Monday, July 12, 2010

Sunday at St. Mary's (Secunderabad)

After the response I received from my very first attempt at a "Mystery Worshipers Report" (on St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Banjara Hills) a few weeks back, I guess I'll follow the same format for this week's report on the Parish of St. Mary, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.  As most of you know, and as the Ship of Fools website states: "Since ancient times (OK, 1998), Ship of Fools has been sending Mystery Worshippers to churches worldwide. Travelling incognito, they ask those questions which go to the heart of church life: How long was the sermon? How hard the pew? How cold was the coffee? How warm the welcome?..."

I am NOT an official SOF Mystery Worshipper - I don't even "play one on T.V." - but I love to read the reports...I've been a fan for years...and it is my humble opinion that any Pastor worth his salt should read it regularly as well, as the M.W.'s can be brutally honest at times, an some of the cardinal pitfalls of parish life can be avoided just by reading the honest opinions about what people really think as they visit your church!!

N.B. to my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, I mean no offense when I say this...I know that many of your parishes are alive and filled with love and are doing the Lord's work.  BUT!!  Having said that, first of all...let me say that I find it extremely sad that I had to come all the way to India to discover a Catholic Parish so alive, so vibrant, so....what's the word I'm searching for?  "Catholic".  There are eight Masses each and every Sunday.  That, right there, speaks volumes about this very special parish church in the heart of the Twin Cities area of Hyderabad/Secunderabad.  Like all great parishes through the ages: The Holy Mass is CENTRAL to what this parish community is all about!!

The Sunday Services:

6:00 am in Tamil

7:00 am in English

8:15 am in Telugu

9:30 am in English

9:15 am Children's mass

11:30 am in English

5:00 pm & 6:00 pm in English

Weekday Services:
Monday to Saturday both the 6:00 am and 6:00 pm Masses are in English

Monday 6:00 pm Mass followed by DIVINE MERCY

Tuesday 6:00 pm Mass

Wednesday 6:00 pm followed by ADORATION in St. Jude's Chapel

Thursday 6:00 pm followed by Novena to OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP

Friday 6:00 pm followed by ADORATION

Saturday 6:00 pm followed by ADORATION

O.K.  Let's begin, shall we??

Mystery Worshipper: (The Rev. Canon) Scott E. Kingsbury

The church: St. Mary's Church in of the biggest, if not the nicest, Catholic parish in the Twin Cities area.

Denomination: Roman Catholic. 100%.  No question.

Building:  Simple Gothic in architecture and design...hard to tell when it was built, because it is so well-kept, the grounds are so clean, the paint is so fresh...the love of the place by its people just makes the building and surroundings just shine!!  In some of the photos of the place, a "replica" of Michelangelo's classic sculpture "La Pieta" can be seen in the courtyard.  I put "replica" in quotes because a true "replica" would be the same size as the original.  This thing is HUGE!!  I didn't get close enough to see, but it looks like the sculptor used plaster for this piece.  It is really quite stunning.

The main church is typical...not much of a Narthex, save for the small vesting table at the back where the Celebrant's vestments were neatly arranged prior to the Mass.  The Nave has two sections of wooden pews with two small aisles on the outside (plenty of room to walk a proper procession for "Stations of the Cross" - which hang on the nave walls - and are large, colorful, traditional and beautiful!!) ...and one large main aisle down the center.  It is not nearly as gaudily or colorfully appointed as was St. Alphonsus - - more of a classic European Catholic look...although the Altar Crucifix was painted (Spanish-style) in lifelike colors - - and the altar frontal was that kind of Kelly Green that exists only in certain parts of the Catholic world (and not one that I would prefer to inhabit for eternity if I had my druthers!)

The service was done "versus populum" (facing the people) - - which I guess I should not find shocking in the Novus Ordo world of India - but what a waste.  The Altar was probably not marble, as the faces of the Twelve Apostles on the bas-relief reredos were painted in soft pastels.  It was probably plaster, as is the Pieta out front...but it would have made the perfect Altar for doing a proper "ad orientem" (facing liturgical east) Mass.

The standard-issue Indian ceiling fans whirred-away overhead...but they were interestingly mounted from arms extending-out from the pillars that went down both sides of the nave, outside the that the fans actually fanned the assembled "populum" below.  Very comfortable, climate-wise.  Except when the power decided to go off. (More on that below!)

The several structures and "out buildings" outside in the courtyard bear special mention.  As you walk in from the side gate (a few dozen beggars outside of the gate itself, very well mannered, not nearly as aggressive as the ones outside of the Banjara Hills parish!), you pass an area where the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are done in "diorama".  I'm not sure if that's the proper word...but - there are five "stations" - under glass - where the Rosary can be said/walked.  There are stone/plaster benches for those wishing to add this little bit of devotion to their Rosary recitation.  The area is about 50' x 25' - and - before the Mass, there were dozens of the gathering Faithful standing in front of the meditation stations, with Rosaries in hand.

There is another shrine as well....a huge gold and blue painted metal star forms the focal-point of the outdoor worship area...and in the center of the star, also behind glass, (more to protect Her from the elements rather than graffiti or vandalism) - is a statue of Our Lady.  I didn't linger there....I need to take a second probably was NOT Our Lady of Guadeloupe, but it was that kind of depiction...the Blessed Virgin surrounded by stars about Her head.  Very striking.  Especially when you see 20-30 worshippers kneeling on the cement hard scape courtyard - - and even a few reaching up to touch the glass in front of The Virgin Mary and kiss their hands.  Like I said...this place is CATHOLIC!!

Now, just outside of the Nave on the west side of the main building there is the "St. Jude Shrine"....this is a plain building with no seats, no pews, no kneelers...only very large and beautifully glass-encased Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament built into the "east" wall.  Inside, before Mass and after, the chapel was PACKED with kneeling men and women, participating in Eucharistic Adoration.  Again, they are kneeling right on the cement floor!!  For those not familiar with the practice, Eucharistic Adoration is a practice in the Catholic Church (mostly, but not always, in the Latin Rite) and in some Anglican churches (like my home parish of St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood!), in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed to and adored by the faithful. When this exposure and adoration is constant (twenty-four hours a day), it is called Perpetual Adoration. In a parish, this is usually done by volunteer parishioners; in a monastery or convent, it is done by the resident monks or nuns.  Again....8,700-miles from home...and I find some of the most devout Catholics I have ever witnessed!!

The church (people):  The Mass that WE attended (oh, did I forget to mention...our caretaker Krishna said he wanted to go inside, too.  As we parked the car on a side-street (the car-park was so packed with motorcycles and small autos that we couldn't get inside!) - he said that he "liked Jesus very much".  I said "So do I, Krishna...let's go!" )  I cannot talk about the people without giving you an idea about the size of the crowd!  The nave was PACKED!  The old phrase "Standing Room Only" doesn't even say the necessary here.  There were people standing in the Narthex.  There were people standing in the side aisles.  There were probably 1,500 people inside the church.  Outside in the courtyard, there were another 1,000-or-so worshippers, sitting on plaster benches and in plastic lawn-chairs.  Or standing.  It reminded me of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  These people had flocked to hear Jesus...and to be fed by Him.  It was mystical and magical!!

The mixture of people is striking.  Rich and poor, the well-dressed and the not-so-well dressed (but always the best possible can just tell!)  Some of the women are in their best silk "Sunday-go-to-meeting" sarees!! Many (but not all) had their heads covered.  Old and young alike...babies in arms, school-age kids (some well-behaved...some...well, just typical kids in church!!) Shoes for the most part are left on for Mass.  The latecomers, regardless of dress (I really don't think it was a "class" or "caste" thing...I think if you are late, you sit outside!)  The service was the biggest of the five English Language Masses for the day...and everybody seemed to speak perfectly acceptable English...the responses and the singing were crisp, loud and clear! 

The neighbourhood:  Urban.  Businesses more than houses.  Typical Hyderabad/Secunderabad - - crowded, noisy, boisterous, chaotic...lots of activity on the streets (Sunday is a shopping day....but 9:30 is a little the time Mass was was the Wild West Show!!)

The cast:  No bulletin.  The Celebrant - and elegant, shorter Indian man with perfect English...clad in one seriously shiny Kelly Green and gold-trimmed chasuble and stole (no maniple that I could see.)  Three Acolytes in red cassocks with white cowls instead of surplices or cottasSanctus Bells and Thurible, filled with "a sweet-smelling savour", were used liberally.  I had heard that St. Mary's was more "traditional" - and - I guess this is true, in comparison to the electric-blue neon tubed Crucifix and day-glow painted altar at St. Alphonsus!  But - to a true Catholic "traditionalist" like myself...the "t-word" is not something I would attribute to this Mass.  But is was superbly done, start to finish!!  A 10+ member choir, mostly women in sarees, a couple of men.  Sang with real gusto!  Another Priest came from the sacristy to assist in administering Holy Communion - - along with probably 10 "Eucharistic Ministers" - including on adorable little Indian nun in an all-white habit - - they set up "Communion Stations" throughout the nave and in various places around the courtyard.  Had this not been done, Communion-time would have lasted two-hours alone!!

The date and time: Sunday, 11 July 2010, 9:30 A.M.

What was the name of the service?  9:30 A.M. English Mass.  (If I were to name it, I would say it was the "Family Mass".

How full was the building?  110% plus standing-room-only in the courtyard, seating, outbuildings and shrines for all of the overage.

Did anyone welcome you personally?  Are you kidding me??  A priest, in full black Roman cassock and collar - at a parish that is THIS Catholic??  And a white, American priest to boot??  It was all I could do to get through the crowded courtyard full of "greeters"!  I was overwhelmed, frankly.

Was your pew comfortable?  Good question.  Let me just say " shoulda/coulda been!"  It seems that there is room for eight small adults.  I, being a bit "wider in the beam" than most Indian adults, fill a bit more space.  When Krishna and I sat down in our pew, (3/4 of the way back of the Gospel Side) - it was definitely our pew.  By the time the Mass had begun, a grandfather and his fidgety grandson (who was clutching a bright-pink plastic elephant with a squeaker!) has squeezed-in to Krishna's right...and two grown men had sat down (literally "squeezed" - no lie! - in-between one of the side pillars into the left-side of the pew) in on my left.  I moved right to make room.  These pews are designed with four wicker "seats" - - so, now with the extra personnel, my rear-end was straddling the center-beam and not too comfortably, I must say.  Kneeling on the padless kneelers was preferable, I'm afraid!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?  Prayerful, quiet, dignified...despite the large numbers of worshippers!

What were the exact opening words of the service? "Good morning Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and welcome to this celebration of the Holy Mass..."  He then did his lengthy Mass intentions prior to the actual begining of the Mass. That was different!  The intentions list was mostly for "in remembrance" of departed loved-ones, death anniversaries, special intention to various saints...strangely enough...quite a number of the family names were Hispanic!!  "Fernandez Family", "Sanchez Family"....

What books did the congregation use during the service?  That is a good question.  There were places for books in the pews...but none available.  Because I was taken with the Acolyte's warm greetings (and my first peek at Father's "shiny green and gold" Mass vestments!) - I did not see any books at the back for use.  There were very few parishioners who had very old and tattered copies of a Hymnal of musical notes, only words...similar to the old pew-editions of "Hymns Ancient and Modern" used by the Church of England for so many years.  But there was nothing "ancient" about the hymn choices. (More below)

What musical instruments were played?  A standard electronic "keyboard/organ" - - with the unfortunate setting of somewhere between "oboe" and "viola".  Ugh.  No other instruments that I could see, although some of the higher notes played by the "organist" sounded "flute-like". 

Did anything distract you?  The little boy's squeaking elephant...which I reached out and gently patted in the lad's hand once during the sermon...and - with a gentle smile from "Father K." and a look of thanks from the grandfather, he mercifully stopped squeezing.  The Celebrant's chasuble was a little distracting...and NOT because I wanted one (God forbid!!) was LOUDER than the squeaking plastic elephant!!  The music was more akin to a Wednesday night "house-church" meeting for "Praise and Worship" than it would be to a traditional Catholic Mass.  No Palestrina here!!  Oh...the power went out during one of the pre-Communion hymns....the "organ" was rendered silent...but the people kept sweetly singing!! And loudly, too!  The power was out for only a few minutes when the giant gas generator outside fired-up!  The lights flickered for some time after that!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?  Dignified, worshipful, typical Novus Ordo Mass....with loud, crisp responses ("And also with you!"...oh, well...) and singing of the "propers" (very modern. not "happy-clappy" - but far from what I would call "traditional"...if you're used to American Novus Ordo Masses, you have heard these tunes!!  A few female worshippers had their hands in the air, "charismatic style" during some of the prayers...but all was done "decently and in order" in keeping with 1 Corinthians 14:40

Exactly how long was the sermon? Fifteen minutes.  Actually, only about 1-2 sentences too long.  Well-paced.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?  He was good.  A solid 7.5.  A fairly well-worn topic, to be sure, and very hard to come up with a "new take" on the Gospel Lesson - (having preached on the same "Good Samaritan Gospel" from the One Year Lectionary myself for fifteen years!) - but it was good, well-structured, meaningful (in light of the dozens of poor beggars outside the gates of the church!) and timely.  His English diction was perfect. side-note on the Epistle Reader...he said "Dominations" instead of "Dominions" in reading St. Paul to the Colossians!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?  "Who is my neighbor??" (pretty basic stuff for the day) - - but well tied into the idea of Samaritans being treated as one of the "Untouchable" class by Jewish society...being similar to the Indian culture.  I liked it!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?  Believe it or not, for me...the fact that the Banns of Marriage for three separate couples seeking the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Church were actually read aloud...and read properly as well!!  With all of the weddings done in Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S. - I'll bet there are not more than a small handful of my RC friends who even know what the "Banns" even are!!  For those "in the know" - one was the "Final time of the asking" - - the other two were "second time" verbal Banns publishing.  Thanks be to God the traditions are kept somewhere in the world!!  Again...I had to go to India to find this???  Also - - the standard "passing of the peace" - which in the modern Roman Church, Episcopal Church and Lutheran Churches (the "peace passing" at the ELCA parish we shared with back in the days of our mission of St. Barnabas was embarrassing, frankly!) that has unfortunately degenerated into a "halftime show" of  aisle walking coupled with: "The Peace of God.  Hi, howya doin'? How are the kids?  You wanna play poker next Friday? The Peace of God..." - frankly - a horrifying sidebar ... at what should be the liturgical climax and Most Holy Time of the Sacred Mass - - well, in India, the "Peace" is passed as it would be between the Sacred Ministers at a proper Solemn High Mass....the hands folded at the chest, a slight bow of the head...with the words "Namaste" or "Peace"  Yeah...heavenly!!!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?  None.  It was perfect!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?  LOL!  Sorry...I have to laugh here.  As my good friend and Eastern Orthodox Brother in Christ, Adam Lamar, wrote on my Facebook page:  "Mystery Worshipper (??) - a 6'3" 200lb white man in Romish apparel - yep, I'm sure you will blend in and disappear in any crowd in Hyderabad..." To say I was "warmly received" wouldn't quite say enough...but - to say I was "mobbed" might be overstating things a bit.  I'd say "somewhere in-between"  Oh, and Adam...thanks for the stretch-job on my height and the 85-pound "instant diet" you bestowed on my weight!!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?  There was none....people went to their vehicles and took off.  Besides...Krishna and I had to leave because it was Suzanne's birthday and we were due at the Westin for brunch fairly soon after Mass

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?  I'll go with an 8.0 here.  With some reservation.  I am a Priest of God.  And until there is an Anglican Ordinariate here within/between the TAC/the Vatican here in India, I cannot yet celebrate on this altar, which makes me sad.  The "Anglican" church in town has a "priestess" - which makes me sad.  At least I have a place to worship and receive the Body of Christ.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?  Oh, yes.  Absolutely.  Any banquet thrown in honor of the Lord Jesus Christ where He is so obviously and Really Present....that always makes me proud to be His Disciple in this Vally of Tears!!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?  O.K.  O.K.!!  I'll admit it!  I do want to wear one of those shiny Kelly Green and Gold chasubles!!!


  1. Green and Gold?

    ~checks out blog color scheme~

    I don't doubt it!

    Another wonderful report.

  2. Hi Father Scott,
    Thanks for this wonderful piece of writing. I am well familiar with " the Ships of Fools".But yet, after a service like that I would say that I am overjoyed to love the Lord Jesus Christ. I am that already, but the service would fire me up even more.
    With every good wish in Christ to you and yours,
    Father Ed Bakker SSM
    HCC-AR New Zealand

  3. Hi Father Scott,
    Thank you very much for this wonderful review, i know its an old blog, but i just came across it. I don't know if you have heard from any others but on behalf of all of us i would like to thank you for this.I am very glad you liked our parish and also that our welcome did not fall short. It makes me feel very proud to be a St Mary's parishnor . Hope you visit us again. God Bless!
    Linda S

  4. Thank you for sharing this information,.It will be really useful for the people who dont know where to go for a church prayer in regional language.If any one is travelling to Hyderabad then you can book tickets in Meghana Travels and enjoy your visit