Easing Into Down East
  • One of the more interesting facets of this forum is how the geographical diversity of its contributors informs liturgical experiences. Where you live really does have consequences.

    Having just moved to Maine after living many decades in the Boston area, I’m naturally on high alert to liturgical options. Though Massachusetts is as post-Christian as any state in the union one can find an agreeable community to attend Mass provided there is willingness to drive a few extra miles. Whether I have similar luck in Maine is still unresolved.

    For those unfamiliar with Maine, it is the largest of the six New England states but with a population equal to Rhode Island, the smallest. Most Down Easters, as folks up here are called, live in the lower third of the state and the population of some communities fluctuates depending on the season. There are large swaths of Maine with no major roadways and its most northern latitude is above that of Quebec City. Not surprising, all Catholic parishes here are part of collaboratives and one diocese covers the entire state.

    Being the least religious state in the U.S. in terms of denominational affiliation I have been surprised to find Masses in Maine well attended, due in part I’m sure to fewer Masses being offered (usually one Mass on Sunday). Regrettably, excepting the basilica in Lewiston and the cathedral in Portland, most parishes have no choral tradition. The largest church organ in the state is at the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul in Lewiston, a three-manual Opus 1587 Casavant dating from 1938. (Many pipe organs in the state by the way are made or serviced by the Faucher Pipe Organ Company located in Biddeford.)

    On the feast of St. Peter and Paul I drove to Lewiston to attend an evening EF Mass where a small but commendable schola sang Palestrina’s Missa Aeterna Christi munera. Though pleased with what I heard, the plainness of the Basilica’s walls begs for Catholic ornamentation. (The Cathedral in Portland suffers the same malady.) The Cathedral offers a choral Mass at 10 am on Sunday and though the organist-director is clearly a good musician he is hampered by a volunteer-only choir policy that probably originates with the bishop.

    My new home in Brunswick is within walking distance to two Catholic churches, one a modern Pizza Hut style building with electronic organ, OCP’s Breaking Bread in the pews and a Praise Band scheduled two weekends a month as well as holy days; the other, a lovely stone building with lofty spire, pipe organ, stations and stained glass with French inscriptions, reflects the town’s Catholic Quebeçois heritage. Though I appreciate the beauty of the latter church, it too has Breaking Bread in the pews and the default sung ordinary, excepting the Gloria, is Mass of Creation. I was so hoping to be freed from the M of C shackles during my retirement, but it seems not meant to be. I am impressed nonetheless by the congregational singing.

    I have two EF options: a 40 minute commute to Portland for a noon Mass at the cathedral or a 45 minute drive to make the basilica’s 8:00 am Mass in Lewiston. I can manage either in good weather months but from December thru March it will be iffy. (Ask me next year after I’ve spent a winter up here.)

    If I’ve seemed to paint a bleak picture that was not my intent. Both my wife and I, not to mention our dog, have taken to the very friendly people here and the cool summer nights and early mornings are a delight. And unlike Massachusetts, one can actually afford to live in Maine on a retirement income. It also feels good to get away from the subtle but ever present air of superiority that permeates Bostonia. For most people, Maine of course conjures "Vacation Land" with its myriad lakes, hiking trails and an Atlantic shoreline that looks on the map like the splatters of a Jackson Pollack painting. And speaking of painting, ever since Winslow Homer camped out here in the 19th century Maine has attracted painters, both aspiring and famous, in droves. And for those who enjoy fine dining, Bon Appetite magazine last year named Portland as the top restaurant city in the country; my wife and I have experienced pleasing culinary surprises all the way up the coast as far as Belfast and have been delighted to find nearby bakery and speciality food stores not available in Massachusetts.

    Are there any readers of this blog from Maine? If so, expand or correct my first impressions. If you’ve got advice, particularly pertaining to Catholic life, I’m all ears.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Carol
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,686
    Hi, Randolph!

    Well, the Portland area is the Queen of the New England dining scene, and has been for years.

    As you know, I am no Mainer, just a longtime resident of the Commonwealth. I would say that the the areas of the state most heavily populated by people From Away (especially the coastal communities from Acadia and up west of there, but also ski resort areas) tend to be modulated by a certain native-vs-transplant tension (historically well justified from the perspective of natives). Go to Washington County (real Down East) or deeply inland and you can get quite a different picture.

    I contemplate retiring in a few years to the area north of the western Finger Lakes (a combination of poor rural areas and richer resort areas along with the horsier-exurbs of Rochester); it's not an area rich in great sacred music, but there are some options that become more evident by nosing around (there are also more religious communities with their own oratories or chapels than appears to be the case in Maine). So your journey reminds me of these challenges.

    The basic cultural problem with Catholic parishes in much of the USA is that they don't really seek seekers, so they don't think in terms of providing information that seekers might want. We're accustomed to thinking: y'all have to come anyway, so be grateful for what we are willing to provide.

    I am always pleasantly shocked to see sermons and music programming detailed on Catholic parish website. Catholics usually deign to let the Episcopalians do that sort of thing. I once told a now former pastor of a certain church we both know that one would never know a world-famous technology company was founded a couple of blocks away by looking at the parish's rarely updated (other than bulletin-y type things) website. Hasn't really changed that much in the last decade since....

    Best wishes to you and your better half!
  • davido
    Posts: 165
    Liam, I hope you are aware of St Mary’s in Auburn NY https://www.stmaryauburn.org/music/
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,686
    Thanks, I am, but it is over an hour from my target area. In any event, I only mentioned my prospects in sympathy to Randolph's actual post about southern Maine!
  • Andrew Malton
    Posts: 776
    -Speaking of geographical diversity, now I know what Murricans mean by down east. Up here our down east starts where yours leaves off, and goes on another 1000 km or so eastward.