Mass for New Yorkers - Spear's Magazine

Mass for New Yorkers

Only in New York would you find getting into a church for a special service as tricky as getting an invite from Christie's.

On Sunday I went to the nationally televised 10.15am Mass service – celebrated by Cardinal Egan and with full choir – at the Cathedral of St Patrick which is a short walk from my wife's apartment here on the Upper East Side.

The first thing I liked about the church was that they employ a decent publisher for the weekly mass programmes. 'This could have been printed by Smythson's,' I muttered approvingly as we sat down and I ran my fingers across the thick cartridge paper (at least 95 grams I should think) which was printed in an unusual format (somewhere between A4 and A5) and included the diocese's heraldic looking religious crest in a subtle shade of Lenten purple.

'It's normally printed in just black,' my wife said.

In Britain, even at Westminster Cathedral – the equivalent of St Patrick's – weekly mass programmes tend to be of the cheap photocopy variety, all very amateurish church hall and Third World.

The other thing I liked about the St Patrick's stationary is that one could tell the musical director – Jennifer Pascal – is an uncompromising music snob.

Normally, you get a list of hymn numbers printed; if you are lucky you also get the words to the hymns and if you are very lucky you will get the composer's name and his dates.

With St Patrick's, you get the full music score as well as the lyrics in the original language, whether it be Latin, English, Spanish or Danish. Thus the Kyrie was taken from Anton Bruckner's Mass in D; the Memorial Acclamation was taken from the Danish Amen Mass; and the Sanctus was by Jan Vermulst.

The only problem with this rich and beautiful musical score  – and the chance that if you take communion from the Cardinal himself you might well end up on national TV – is that the service attracts a certain breed of religious or musical tourists.

So heavy is demand for certain services – such as Easter Day or Midnight Mass – you have to apply for tickets. Presumably this is so that potential worshippers can be vetted as to their spiritual suitability; do they live in the right post-code? Are they proper Catholics or just religious day-trippers?

Only in New York would you find getting into a church for a special service as tricky as getting an invite from Christie's for one of its exclusive black tie evening sales where much the same vetting procedure takes place. Are you a serious buyer? Do you come regularly? Which high dealer priests of the contemporary art world do you know personally?

In truth, it is, of course, doubtless much more difficult to get tickets for a Christie's or Sotheby's evening sale than to secure good seats at St Patrick's for mass, but that is only because, for many New Yorkers (at least until their fortunes turned to dust), collecting art has became the new social religion for the Manhattan elite.

For the wealthy Jewish community in New York, getting onto the charitable boards of the best synagogues in the City is equally as important as getting onto the boards of MOMA or being invited to the Met opening nights (such as the new Pierre Bonnard and Babylon shows which I both recommend) or auction house previews or gala parties.

The only thing that slightly ruined the service was the very unmusical noise of a screaming two year old, seated next to us, who bawled throughout Cardinal Egan's sermon on the need for self-reflection during Lent.

Instead of discreetly taking the child out of the church, the mother (who certainly didn't look like an Upper East sider) continued to scream through the Cardinal's sermon.

Maybe it was the shame of potentially being caught on national TV scurrying out of the church with an ill-disciplined child that was the reason that the mother refused to take action. But no two year old is going to appreciate the choir's star soprano, Illya Speranza, singing 'There is a Balm in Gilead' by William Dawson as the Communion Anthem.

Children are not invited along to evening sales at Christie's or Sotheby's; and I have always thought that screaming children should not be invited to weddings. I now extend this rule to nationally televised cathedral masses.