The triangular steeple of Most Holy Rosary Church rises high over its surroundings, slicing like a shark’s fin through the suburban sea of homes, apartments, and retailers that constitute the city of Antioch, California. Once the heart of a vast cattle ranch and later a community of miners, factory workers, and fisherman, Antioch now serves as a bedroom community for an increasing number of families priced out of the overheated real-estate markets of San Francisco and Oakland.
The Order of Preachers (a.k.a. the Dominicans) have been running Most Holy Rosary since the mid-1860s, when the discovery of coal and copper in the area led to a rapid expansion of the population. The current church is the third since the parish’s founding. It was completed in 1966, a year after the closing of the Second Vatican Council.
There was a flurry of church construction in the diocese in the decades following the council and most new churches followed a similar pattern: seating in the round, a high vault over the altar, and a liturgical aesthetic that was resolutely modern. At their best, these churches were well designed to facilitate the “full, conscious and active participation” in the liturgy called for by Vatican II. But many have not aged well and often resemble what the Jesuit liturgical scholar John Baldovin once described as “slightly out-of-date living rooms.”
While Holy Rosary is typical of this genre, the parish has tried to bring together both modern and traditional elements in its worship space. The church’s most striking architectural feature is a high wall of uncut stone behind the altar on which hangs a large, traditional crucifix. A similar blending of old and new can be found on the rear wall, which is also covered in stone and displays Stations of the Cross brought over from the older church built in 1905.
The Sunday 10:30 Mass is one of three English services (the parish also offers two Masses in Spanish). With teens (it is hoped) drawn to the 5:30 p.m. Life Teen Mass and middle-schoolers en route to soccer matches favoring the 8:45 a.m. option, it’s not surprising that the 10:30 attracts a quieter and slightly older crowd.
The congregation reflects the growing diversity of the region. A parish that was once home to large groups of Irish, Italian, and Portuguese immigrants now welcomes many from Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, and elsewhere. A glance at the children wriggling in the pews confirms that the future of Catholicism in California lies with those whose roots are in the global South.
Like many parishes in the area, the ars celebrandi at Holy Rosary sometimes draws as much from the style of Protestant megachurches as from traditional Catholic forms. The most potent example of this is the huge screens on either side of the sanctuary, on which are projected song lyrics and prayers. The use of such screens has become ubiquitous among parishes in the diocese, even those whose more traditional architecture does not easily lend itself to this kind of visual projection. The screens certainly have their detractors (among whom this author is one) who argue that they assume a worshiping community with minimal knowledge of its own prayers and distract from the action at the altar. It seems clear, however, that the arguments of those who believe the screens make the Mass more accessible have carried the day.
While Catholics have only ourselves to blame for the state of our liturgical music, it seems clear that here, too, we are learning lessons from our Protestant brethren. Most of the songs at this Mass, such as Josh Blakesley’s “Come to Jesus” and Curtis Stephan’s “Go out, Go out” follow the conventions of contemporary Evangelical “praise music,” with its emphasis on simple, repeated lyrics designed to make it easier for congregations to sing along. Among parishes in the area, such songs have migrated from the “Teen Mass” to become mainstays at other liturgies.