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A visit to a church of a different congregation can be a very educational experience. I belong to the Baptist congregation and never had any personal experience with the Catholic Church. Obviously, I know many Catholics, but I have never visited their churches because it seemed inappropriate. For this assignment, I have chosen to visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis which is a part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The History of the Church
The Archdiocese of St. Louis belongs to the Roman Catholic denomination. It is one of the oldest churches in the area. It was founded in 1826 by missionaries and pioneers seeking escape from persecution. The church was inaugurated by multiple missionary bishops. The main effort was made by Bishop DuBourg, who was helped by Bishop Rosati. Later Bishop Rosati became the first Bishop of St. Louis. One of the main reasons for the location of the church in St. Louis was the relative proximity to the Native American territories. Bishop DuBourg was very inspired to work with the native population. As of 2017, the church is 191 years old. Over this period it has not changed its denomination and worked through many of the troubling historical events.
From 1843-1903 the church was one of the most popular places of worship among the immigrants into the St. Louis area. To help immigrants with monetary issues, Father Ambrose Heim created a banking program titled the “Bishop’s Bank” to provide loans to poor immigrant families that were unable to get loans elsewhere. During the Civil War, the church remained neutral.
The next fifty years were formative for the modern incarnation of the church. During this time the construction and decoration of the Cathedral were completed, the church began to be involved in political movements and brought special attention to the needs of the poor. This has always been a priority for the church as it is one of the base beliefs of the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, the church did not involve itself in the difficulties the African-American Christians experienced until 1937. After the Second World War, the church became one of the first to take a stand against racial segregation in schools. Up until today, the church actively responds to political changes that concern religion such as abortion legalization (“Archdiocese of St. Louis”).
I went to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis as it seemed to be one of the larger and more grandiose parts of the Archdiocese. It was completed in 1914 and is considered the mother church of the Archdiocese. The building is done in the traditional Roman Catholic style with two large towers on either side of the entrance. On the outside, a sculpture is placed dedicated to the promotion of racial harmony which was a big focus of the church since the late 1930s (“Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis”). The interior of the cathedral was beautiful. A magnificent mosaic covered the ceiling, even the complex curved areas of the dome and arches. This mosaic was only completed in 1988, and it is still emasculate. The main area of the church consists of two rows of pews before a large altar area. Above the altar, a large crucifixion is placed, as well as a smaller dome with organ pipes behind it.
For the service, I went to see the evening prayer on a Saturday. The church was about half-full with mostly older people in attendance. The audience was evenly split between men and women who both were involved in praying. The prayer was done in Latin with portions in English. This signified the traditional performance of the evening prayer. The service was performed by male members of the clergy including altar boys. I have not seen a female member of the church. Organ music was used during the singing portions of the prayer, and the acoustics of the building made it highly effective. The laypersons were showing high respect towards the clergy during and after the service as I saw them being very thankful to the people who performed the ceremony. I did not feel like an outsider, and when I approached another person who came to see the prayer, they were very welcoming and ready to help.
The visit was not as unusual as I thought it would be. While the structure certainly differed from the ones I was used to, the service and atmosphere were not foreign to me. I expected it to be much more formal, but the members of the church were very willing to communicate with people after the ceremony, and it did not feel impersonal as I thought it would. The service itself was more traditional than I was used to, as the complete duration of the evening prayer was a very structured proceeding. It initially put me off, as I felt it was too impersonal, but with time I learned to appreciate the artistry and tradition of its structure. I was most surprised by the absolutely beautiful mosaic that decorated the building. I knew it was a very large mosaic, but I was not expecting for it to leave such a lasting impression.
“Archdiocese of St. Louis.” Archdiocese of St. Louis, 2017, .
“Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.” Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, 2017.