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2649: St Mary Star of the Sea, Oceanside, California, USA
St Mary Star of the Sea (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St Mary Star of the Sea, Oceanside, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of San Diego.
The building: A church in the Spanish Mission style dating from 1927. It is the work of Emmet G. Martin, who, along with his older brother Albert, designed several churches, private homes, theaters, department stores and public buildings primarily in the Los Angeles area. Outside the entrance is a small grotto with a statue of the Blessed Virgin. Two tablets of the Ten Commandments stand to the left of the door. The interior is narrow and rather plain, with cream colored walls and purple accents and a dark wood beamed ceiling. The stained glass windows are plain, and bear memorial panes that have been covered up (the covering is partially scratched off on some of them, which is how I knew what they were). A very nice marble altar stands against the east wall, with a not-so-nice versus populum altar set in front of it and sporting a green frontal even though the color of the day was white. Why didn’t they just move the marble altar out?
The church: This is a very active parish, with chapters of the Knights of Columbus and the Legion of Mary, as well as a group that meets regularly to discuss scripture and various religion-themed books, and a Serra Club (not to be confused with the Sierra Club) that works to encourage religious vocations. There are traditional, contemporary and youth masses each Sunday, as well as a mass in Spanish.
The neighborhood: Oceanside is a city on California’s Pacific coast about 40 miles north of San Diego. In 1798 Franciscan priests founded a mission around which grew a small but prosperous community known as Rancho Margarita. It didn’t take residents long to discover the area’s fabulous ocean beaches, and the expression "go oceanside" came to describe their favorite pastime – hence the name adopted by the city when its post office was opened. In 1942 the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base was established just north of the city, and since then the military has loomed large in Oceanside’s economy and demographics. Toward the end of the 20th century the city had gone rather to seed, with military supply stores, barber shops and beer joints catering to young Marines looking for something to do when on liberty. But urban renewal set in, and nowadays trendy restaurants, smart boutiques and rather expensive ocean view housing exist alongside the military supply stores and barber shops (the beer joints having become "drinking establishments", if you please). The church is located on Pier View Way, directly across from City Hall and the public library, the first of the urban renewal projects referred to above.
The cast: The Revd Ron Kelso, priest in residence; the Revd Mr Lew Beatty, deacon; Amy Nelson, director of music. Crucifer, two torches and two lay readers were not named. Clergy wore only albs and stoles, no chasuble or dalmatic. The crucifer and torches wore albs, but alas, their choice of haberdashery was far from liturgically correct.
The date & time: The Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, January 12, 2014, 9.00am.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Traditional Mass.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 300 and it was completely full. About half the congregation arrived up to ten minutes late, though – as did the priest!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Was your pew comfortable?
Plain wooden pew – not plush by any means, but not uncomfortable either.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly for the most part; there was some quiet visiting. An old geezer took some flash photos of his party and the altar – I couldn’t help but wonder if he was a Mystery Worshipper. The organist played some twiddly bits. The Angelus rang on electronic bells, but no one prayed it. The Westminster Chime sounded the hour, again on electronic bells.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Mary Star of the Sea." This was actually said at three different intervals, as the mass started about ten minutes late after two false cues. Apparently Father had been delayed in arriving at church for some unknown reason.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Today’s Missal Music Issue 2014. Today’s Missal with Spanish Insert and the Spanish hymnal Flor y Canto were also in the pews but not used at this mass.

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ in the choir loft, nicely voiced and played competently. There was also a choir of six people – two men and four women.

Did anything distract you?
There were lots of restless children. A little boy in the pew in front of me enjoyed climbing up and down on the pew and sliding along it on his belly until his mother stopped him; he was a cute little boy, though.

St Mary Star of the Sea, Oceanside, CA (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly well done. The mass was "traditional" primarily in the sense that the organ was played; I wouldn’t call the hymns traditional (unless the Singing Nun has now passed into tradition) – for example, the communion hymn was Trevor Thomson’s "Healing Water". We were aspersed at the beginning of mass by the deacon wielding a metal aspergillum dipped into a clear plastic bucket while the choir sang "Water of Life". The propers were sung, and the sursum corda, preface and per ipsum were chanted. No incense, but the altar bell was rung at the epiclesis and the elevations.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Ron spoke clearly and conversationally, making good eye contact with the congregation and referring now and then to notes. His homily was well organized.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began by explaining the Christian symbol of the fish. The Greek word for fish is ichthys, the letters of which form an acrostic in Greek that translates as "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." Fish swim beautifully in water but flop about on dry land. Christians come to new life through the water of baptism, but are like fish out of water when separated from God. God is well pleased with us at the moment of our baptism, which is the beginning of our faith journey. We will grow as we go, and one day we will return to where we started, as salmon do. Will God still be well pleased with us? God made us in his image, and we should expect that there will be a family resemblance. Jesus was the Son of God at every moment of his life, and we can be like him. God’s life can be lived in the world. The world is our natural habitat, as is water for fish. Swim well!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was heavenly to hear the organ well played at a Catholic mass, rather than a folk group leading those vapid ditties one hears all too often. And the choir tried their best, God bless them, but with such thin ranks they just couldn’t carry some things off. The offertory anthem, for example, was "When Jesus Came to Jordan" but the choir just didn’t blend and their tone was wanting. I give them credit for trying, though, and that’s why I include them in the heavenly bits.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Miss Amanda was surprised (and shocked!) to hear the Angelus being used to mark the hours, and this in a church named after the Blessed Virgin under one of her titles! Not only was it rung at 9.00, but again at 10.00, followed once more by the Westminster Chime. Pay attention now, boys and girls. The Angelus is a call to devotion. It is rung three times: at daybreak, at noon and at sunset, and is designed to prompt a particular set of prayers. It is not used to mark the hours – the Westminster Chime does that, as you apparently already know. And if you’re going to ring the Angelus in church, for goodness sake have someone lead the prayers! Better still, why not just flick the switch on the electronic bells to the off position for the duration of the mass?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I’d say about a quarter of the congregation left during communion, including the family in front of me with the rambunctious little boy, but the remaining folk stayed until the very end of the concluding hymn – again, something you don’t see every day in a Catholic church. Then everyone pretty much got up and left, taking no notice of Miss Amanda trying her best to look befuddled.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was announced that the Knights of Columbus would be serving breakfast in their meeting hall and that donations would be appreciated. I had already had breakfast at my hotel, and I didn’t feel like paying for another one just for the sake of sampling the coffee. I noticed that a Knight was cooking pancakes and potatoes on a grill set up in the parking lot behind the meeting hall, and I will admit that they smelled wonderful.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If I lived in Oceanside I would want to try out the local Episcopal church. There is also a former Anglican church in Oceanside, St Augustine of Canterbury, whose congregation and clergy have been received into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, and I’d like to give them a go as well. Also a United Church of Christ that appears to have a strong music program judging from their website. So many Mystery Worship reports just waiting to be written!

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

St Mary Star of the Sea, Oceanside, CA (Ten Commandments)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Angelus ringing at 10.00.
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