominations, but recognizable
old favorites. And the congregation really sang, all without
the aid of a cantor. Everyone arrived in time for the mass
and stayed until it was over, with many sitting or praying
during the postlude.
long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
10 – Father Leone spoke with authority from notes that
he didn't really refer to. It was all so reasonable and even-toned.
It seemed particularly fitting given the Occupy Wall Street
protest just a few blocks away.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
It was an explication of the reading of the day, Matthew 21:33-46,
the parable of the wicked vinedrressers, riffing on the line
that the kingdom of God will be taken away from the leadership
and given to those who produce the fruits of the kingdom.
Anger isn't the best reaction to injustice. It is necessary
to focus on areas of excellence where we can see God. Social
justice is something that we should work for and will ultimately
be rewarded with.
Which part of
the service was like being in
Following the sermon we did a renewal of the baptismal vows,
which was a very solemn moment.
And which part
was like being in... er... the other place?
There is a bizarre acoustical effect where the smallest noise on one
side of the church can be heard at the other. I heard two people
whispering in the front of the church as if they were sitting next to
me. Needless to say, there isn't any amplification used.
when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around to hear the organist and to snap some pictures
since there wasn't a coffee hour. Father Leone spoke to everyone
as they left, thanking them for coming.
How would you
describe the after-service
No coffee, sadly.
How would you
feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
9 – It was a real treat to be somewhere that had an energetic and
a classically formal liturgy, but I'd like to see what the community is
like, and I would miss a choir.
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a
Yes. On the whole, it was dignified and reverential.
What one thing
will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The painting of the Crucifixion over the altar. It was really
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