Sunday was the final day of our trip to Los Angeles, and it wasn’t really supposed to be much of a day for us. The plan was to get up early, pack up our things, find a place to attend Mass, and make the long drive back to Phoenix.
In fact, it turned out to be a day of pleasant surprises.
Once again, we arose early, and mindful of the Mass we’d be attending, we wanted to eat light. We wanted to try something a little different than the deluxe continental breakfast at the hotel, so we walked a block to a nearby donut shop. We each had a donut and a drink, and although they weren’t the best donuts we’d even had, they were far being from the worst. The coffee was pretty bad, but everything was cheap. With a long drive later in the day, I didn’t want to start out with too much coffee anyway.
We headed back to the room and started getting ready to check out. In the meantime, I called around to find out mass times. Typically, when Kathryn and I go out of town for the weekend, I call ahead before we leave to find out Mass times at nearby churches, allowing us to plan accordingly. This time, I researched the nearby churches but forgot to write down the Mass times. The church nearest to the hotel was the cathedral for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Our Lady of the Angels, but we thought it might be nice to go back to St. Francis of Assisi where we were the morning before. However, when I called St. Francis for Mass times, I ended up in a voice response endless loop, and naturally the office wasn’t open. So I ended up calling the cathedral and found its Masses in English were at 8 and 10. It was already after 7 and we hadn’t showered or packed yet, so we planned for the Mass at 10.
We checked out of the hotel and arrived at Our Lady of the Angels around 9:30. I’d never been to a church quite like it before. It sits on a massive complex, with its own multilevel parking garage and plaza, including a restaurant and gift shop. Its modern architecture, admittedly somewhat imposing and unpleasant when viewing it from the freeway, is much more appealing close up. It’s hard to describe the inside of the cathedral, but the way the lines of the structure itself came together with the sacred art adorning its walls really just worked for me. I guess I was surprised that concrete poured a few years ago could evoke the same emotions as stone laid centuries ago. I liked it.
We were also surprised to see a number of our fellow parishioners there. We had assumed most of them would go back to St. Francis, especially since many of them had chosen hotels closer to that church, whereas Kathryn and I had opted for the cheaper downtown option. Maybe the Mass times were more convenient at the cathedral, we thought. It would become clear later why so many were at this Mass.
Since we had arrived quite early, we had a lot of time to ourselves before the Mass began, so we sat close to one another in our pew and admired the church. About 20 minutes before Mass was scheduled to begin, one of the ushers asked the couple seated next to us if they’d like to present the gifts. They were reluctant, so the usher then asked us. For those of you who don’t know what this means, during some Masses, before communion, the unconsecrated bread and wine are brought forward to the altar from some point in the church, usually by one or more couples chosen from among the faithful in attendance. Kathryn and I have done this a few times at our own church, and so we told the usher we’d love to help out.
Since every church presents the gifts a little differently, the three couples who would present the gifts gathered together to receive brief instructions from the ushers. At this point, we learned Cardinal Mahony would be presiding the Mass. Oh my God, we’d be presenting gifts to a cardinal! We had seen His Eminence outside the cathedral, where he was blessing people walking out as we walked in. We assumed he’d presided the Mass at 8 and that we’d have a different priest. Anyway, we were totally excited for this, and a bit nervous too!
Mass began with a beautiful procession, including incense, which started in the rear of this very large cathedral and took several minutes to reach the altar. Kathryn and I had moved our seats so that we didn’t have to step over people during the presentation, and as a result we ended up with great view of the procession. Then we had another surprise. Our own pastor, Fr. Vince, was in the procession! It turns out he was one of the celebrants of the mass. That explains why so many folks from the parish were at this mass. He was surprised to see us too and gave us a quick wave. However, he didn’t know we’d also be at the altar a little later.
In addition to Fr. Vince, a couple other priests were at the altar, including a bishop from South America who was raising funds for his very poor diocese. I regret that I’ve forgotten which diocese and which country. We felt a little sorry for our own pastor. After the bishop received such a long introduction from the cardinal, Fr. Vince got only a few words. I hope he was happy just to be there.
The Mass was beautiful. The bishop from South America gave the homily. It was uplifting to hear about the faith of the poor people he shepherds. On the other hand, the readings for that Sunday were, for Kathryn and me at least, somewhat challenging, particularly the second one from Ephesians, and I would have enjoyed a bit more explanation. I guess we’ll hear it again in three years.
The presentation went smoothly. Kathryn and I were the second couple in the procession, each of us carrying a large pewter pitcher of wine. The bread was carried by the couple behind us. We bowed as we were instructed. Cardinal Mahony is quite tall.
After the Mass ended, we ran into Fr. Vince in a side corridor. We all expressed our mutual surprise that he’d concelebrated the Mass and we’d presented the gifts. He asked us if we’d been downstairs yet. Downstairs? We didn’t even know there was a downstairs. He told us it was the best part of the cathedral and that we had to check it out. So we gave him a hug, left him to his groupies that were starting to crowd him, and went off to find the stairs.
It turns out he was right. The sub-level of the cathedral is taken up almost entirely by a mausoleum. It’s very peaceful. One celebrity tomb we found belonged to Gregory Peck. However, the mausoleum remains mostly unused, with only a few crypts occupied and a few others marked reserved. Adjacent to the mausoleum is the tomb containing the remains of St. Vibiana, the patron saint of the original Los Angeles cathedral, which was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake in 1994. There is also a beautiful chapel on the sub-level. It would be the perfect size for a weekday Mass, but I don’t know if they use it for that purpose. Even if you’re not there for a Mass, I’d highly recommend visiting the cathedral if you’re in Los Angeles, if only to see the mausoleum.
Before we left, we did stop in the gift shop. We’ve been shopping for the perfect pyx for months now, but they didn’t have any at all. We’ll keep looking.
There was one lone protester camped just outside the cathedral complex. He carried a sign that said “Phony Mahony”. There also appeared to be a sticker representing a Bavarian flag on his sign. There was no further explanation, and I really didn’t want to engage the guy in a conversation.
The cathedral is located near several major freeways, including I-10, so getting back on the road again was a piece of cake. The trip home was a mirror image of the trip there. We stopped at the same Carl’s Jr. near Palm Springs for another Big Carl and at the same McDonald’s in Quartzsite for another coffee. A thunderstorm with some light hail kicked up while we were in Quartzsite. We let the wind die down before we pressed on. There was some flooding just off the freeway, but the freeway itself was fine. We arrived home safely before dark.