St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland


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Mystery Worshipper: CVP
Church: St Mary's Pro-Cathedral
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Date of visit: Saturday, 18 November 2006, 10:00am

The building

Affectionately known as "the Pro," the pro-cathedral is a neo-classical structure dating from the early 19th century, with an impressive colonnaded facade modeled on the temple of Theseus in Athens. Externally it looks more like a government building than a church, but the Renaissance interior, patterned after the church of St Philip de Reule of Paris, is quite striking, with the main altar situated under a dome and two curved colonnades emanating from the sanctuary.

The church

The pro-cathedral is the seat of the primate of Ireland and yet is not officially a cathedral (hence its name) because it was never declared as such by the Pope. They are especially proud of their music program, in particular the Palestrina Choir, which, in addition to offering music at cathedral services, maintains a vigorous touring and recording schedule.

The neighborhood

It's on the corner of Marlborough and Cathedral Streets in the centre of Dublin, with plenty of other churches within walking distance.

The cast

One priest, who was not named but who I suspect may have been the Revd Remigious Owuamanam, curate. He was assisted by a lay reader and lay eucharistic minister.

What was the name of the service?

Mass. It was introduced as "the [mumble mumble] of the Blessed Virgin Mary." I couldn't make it out.

How full was the building?

It appeared less than half full, with most of the centre and side pews occupied by at least one or two persons. Perhaps around 150 or so in total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived quite early and had a look around. There were a couple of people behind a stall selling Legion of Mary promotional items, and they were very friendly. There were no greeters on hand for the mass itself, though.

Was your pew comfortable?

Standard wooden pew, comfortable enough, but not much leg room. The kneeler was right up against my feet.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

On the whole, very prayerful and peaceful. There was the usual sound of people arriving, and a few who were just looking round, but for the most part a very nice atmosphere in which to to prepare for mass.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. No hymnbooks, missals or Bibles were in evidence.

What musical instruments were played?

None, but the priest did start each hymn. Only problem was, with no hymnbooks people sang the first verse and then started to die off.

Did anything distract you?

The speed at which the locals seemed to want to give their responses. Sometimes the priest hadn't even finished before they started. This led to an interesting rumble of voices, and left me feeling stupid for being too slow.

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

Catholic in a very traditional way. The hymns were all traditional Marian ones, as befitted the feast of the [mumble mumble] of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There wasn't one, but after the gospel the priest did say the intention for the mass: "We offer today's mass for the memory of [mumble mumble]."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The pro-cathedral is a lovely building and does make you forget you're in the heart of a city. The priest, whom I know I've criticised a bit for how he spoke, obviously does not have English as a first language, but is to be commended nonetheless for leading the singing despite the lack of hymnbooks and musicians.

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

The fact that the whole affair was over in 20 minutes. It is one thing when a priest rushes through mass, but when you have the congregation doing the same it is not pleasant. It felt that most of the congregation had somewhere else to be. This turned out not to be quite true, although in fact they did have something else to do. As we were about halfway through the last verse of the closing hymn, a group of around 20 near the front began to recite the Rosary.

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

We hung around near the door for a while, but most of those leaving were gone before we had left our pew. A nun spoke to us on the way out. I doubt she was the pro-cathedral's official valedictorian, but she was very nice.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasn't any, presumably because these people didn't have time to wait for the kettle to boil!

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

4 – This wasn't a Sunday service so probably didn't give a true impression of what the church is like, but I was put off by the perfunctory aura of the whole affair.

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

The priest determinedly starting and leading the singing made me very glad to be Christian. The congregation racing through the mass didn't.

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

Probably the fact that it was over in 20 minutes.

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