Captivated audience: Pope Benedict XVI on his recent visit to London (PA)
Eleanor goes to Mass most days. Every day, really, but she feels a little guilty — almost as though it doesn't count — when she misses the early morning service and has to sneak away from her co-workers to make the noon Mass at St Vincent de Paul's on West 23rd.
That's Fr Gerald Murray's parish, there in the canyons of Manhattan, its 1930s stone façade pushed out to join the line of the buildings on either side, as flat against the sidewalk as a storefront. No portico, no entryway, no playground, no churchyard: this is a building grimly determined to march out and grab for sacred purposes every inch the freehold and the zoning laws of New York allow.
St Vincent's was a French-speaking parish, once upon a time. Back in the days when the French still went to church. Back in the days when the city needed daily Mass for its transient Parisians and United Nations staff. The main Sunday service is still in French — a few dozen Francophone African immigrants in the pews — but the archdiocese has vague plans to close the parish down. They were active plans, in fact, before a new archbishop, a lot more sympathetic to Fr Murray's conservatism and pro-life activism, was installed in 2009.
Anyway, Eleanor follows all this stuff: the ins and outs of diocesan politics, the preachers who can be counted upon to deliver orthodox homilies, the priests who can be trusted to perform a Mass with solemnity, significance, and some gesture toward beauty. She'd go to Our Saviour over on Park Avenue for the sermons of Fr George Rutler — now there's a priest who can be trusted — but it's another 15 blocks uptown and clear over on the east side, and she doesn't have time to make the journey there and back in the lunch hour.