Sunday, May 06, 2007


The Cathedral of St. Stephen, Brisbane.

Well, it's Sunday after all! Went to the 10:00 am Mass at the Cathedral of St. Stephen, a decent if somewhat unadorned Gothic structure downtown. For some reason, the apse has been walled off (so no high altar), with a pretty stained-glass window in the middle, and is dominated by the pipes of a magnificent pipe-organ, and a striking and somewhat startling, rather modern Crucifixion dangling in mid-air above the altar. Not sure what's up with the single cross-beam. (More on the art in the Cathedral on their website.) In the apsidal area, instead, is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, not actually visible from the nave.

The Cathedral was rather packed, with several South and East Asians (most of the younger folks). The music (lead by an accomplished organist and cantor. The "Gather Australia" hymnals in the pews were not utilized.) was rather superb, the homily actually quite thought-provoking ("New" is the theme of the readings -- new creation, new Jerusalem, new commandment. How does this "new" contrast with the never-satisfying need for novelty in today's culture? The homily was followed by a brief pitch about planned giving -- apparently only half the annual budget is made up by parishioner contributions.). The presider (the Dean of the Cathedral) chanted the opening and Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer wonderfully (using the intonation found in the Missal, which is the same melody as the Exsultet). The words of the Nicene Creed were a little different, obviously influenced by Anglican usage. The only bizarre thing was a huge seemingly stainless-steel (it must have been silver. It seemed of the same color as the humongous principal chalice) flask that was used to pour the Precious Blood (yes, pouring after consecration. Tsk tsk.) into ancillary chalices prior to distribution. It looked like it belonged in a picnic basket really! The recessional was a beautiful hymn on the resurrection, set to Thaxted.

After Mass, I sauntered over next door to the St. Paul book store (run by the Society of St. Paul). They certainly have a love of Tom Wright: his works predominated in the Christology section, and I noticed a new series of commentaries on the letters of Paul by him that looked really neat. However, at AUD30 a pop, they weren't worth it. (I also chuckled on seeing his book on the saints as well -- where he pretty much decides that the traditional understanding of saints, canonization, purgatory and so on are oh, way too Roman for any serious Christian to consider.) Books are phenomenally expensive in Australia (these volumes couldn't be priced more than USD15 back Stateside!) [Later in the day at the American Bookstore downtown (the only thing American was the name, really), I spotted a volume of the letters between Peter Abelard and Heloise, a medium-sized paperback, for a whopping AUD75! Gaak!] I checked out the Catechetics section: the books look pretty much like the stuff we have in the US. The Compendium was on prominent display, as well as the Penny Catechism published by Ignatius. And the delicious irony of having a row of books by Richard Rohr right above a row of books by St. Josemaría Escriva. :-)

Two titles that looked really interesting (if horribly expensive): Michael Gilchrist's book on Australian Catholicism: Lost! and a really intriguing book that seeks to study history from a Christian perspective.

In the evening we attended the 6:00 pm Choral Evensong at St. John's Anglican Cathedral. A full congregation, since it turned out to be a special thanksgiving service for one of the people associated with the fundraising of the completion project. (The Cathedral, over a 100 years old, isn't quite yet completely built, it seems) This meant that at the end of the service we were subject to some 40 minutes of speeches, and having decided to sit up front, had no way of sidling out without attracting attention. Oh well. The service itself was quite nice, but I have no idea why they mixed Cranmer's stately English (oh for the Book of Common Prayer!) with lessons from the New Revised Standard Version. A somewhat jarring contrast, to say the least. There were some excellent choral pieces as well -- the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Stanford and a selection from Brahm's Deutsches Requiem. The Psalms were beautiful, especially Psalm 84. And as Her Majesty the Queen visits the British Crown's former Atlantic colonies, we prayed for the Queen during the service as well. :)

It was, actually, quite prayerful, and a bit wrenching too. My father absolutely loved the liturgy of the Church of England (from his days in London). He would have thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Interesting too how both services had parts that reminded us of the importance of something as mundane as money in the service of God's work.


assiniboine said...

Actually the piece from the German Requiem was Psalm 84, after the Third Collect: "In quires and places where they sing here followeth the anthem." The psalm sung to Anglican chant was the psalm of the day.

Not sure that Australia entirely qualifies as one of the British Crown's "former Atlantic colonies." That particular part of the preces and responses ("O Lord save the Queen: Because there is none other that fighteth for us but only thou O Lord") appears in the American prayer book as "O Lord save the State": rather startling to us subjects of Her Majesty when we venture into American episcopalian churches!

assiniboine said...

(I am surprised that you found it so nice, frankly. It left me a mite cold: I was much more taken with the earlier expedition to the RC cathedral and in future visitors who are minded to go to church of a Sunday will be taken there.)

Gashwin said...

(I guess I was trying to be quite nice on here! :-))