Monday, February 1, 2010

Catholic Church Shopping Part VIII: Little Italy

The next stop on the tour was a big church in a North Shore neighborhood of Staten Island known for its narrow, labyrinthine streets and its large Italian population. This neighborhood is home to a famous Marian shrine that is an official national historic site, where a big holy day celebration is held every year, which for some reason involves a lot of gambling and dancing to the oldies. Anyway...

The parish has been around since 1902, but the old church was replaced in 1957 with a tan brick structure, whose design and materials I have seen used in other boroughs around that time period. The Vatican II era church must have thought that Catholics were too spoiled by all those centuries of beauty and grandeur, so it decided that we needed to look at blank brick walls as penance. As a nod to the past, and to avoid total disorientation, a large Byzantine-style mural was painted in the apse. I noticed an Italian flag beside the altar, but no American or Vatican flag, but I may have overlooked them. The Stations of the Cross seemed to have been taken from the old church. The only bulletin was in Italian.

The pastor of this church, at only 38 years old, is already a real big shot in this archdiocese. He's a professor of canon law at the seminary in Yonkers and was recently appointed judicial vicar of the Interdiocesan Appellate Tribunal, which is the highest court in the state for annulment cases. I believe it was he who said the Mass I attended, as the priest was young and had an air of leadership.

It seemed surprisingly sparse for an 11:00 Mass, with maybe around 75 people. The organist sang from the usual canon of modern church music, which is to say that the hymns were nothing remarkable. They were not the worst she could have chosen though. Surprisingly for a Catholic church, a few people were actually singing along. She probably didn't want to push her luck though, so she didn't sing more than 1 verse of each hymn.

The only thing to remark on about the Mass was that the sound system was screwy, as is usually the case in Catholic churches. Like some primitive tribe cowering before their first encounter with a missionary's flashlight, the concept of electronic amplification seems incomprehensible and terrifying to Catholics. The sound system is usually just terrible in Catholic churches while, as I've often complained, the tiniest storefront church has enough hardware to host 50 Cent. We just don't seem to get it. The priest's lavalier worked fine, but the microphone at the pulpit was so bad that the lector was almost inaudible. We were able to make out when he stopped speaking, which was the only way we knew when to give the responses.

As for the sermon, the priest chose to speak about that day's second reading, which was Paul's famous disquisition on love (as an aside, the lector not surprisingly chose to read the short form of the reading. I will spare you my rant on that subject). The priest had a good speaking voice. However, his subject- love- was a difficult one, being so broad, and I'm afraid he wasn't up to the task that day: love, love, love, blah blah blah, love is a charism, love is a choice, etc. More vague and ethereal platitudes. I didn't follow any of it.

Incredibly, this Mass was yet another sprint to the finish line. Some local priests seem to be trying to break some sort of record. I timed it at 35 minutes.


Brooke said...


My name is Brooke Goldfinch and I'm studying at NYU. I need to film a scene in a smallish church that is not too historic. I found your blog and it seems you know a great deal about staten island. I was wondering if you would recommend any churches that would let us film for one day in early April.

If so, my email is

Any advice you could offer regarding this subject would be greatly appreciated!


Anonymous said...

Why so critical of priests, music, the perceived blah, blah, blah?

Our Lord is present in all of the places you visit and until you find Him in the midst of all human imperfection, I believe you will continue to search and hunger in vain. Let Him in and find peace in Him.

I loved a person who has since gone home, and who taught me something which is very valuable and relevant to every person alive: when you enter the church it is our Lord who awaits you. Forget, forgive, do whatever you must to let Him in to your soul. Then you will always seek our Lord's eucharistic presence and find His embrace. No human being can do all of that for you.

Our Lord knows our church is imperfect and, yet, He remains in our midst. In a spirit of compassion I ask you to not grieve Him by judging his priests, lectors, organists, parishioners, or even yourself. Love is what it takes and we are not spectators. We make a choice to be love in motion -- a reflection of Love incarnate.

Blessings to you. Hope you find Him everywhere you visit.

Staten Pilgrim said...

I realize that the truth hurts, but it is salutary in the long run. I think a lot of Catholics like yourself, so sick of the constant attacks on the Church from heretics, pagans and degenerates, adopt a knee-jerk hostility towards any criticism of the Church whatsoever, from whatever source, no matter how just. The Church is destroying itself. I realize that we are imperfect, but it doesn't mean we have to be incompetent. I know God is present, but what does that have to do with anything? The priests never mention that God is present; the priests and the laity don't act like God is present. Something like 70% of_practicing_Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence, and you still maintain that nothing is wrong??? That's just a stubborn refusal to open your eyes. God's objective presence in the Eucharist does not prevent most Catholics from disbelieving in it, or sinning or defecting from the Church. It's up to human beings to inform, instruct and inspire, and our priests are doing JUST THE OPPOSITE. We go to church in dispiriting, soul-crushing warehouses, we hear utter stupidity from the pulpit, we're forced to sing gay music, we watch as the priests and laity sabotage any atmosphere of spirituality with constant impious and fatuous actions, and the result is a Church that is imploding. And you want me sit quietly and smile stupidly at all this active destruction? Sorry, but I don't find that argument compelling.