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As part of her confirmation program, I accompanied my daughter and her class to the Cathedral Basilica this past Sunday to attend their 10 AM Mass. I had not been to the Cathedral before, so I thought I'd post a short trip report. I have to admit that when I discovered the class was going to the Cathedral, I recommended they change venue to a place where Mass is celebrated in a more contemporary style of worship, particularly where music was concerned. The Catholic Student Center at Washington University, St. Francis Xavier College Church, or even a trip across the river to Our Lady of the Snows Shrine came to mind.
We entered the sanctuary just as Mass began, so we sat near the rear of the sanctuary. This was a mistake, as it was difficult to see much of what was happening. It's probably difficult to hear anything in that very reverberant building: there is at least a six-second hang to sound in the room. Churches of similar acoustical structure in Europe have moved to almost personal speakers placed in the pews, so that the amplification can be set quite low. That arrangement enables everybody to hear without having echo distract from what is being said. It's fair to say that the acoustics of the Cathedral were not designed so that anything could be heard articulately. However, there is a real majesty in the sound of the organ, choir, and even the sparse congregational singing that makes the space acoustically special.
There was not a true entrance song, but instead a piece was sung responsorially. There was a nice program printed that had all the music (notated) one would need from the pews. I happened to know the cantor for this Mass, but I can say objectively she was outstanding. Jade Lin Hornbaker studies music at Washington University, and she sang beautifully and invitingly. I'm not certain who played organ, but the accompaniment was very good. In that room, once the music starts, it is difficult to hear the actual line of music, but the choir, soloist, and organ stayed together.
The setting of the responsorial psalm was composed by Marty Haugen, who is responsible for much of the relatively contemporary music of the Catholic church. Almost all the other settings were older or much older, and the settings of the Mass parts: Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei (all done in Latin) were the settings I used to play in Houston at the Church of the Annunciation. That church is situated in a mostly Hispanic parish, so the Latin settings were easier for the congregation to understand than the English versions.
After Mass, a Deacon greeted us and answered questions. I asked how the music of the St Louis Jesuits had affected worship there, and his answer indicated that this particular place of worship was answering the challenge to determine what music is truly suitable for worship. While his examples of unsuitable pieces included Elton John's "Candle in the Wind", he seemed to be dismissing much of the music one might hear in a church with higher and younger attendance. Certainly from the sample of music at that Mass, I would say the music was more traditional and less accessible than one might find in other churches today.
We were offered no tour of the building, which is a shame, since it would have been nice to see more of what it has to offer architecturally and aesthetically. I must say I enjoyed the visit more than I thought I would, and I would recommend it as a place to observe a fairly traditional and beuatifully implemented Catholic Mass.
If you stumble on this post in search of a place to attend Mass in St. Louis, the Cathedral should be on your short list. I would also recommend the St. Louis Abbey and the St. Francis Xavier College Church.
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