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2888: Cathedral of the Incarnation, Granada, Spain
Granada Cathedral (Exterior)
Photo: © Ingo Mehling and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Quixotic Don.
The church: Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación (Holy Metropolitan Cathedral Church of the Incarnation), Granada, Spain.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Granada.
The building: A masterpiece of the Spanish Renaissance, built on the site of a former mosque. Begun shortly after the expulsion of the Moors in 1492, it took almost 100 years to build, and even so the facade was never completely finished. One enters a huge space lined with side chapels opening off the colonnaded aisles. There are pews only in the centermost part of the cathedral; the sides are mostly empty space and were roped off from tourists on the morning I attended mass. At other times one pays four euros to tour the side chapels and artworks. The high altar sits under a dome, and the versus populum altar sits in front of it. The archbishop’s throne is to the right. The walls are lined with paintings by the great masters of the Spanish Renaissance.
The church: As can be imagined, the cathedral is a prime tourist attraction. When not serving in that capacity, there are several masses celebrated each day, as well as lauds and noonday prayer.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is located in central Granada off a plaza filled with sidewalk cafes and souvenir vendors of all sorts.
The cast: The Most Revd Javier Martínez Fernández, Archbishop of Granada, was the celebrant. He was assisted by his chaplain in full eucharistic vestiture and a master of ceremonies in alb and stole, both of whom concelebrated mass with him. There were also a crucifer, thurifer, boat boy and acolytes, all in white albs. Two cantors and two lay readers wore street clothes. The archbishop wore a pallium over his chasuble. The pallium, worn only by the Pope and by metropolitan archbishops to whom the Pope has granted the privilege, is made of lamb's wool and represents the role of the Pope or metropolitan as shepherd of souls.
The date & time: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 19 July 2015, 12.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Misa (Mass).

How full was the building?
At the beginning of mass it was about half full, but by the end of the archbishop's sermon it had completely filled up.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Only one of the cathedral doors was open. Two men outside the door were begging for money. Inside, a guard was preventing people from entering while the earlier mass was still in progress. As soon as that mass had let out, he unfastened a rope to let people in. Welcome me personally? I wouldn’t quite say that.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was OK – an unpadded wooden pew. The kneelers were also unpadded and a little hard on the knees.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were snapping photos despite prominently displayed signs that read "No Fotos, No Videos." But the guards didn't seem to mind. A guard carrying a nightstick and handcuffs was preventing people from crossing a rope that separated the sanctuary from the nave. Even so, several families with children passed through the rope and took seats in the north transept. I thought the children might be baptismal candidates or first communicants, but apparently they were neither. A few minutes before mass began, the archbishop entered in a black clerical suit and greeted these families before going off to vest. A sacristan in street clothes lit the high six candles on the high altar, and the lights were gradually brought up. The guard removed the sanctuary rope and discretely retired, taking his nightstick and handcuffs with him. An elegantly dressed older lady sidled into the pew next to me and asked me (in Spanish) if I was there for mass.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

What musical instruments were played?
None. A pipe organ beautifully encased on either side of the nave remained silent. Two female cantors sang a cappella.

Did anything distract you?
As the archbishop sat on his throne, a little boy acolyte sat next to him in attendance. He was so short his feet didn't reach the floor. He also yawned incessantly. One of the lectors was so short that the top of her head could barely be seen over the lectern as she read the Old Testament passage.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A beautifully celebrated mass with billows of incense galore! Parts were chanted, parts were recited, but I wouldn´t call it a high mass. The two women cantors sang beautifully, at times in two part harmony. The acolytes carried out their roles masterfully, although the little short-legged yawning boy was a bit bumbling and had to be corrected from time to time by the older boys. As mentioned, the archbishop's chaplain and the master of ceremonies concelebrated mass with the archbishop. At the prayers of the people, we sang (in Latin) "Te rogamus, audi nos" (We beseech you, hear our prayer) after each intercession. At the exchange of peace, the children sitting in the transept all came forward to be kissed by the archbishop; otherwise I'd say the peace ceremony was relatively tame.

Granada Cathedral (Censing)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The archbishop spoke very conversationally and with many hand gestures. It was clear that he meant every word of what he said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It is good that we have come out of the noonday sun to worship God, as he is our shepherd and will protect us. Modern men are like sheep without a shepherd. We have lost track of what is right and what is wrong – we are confused. We are alone. We hunger for meaning in life, but we don't think that God is the answer. We try to fill the emptiness, and time and time again we fail. But Jesus invites us: "Come to me." Whatever it is we need, it is the Lord who can satisfy us. Go to him. Thank him. Know what it is that he gives us each time we receive him in the eucharist. As we pray in the mass: "O Lord, multiply upon us the signs of your grace."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was a beautifully celebrated mass in one of the world's great cathedrals. The music and ceremony were especially heavenly.

Granada Cathedral (Archbishop)

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My only complaint is the absence of pew sheets with the day's readings, prayers and music, but that seems to be the norm in Spain. As a visitor whose native language is not Spanish, I would have very much appreciated something to follow along with.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We sang a final hymn and then the altar party processed out. Most of the people processed out too, and then the photo-taking resumed. The lady who had sat next to me nodded a good-bye as she left. The lights were dimmed again, the ropes were put back in place, and the guard came back in with his nightstick and handcuffs. Some people had managed to get past the barriers for a closer look at the side chapels, but I couldn't figure out how they had done it.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None. It was siesta time, so I went directly back to my hotel with a resolve to enjoy some tapas later.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in Granada, I would love to attend mass regularly at the cathedral. I would want to know, however, if there were any activities or ministries provided for the parish regulars, and if that beautiful organ was ever played.

Granada Cathedral (Organ)

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The short-legged acolyte who yawned.
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