Church review: St. Columba Cathedral, Youngstown

This morning I did the 25 miles or so to Y-town, to check out the Cathedral. I was originally going to do it last week, but Dave J. wheedled me into singing for him, so it got put off. I don’t get to Youngstown very much; if I didn’t work in Cleveland, that would probably be my cultural hub. From what I’ve seen, it’s not much worse than Cleveland, but they don’t have Grigory Potyomkin working as their urban planner.

St. Columba was founded in 1847. The original cathedral burned in 1954, and the present building replaced it. The interior architectural detail is very ’50s modern, and mostly holds up well, though the pastel mosaic covering the structural members is something only James Lileks could love. More importantly, it is a CHURCH, not a rental hall, with lots of bare stone and a mile-tall ceiling, and seating facing God instead of your neighbor.

There were actually printed bulletins with hymnbook numbers, and no advertising. My Protestant brethren might not realize how rare it is to find either of these two elements alone, let alone together. And the first element in the order of service was “Introit”. It was the only Proper sung, and really more in the nature of a prelude before the starting time of the service. But the cantor and a voice in the choir loft sang an antiphon and psalm responsorially in chant, and it was magical. (I’ve only realized in the past year that Introits can have more than one verse.) And then they did ANNOUNCEMENTS (usually at the Dismissal) and blew the magic.

The functional Introit (what was processed to) was “40 Days ” (Heinlein), which I wrote a choral prelude on, so you could bet I approved. All three hymns (Introit, Offertory and Communion) were traditional, and they sang all verses. The offertory was “Jesus walked this lonesome valley”, which is not really my thing, but I have no rational objection to it. The Kyrie was chant, and IN LATIN. Ditto the Agnus. The cantor had a beautiful voice, and was MALE (It might be my stick-up-the-arse traditionalism coming through, but if the Psalm is delivered from the ambo as the documents require, it should be a guy…though oddly, I didn’t find it objectionable that women did the readings from the ambo.) But the cantor and that somebody from the loft (possibly the organist, Dr. Daniel Laginya; I didn’t see anyone else) were the only voices I heard.

There were two bits of drama, one minor, one major. First, they were doing the Sign of Peace, and there was this baby in front of me who was being moderately distracting (not a bad kid, just acting his age), so I figured I’d give him a handshake too, figuring he could use a little peace. And Mom said, matter-of-factly, “I’ll wash his hand later.” She was not bitchy at all about it, and at first it passed me by. Then I realized, “Oh yeah, I’ve been snuffling and snorting back here, and she doesn’t want me to get her kid sick.” I’d been thoughtless. But then I thought of the adults whose hands I shook with the hand I blew my nose with, who were going up to receive Communion in the hand, and how EF people don’t have that problem. Anyway, whoever you are, Ma’am, I’m praying for your kid, and I’m sorry I touched him without your say-so.

The other concerned this old guy who was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. He’d gotten his things from the altar and was going out, and suddenly there was this 5 seconds that felt like an eternity where he was getting ready to go down, was fighting it, and went down. He didn’t trip; it seemed as if his legs wouldn’t carry him any more. They got him up and back to his seat, and while they distributed, the hazmat team got to work cleaning up the Body and Blood of our Lord. I felt bad for the guy, not so much for his physical condition but because I knew he must be mortified and considering retiring from EMHC-ing. Maybe you don’t need many, or any, EMHCs for a 50 minute service, but it’s surely important to him that he’s doing it.

It was a solid homily (well, from the bishop I should hope so) and a well-organized service following the letter of Vatican II. If this were a parish church, I’d be thrilled to death; indeed, it was one of the finest OF Masses that I’ve attended.. But this is the cathedral; they did it right, but on the cheap. Two voices was all they could find, sitting next to a university with a solid music department? There were no volunteers for a chant schola? It could be there is a back story to this: there was an anthem announced in the bulletin that never got sung. But I also observed that the bishop did not sing a note. Usually even a tone-deaf priest can manage a recto tono for “through him, with him…” So maybe he’s just not into music, which would explain some of the dodgier church music that I’ve heard in the diocese. But it also suggest that there is either no place or too much place in the Church for somebody with my particular skills.

Side note: I recently heard the argument that it was more reverent to have a solemn organ postlude in Lent (as opposed to following the rubrics and killing the beast) than to have people talking as they left. Here, we had the worst of both worlds: a solemn postlude that people talked over.

UPDATE 8/13: They DO have music at St. Columba…it’s just at 4PM. Why that time, I haven’t a clue…maybe so YSU singers can double-dip (or sing for free and still make ends meet). Lots of concerts on Sunday afternoons though. All the facts are here, including a nice Renaissance alternatim Ave maris stella.

2 Responses to Church review: St. Columba Cathedral, Youngstown

  1. Karen Barr says:

    I am a member of St. Columba Cathedral choir. We sing at 4:00 pm Sunday mass because many of the choir members work in other churches.

  2. jeffreyquick says:

    Yeah, I figured that. I’ve often got Cleveland Composers Guild concerts on Sun. PM so it wouldn’t work so well for me. (I’ve got an 11 AM I sing in Cleveland, Dave Jaronowski at Mary Queen of Peace). Still, since I DO live in the Diocese, who knows what might happen?

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