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2837: Cathedral of St Simon & St Jude, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Sts Simon & Jude Cathedral, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Cathedral of St Simon & St Jude, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Phoenix.
The building: The building was dedicated in December 1966 and became a cathedral with the formation of the Diocese of Phoenix in 1969. It is apparently the only Roman Catholic cathedral in the world whose name honors the two apostles in question. It's a large, modern, red brick building with white stone trim. The sanctuary features a free-standing white marble altar atop a white marble platform, with baldacchino and a matching Blessed Sacrament altar behind it. Portraits of Saints Simon and Jude hang on either side of the sanctuary. In the north transept are the organ console, a piano, and chairs for the choir. Colorful, abstract stained glass windows line the side walls and the rear wall of the gallery.
The church: The cathedral sponsors several ministries, including a St Vincent de Paul Society, bereavement counseling, youth groups, scouts, and Knights of Columbus. They also maintain a school and gift shop. Each Sunday the 9.00am mass is broadcast over local television.
The neighborhood: As the city of Phoenix has grown, once fashionable neighborhoods have become less so. Such is the fate of the 27th Avenue – Maryland Avenue site of the cathedral. Apartment complexes catering to those who would prefer not to sign long-term leases are interspersed with strip malls anchored by pawn shops and auto-title loan establishments.
The cast: The Most Revd Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, presided. Bishop Olmsted was assisted by the Very Revd John Lankeit, rector; the Revd Mr Chuck Shaw, deacon; other unnamed priests, deacons and servers; and Tony Smith, master of ceremonies. The choir was conducted by Matthew Meloche, director of sacred music.
The date & time: Good Friday, April 3, 2015, 3.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Pontifical Good Friday Liturgy.

How full was the building?
About seven-eights full – pretty well filled up in the front, with the back pews filled a little more sparsely.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – plain wooden pew, no cushion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Dead quiet. The sanctuary looked so stark, having been stripped of all its trappings.

Sts Simon & Jude Cathedral, Phoenix, AZ (Clergy)

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service opened with the altar party prostrating themselves in silence. The first spoken words were those of the collect for the day: “Remember your mercies, O Lord...”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The paperback bilingual Celebremos/Let Us Celebrate plus a music handout.

What musical instruments were played?
None, as befits Good Friday. The choir sang a cappella from the gallery.

Did anything distract you?
There were several nuns in the congregation; I had a bit of fun piecing out what orders they belonged to judging from their habits: Dominicans, Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order), and Loreto Sisters. The service was being broadcast live on local television, but I’m happy to say that the cameras were managed in such a way so as not to be intrusive in the least – although one camera, mounted on a boom, swooped down awfully close to people's heads every once in a while!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was the standard Good Friday liturgy: collect, scripture readings, Passion according to John, sermon, solemn collects, veneration of the cross with reproaches, communion from the reserved Sacrament. The Passion was recited, but the solemn collects were chanted. I’ll have more to say about the music below. The cathedral prides itself on its attention to liturgical detail, and this service was a textbook illustration of how to do it properly. The bishop removed his shoes and socks before kneeling to venerate the cross. Most people bent or knelt to kiss the cross, which the deacon then wiped with a cloth. Good Episcopalian me kissed my fingers and then pressed them to the cross.

Sts Simon & Jude Cathedral, Phoenix, AZ (Veneration)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Bishop Olmsted’s thesis was sound and well developed, but he read his sermon from a prepared text. This surprised me, as I’ve heard him preach before and he’s been better in my opinion. He spoke first in Spanish and then in English.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Today’s service is not a funeral, but rather a joyous celebration. Jesus died for our sins, but it was a victorious moment. Jesus chose freely to die, just as he chose freely to rise from the dead. The cross is love – a love stronger than all evil. Jesus’s outstretched arms snatch us from darkness and draw us into the kingdom of life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was absolutely stunning! For the veneration of the cross, the handout listed Reproaches by the 20th century English composer John Sanders and Vexilla Regis Prodeunt by Anton Bruckner. But as the veneration took longer than anticipated (see below), the choir continued to sing one Renaissance polyphonic motet after another, most of which I didn’t recognize. They must have been rehearsing for months! The Reproaches sounded strangely dissonant at first, but as the piece unfolded I was overwhelmed by the sheer emotion that it expressed. During communion the choir sang “O Sacred Head” to the standard melody plus a Stabat Mater by the 17th century Mexican composer Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla. Their intonation was Renaissance perfect; their pitch spot on; their blend flawless. Clearly the best choir I’ve heard in a Catholic church in a very long time – or in any church, for that matter. Not a note of Singing Nun ditties anywhere to be heard.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not really hellish, but I’ve nowhere else to mention it. The veneration of the cross took much longer than I think anyone had planned – a good 45 minutes at least! But the whole 45 minutes was filled with the most glorious polyphony, as mentioned above. Also, the microphones were not uniformly adjusted; this was most noticeable during the reading of the Passion, where Pilate was much louder than the narrator, but Jesus (the bishop speaking from his throne) could barely be heard.

Sts Simon & Jude Cathedral, Phoenix, AZ (Communion)

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone left in silence, again as is befitting Good Friday.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I’m going to give it a 9 because most people think this question is intended to “rate” the service, and it was indeed letter-perfect and highly inspirational. I only fault it for the Passion having been read rather than chanted. But I am not Catholic, and I cannot subscribe to some of the teachings of the Catholic Church, so I will not be making the cathedral my regular. I may watch Sunday mass on television one day soon, though, to see if the choir are as good every week as they were today.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The wonderful music.
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