Church #25, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Date: 2/3/13

Church name/type: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic)

Format summary: standard Catholic mass with 360 degree style greeting

Overall Impression: the building is really the exciting part

So, back to my heritage again! A Catholic Church. It’s actually quite striking the things they’ve changed in the few years I have been absent. For example “the Lord be with you” is now followed by “and with your spirit” instead of “and also with you”. Ignoring this type of thing the mass is pretty much as I remember it.

Since the appearance of this place is its most striking feature, I will spend some time describing it. Once inside one is impressed by its size which is actually somewhat deceptive. The ceiling is very high, but the room isn’t gigantic going front to back. One can sit at the back and feel like it ought to be the middle. The other deceptive bit going on is the front doesn’t quite feel like the front. The altar is a bit removed from the seats and the readings are done from a little “tower” (not sure what else to call it) which is ascended by a short staircase. These two factors give the feeling of being removed from the priest and the action. I suppose this is intentional, albeit old-school, given the rigidity of hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church.

On this particular Sunday, I noticed it felt rather warm for such a chilly day. The warmth comes up through grates in the floor then rises to the ceiling…to warm the Saints’ toes I guess. How much does it cost I wondered to keep this building heated? My eyes were drawn everywhere by stone fixtures and stained glass. It’s really incredible to see a structure with this kind of carved stone in it today. The stone manifests itself as knots and ribbons on the ceiling, and as three dimensional, near-life-size representations of the stations of the cross around the room. As I understand it, the art of stone cutting is basically dead, so I especially enjoy having both the Cathedral and the Capitol building in Albany. The rectangle bricks making the walls are soft pink colors; joined but still distinct. Every window seems to be stained glass. This means there are two rows over every wall; a lower row and a higher row. The front and rear have fantastic large windows as well, all depicting saints and scenes biblical. The structure is such that pillars rise from the floor at regular intervals to meet the ceiling above. These pillars are grooved and lined to mesh with the linearity of the other architectural elements and the orderly layout of the building. I could spend many many Sundays ignoring mass while I stared at the beauty of the building, following lines with my eyes and fondling the smoothness of stone beyond the reach of my fingers’ touch. This, I suppose, is why the ancient church built cathedrals. To be inside something like this was meant to elevate from the ordinary and bring one to a realm of the supernatural.

So what about the service itself? Well, it didn’t do much for me. There was no one greeting people at the door so I helped myself to a bulletin. It’s good that I did because this church has no missals, songbook, or books of any kind in the pews. Even with a pamphlet of the mass format, I noticed the actual words don’t follow it exactly, which was a bit distracting. At the end of mass we had the option to have a throat blessing to protect against illness. I’ve gotten this once before. The priest uses a pair of crossed candles and puts them on the sides of your neck with some words. This time the priest used a giant two pronged candle. It was kinda cool. I could have talked to the priest this time but I couldn’t think of anything to say. There didn’t seem to be any fellowship hall and everyone else left. So I just left.

The big question: How do these people fellowship?

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