February 10, First Sunday of Lent
Parish: St Joseph Catholic Church
125 E. Broadway
Shelbyville, IN 46176
Number of families: 858
Church capacity: 700
The current building is over 100 years old. At first glance, I thought it was an Orthodox church. Happily, I was wrong. The church is tannish-gray. It very much looks like part of the urban landscape. It has two tall steeples on either side of the main entrance (Unfortunately, I just don’t have the vocabulary of architectural terms to describe it adequately. I ma not know art, but I know what I like). It has an attached school, which detracts quite a bit from the aesthetic beauty.
The interior is beautiful. Big and airy, with thick marble columns and solid oak pews, a fine example of 1900s church design. In many ways, it reminds me of Holy Rosary. The high altar at the back of the sanctuary is gorgeous, with almost a dozen statues of Jesus and the saints in niches throughout. The side altars are intact as well. Thankfully, the only major concession to Vatican II is a carved wooden altar in the middle of sanctuary. By itself, the dark wood altar looks fine, but in contrast with the ivory-colored high altar and side altars, it looks very out of place.
I noticed that the confessional was the old-style room with three doors, and there was an abundance of stained glass along the side of the church, and even over the side altars.
My ranking: 4 out of 5.
As I walked in, the choir was rehearsing. I have to say, they weren’t half-bad. Nothing spectacular, but they managed to hit the high notes, particularly during the consecration. The cantor, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. Shat she lacked in tonality, she made up for with volume. She was loud even without the microphone.
I didn’t see the pipe organ, but I heard it. At times, I wasn’t sure if it was a real pipe organ or a digital one. Some of the hymns started off with a decidedly electronic sound.
Then again, the hymns were probably written on an electric organ. Not a one predated the 1970s, and most of them were from the late 80s or early 90s. In other words, rubbish. Even with a good choir, the best they could do was to keep them from being overly grating.
Before the Mass, one of the choir members talked to the congregation. Apparently, they felt the people needed to practice singing the communion hymn. That’s always a bad sign; either they have a usual set of communion hymns and this one was far out of the ordinary, or last week’s hymn was pretty poorly sung by the people.
My ranking: 3 of 5.
Fr. Craig acts just like you would expect a middle-aged man in charge of the only Catholic parish in a small city to act. He looks after his church, deals with all the usual administrative tasks, and is content to live a simple life. In looks and behavior, he was thoroughly average. If he wasn’t a priest, I could see him working in middle management in an office.
I noticed right off the bat that he had a headset mike instead of a lapel mike, a sure sign of a “walking around” homily. True to form, he was about 3 or 4 rows deep into the pews as he spoke. Just from that homily, I learned a lot about him; he has a dog named Luke which will be featured in the local paper, he was just like every other kid growing up and disobeyed his parents, and he will never win any awards for motivational speaking. In other words, a thoroughly human priest.
He stuck to the rubrics in textbook fashion, nothing to complain about there, except for one glaring fault: during the elevation of the Body and Blood during the consecration, he barely kept them up there for more than a second. Normally when the priest raises the host and the chalice, I solemnly say “My Lord and My God”. This time, I barely was able to say it when he elevated the host, and only got as far as “My Lord” when he momentarily elevated the chalice. This is our Lord’s Body and Blood we’re talking about; let’s not rush the adoration.
My ranking: 3 of 5.
Other than the few complaints I listed above, there really was nothing wrong with the liturgy. It’s the season of Lent, so a lot of the bells and whistles (such as the Gloria or the Alleluia) are missing. However, they did sing the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Lang of God in the usual recognizable style, simply putting the spoken prayer to music. Their lectors actually sounded like they had read the Scripture passages beforehand, so they were able to give the correct inflection to the readings instead of just reciting it blindly. They prayers for intercession were lead by a member of the choir, and the responses (“Let us pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer”) were sung.
Of course, you can’t have everything. During the Lord’s Prayer, everyone in the congregation joined hands or stood in the Orans posture, with hands raised. I don’t do that; I pray with my hands pressed together at my chest. Well, the man standing at the other end of the pew made a beeline for me and sent to take my hand. I half-turned my back to him, and he had a bemused look on his face for a few seconds. I wasn’t trying to be uncharitable; I just don’t feel comfortable praying while holding hands with others (that is how our Presbyterian family used to say grace at family dinners; it seemed hokey then, and it really feels hokey now).
My ranking: 3 of 5.
Three altar servers, all boys. Two in sneakers.
Memo to the teenager who was carrying the offerings to the priest: if you’re going to church, especially if you’re going to be walking down the center aisle, you probably don’t want to be wearing skintight pants with the word “Pink” across your butt.
There wasn’t a recessional after Mass; the priest and altar boys simply exited out the side door to the sacristy.
One of the elder Eucharistic lay ministers was walking to the altar, tripped on a low step leading to the sanctuary, and almost pulled the altar cloth (and the lit candles) down on top of him. I think he twisted his ankle; it took three people to assist him back to his seat.
My overall ranking: 3 of 5.
Would I return: quite possibly.
This church will never be a showplace, but it is a good community. They have kept the pre-Vat II altars and ornamentation, and that definitely works in their favor. There wasn’t anything fiery or razzle-dazzle energizing about the Mass, but sometimes you don’t want that. All you want is a good, simple Mass, and that is exactly what I got. The drive isn’t much further than driving to the north side of town for work, and once the weather warms up, it might be nice to take the scenic route.