A Brisbane City Icon
Today I’m visiting a Brisbane city icon: St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Set amongst the high rises of the CBD, the cathedral’s Gothic style architecture stands out. It was the first Catholic Church in Brisbane and is now the oldest church in Queensland.
There are three services available on a Sunday: 8 am Mass, 10 am Solemn Mass and a 12 pm Mass. I am attending the 10 am Solemn Mass.
As a non-Catholic, I was definitely curious about the difference between Solemn and regular Mass so I did a little research first to ensure I didn’t do anything to embarrass myself at the service.
A Solemn Mass is a service where the words are mostly sung. Incense is burnt as a sort of prayer or gift to God throughout the service and is waved over objects of significance (the Bible, the altar, the cross etc). It is full of ritual and tradition.
The Solemn Mass Service
I arrive 20 minutes early (highly unusual) and I consider leaving to go for a walk to kill some time. But as I sit observing and experiencing the atmosphere, I realise that this time is very sacred for the people already here and I feel a little privileged to witness their reflections and prayers.
There’s an air of authenticity as people silently enter, bow or curtsey before the crucifix, take their seats and pray.
An older couple a few rows in front of me are kneeling in their pew, their heads bowed in prayer. The man has clearly just had surgery or suffered an injury: his head is partly shaved and the stitches are showing.
There is a genuine spirituality in these silent, personal moments.
There are no projectors inside St. Stephen’s. Catholics are well rehearsed in their liturgy – they know the songs, responses and prayers well so there is little need to project the words. A songbook is provided for those who want it.
There are many customs I am unfamiliar with:
- Holy water is at the entrance, people dip their fingers in it and make the sign of the cross
- People kneel or curtsey whenever walking up to, or past, the crucifix.
- At various times during the service people make the sign of the cross and I can’t remember if it’s left or right first.
I am a foreigner in these lands. Whilst I don’t feel unwelcome, I do feel slightly out of place.
The service begins with the sound of a bell. A procession of ministers and the choir enter the church. They are singing and waving incense as they walk around the room.
When they take their place at the front of the church, we respond by singing the words printed on our sheets. We have been standing for around 15 minutes by the time the rituals and songs are completed.
This week’s reading is from Matthew 28: 16-20