The Church of St. Francis of Assisi located at Midtown Manhattan and a parish of the Archdiocese in New York has their service on Sundays. The architectural style of this church is Gothic revival with pointed window frames and Gothic decoration inside and outside the building. The decorations include mosaics, stained glass windows and statues of the saints in several shrines. It is furnished in simple wooden pews with a well built altar as well as having a church organ. All members of this Catholic Church are expected to visit at least one of their services every Sunday. At the entrance of the Church just next to the door there is a stone bowl known as a stoup which contains holy water. Everyone entering the church for service has to dip their hands in the holy water and make the sign of the cross with it. After making this sign of the cross the worshipper faces the altar, kneels down and again makes the sign of the cross.
The service usually follows a similar pattern each week. In the first part of the service, readings are taken from the ‘Old Testament’ as well the ‘New Testament’ from the Holy Bible. These are read by different members of the congregation including even children some times. After these readings, the Priest will read another passage from a Gospel of the new testament of the Bible. This first segment of the service is mainly centered on hearing the word of God. The priest and his attendants proceed to the altar then the priest together with congregation participates in the Penitential Rite, which simply consists of acknowledging that each one is a sinner and have sinned in one way or the other in the course of the week. This is then followed by the rite of petitioning or litany where the phrase Lord, have mercy, is repeated as response to the priest’s litany, sometimes singly and at times triply as a public expression of shame and guilt for all sin against God.
A prayer and a hymn of adoration for God are done next comes a prayer which is addressed to all three persons of the Holy Trinity, and this prayer sets the mood for the remaining part of prayers as well as Bible readings during the service. What I read in blog and saw in that church is that every service has their own distinctive prayers and readings selected by the Catholic Church and not the individual parish. Readings of the selected passages for the day are done by a qualified lector. After the readings, the congregation, that had been seated, stands up as the priest reads other passages of the holy Gospel. Because these passages are considered as the very words as well as deeds of Christ and must be respected, this respect is demonstrated by standing.
In the course of the service hymns as well as prayers are sung. The Catholic congregation believes that worshipping God and praying are performed together with the saints with Mary, Jesus’ mother, being one of the foremost important saints whom prayers are conducted with. The congregation at this church believes that the saints speak to God on their behalf and while in their own prayers, some members of the congregation use a set of beads known as the Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which they use to say special prayers.
Next then follows the homily which is the teaching conducted by the Priest. Some prayers are also said during the homily. The congregation gets seated while listening to the homily. The difference between a homily and a sermon is that the homily is an explanation as well as reflection upon the Word of God which is read only by the clergy. The priest or deacon links the Scripture readings with the everyday lives of the church congregation, the church teachings, or any specific celebration at hand. After the homily, next follows the Creed or Profession of Faith, this in a few words combines all the teachings of the Church service. After this follows the Prayers of the Faithful, these are petitions for the Church, the pope, the nation, present concerns, as well as many other matters and to these the congregation respond with “Lord, hear our prayer” or “Hear us, O Lord.”
In the second segment of the service, various gifts are offered to God including food stuff and money. After the offerings have been given, follows the Holy Communion. During the communion, the congregation not only remembers Jesus’ Last Supper but they relive it. The priest first takes the consecrated bread then sips the consecrated wine from a chalice. Thereafter, congregation members who are allowed to communicate approach the priest for their holy communion. To receive the Holy Communion, members of the congregation go to the front of the church, stand next to the altar rail then they receive the bread from the Priest.
Prior to receiving the Communion, each catholic must make a certain sign of reverence such as bowing the head, sign of the cross or kneeling. After the Holy Communion, has been taken the members of the congregation will return to their pews, pray silently for a short moment then sit down. The service then comes to an end with blessings from the priest to the congregation then the priest sends them forth to put the Word of God into practice as well as spread it to others. I noted that service was divided in the three segments as a tradition and accommodated several activities within the three hours that were taken. However, the portion off homily seemed to be more important than the rest since explanation as well as reflection upon the Word of God was given. Prayers were also said during this portion more than in other parts of the service.
Throughout the service, I noted that all leaders and worshippers leaving or getting into pulpit bows facing the leaders. Then they would symbolically make a sign of cross, by touching the forehead, abdomen, right and then left shoulder using the right hand. These bodily motions, I learnt, were a way to show respect to the pulpit, which was regarded as the central point of the church. Various senses such as touch, hearing and sight were used in the worship. The choir master would introduce a song by singing the first stanza, then the worshippers would join through gestures and bodily movements. They would make complete turns and then each lifted up the hand of the neighbor with great ululations especially during the climax of worship. I noted the worship session took approximately half an hour and most of the worshippers were sweating.
The form and content of the service seemed related and well-structured since the readings were on the same theme, of thanksgiving. The worship songs had the same theme too and this made the sermon sink. The general mood of the service was calm, especially during the homily part, when all worshippers seemed to be meditating and analyzing the message from the readings. The priest used low tone, with strong words and together with lots of humor that made the service real and lively. The worship service implied a close and friendly kind of God since the mention of His name was often. However, the priests seemed to be closer to God than the congregations based on the respect and recognition they were given. Personally, I enjoyed the worship service but I don’t support the idea of bowing before the sculpture of ‘Jesus’ at the pulpit as for me it does not seem right.