Our nation has rarely needed St. Michael's intercession, or the Blessed Mother's, as it does now, while under attack by a crafty and elusive enemy. (See “Prayer to St. Michael” below.)
The oldest parish in Los Angeles, established in 1784, Queen of the Angels is a perfect place to pray to St. Michael this Saturday, Sept. 29, feast of the archangels.
It stands across from Olvera Street, the oldest part of the city, and just a short block from Los Angeles Union Station. It's within sight of City Hall and provides a striking contrast in style with the modernistic archdiocesan cathedral, still under construction not far away.
Look one way, and you see the orderly grid of one of the world's sleekest, most modern business districts. Look the other way, and it's an unruly tangle of old, Spanish colonial avenidas.
Like the intersecting street grids adjacent to it, the parish is a blend of ancient and modern. In order to accommodate the great numbers of the faithful who flock here, there are now two churches serving the parish — a large, modern one built in 1965, and a small, historic one built between 1814 and 1822. This is the Old Plaza Church, or La Placita, as it is affectionately called by the local Hispanic community.
It is this, La Placita, the old church, that is of the greatest interest to the Catholic traveler.
From outside, the well-maintained church looks typical of the Spanish Colonial churches that dot the coastline of California. Its side door still has the signage of an earlier time, “Chapel of Perpetual Adoration,” even though eucharistic adoration is offered frequently, but not perpetually.
Once inside, one is immediately struck by the visual treasures within. These include an immense, lifelike crucifix in the rear of the church; an intricately carved, gold-leafed wall behind the altar; statues and paintings in the Spanish tradition of saints such as Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila; and the focal point, a beautiful golden monstrance daily presenting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to eucharistic adorers.
The faith of the people is immediately apparent here — a deep, unabashed and often emotional expression of belief in the Gospel.
In other words, this may be the oldest church in the city, but it is anything but a mere historic artifact. Each day the church opens its doors at 5 a.m. for eucharistic adoration, which is available until 8 p.m.; the sanctuary is never empty. I have been going to this church for years, and I continue to be amazed at the vigorous faith of those worshiping here.
These past few days, I couldn't help but wonder: The two planes that hijackers steered into the World Trade Center were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles. Could any of those on board have been parishioners, or relatives of parishioners, of this beautiful, faith-filled parish?
My most recent visit to La Placita came several weeks ago. I arrived as the 6:30 a.m. Mass was concluding in the old church. Despite the early hour, there were close to 100 in attendance, a sight not often seen at any daily Mass in Los Angeles, let alone one so early.
As the parishioners filed out, many of them stopped to pray before a visiting statue of Santo Niño in a grotto next to the church. A bulletin board next to the grotto has been filled with notes, requests and ex votos, silent reminders of miracles granted and expected. Inside, about two dozen people remained to pray in silence.
On the east side of Main Street is Olvera Street, the historic city center. Here you can find several historical buildings, as well as Mexican food and wares in an open-air market setting. When, after walking around Olvera Street and downtown, I returned to La Placita, around noon, there were still a dozen people kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Some prayed the rosary, others read from various prayer books, and one young lady audibly implored St. Jude, whose statue stands in the rear of the church. Whenever someone left, it seemed that someone else entered.
Outside, the parish grounds are always abuzz with activity. Across the courtyard from La Placita, a gift shop is always busy, selling an abundance of religious articles. And the parish social-service office, run by the Claretian Missionary Fathers who staff the parish, is never without a ringing phone and a large group of people waiting to help or be helped.
The level of activity is not surprising, given that Queen of the Angels is really the center of Hispanic Catholic culture in Los Angeles — and boasts the largest congregation of any church in the archdiocese.
Such is the devotion of the predominately Hispanic parishioners that Sunday Mass, only one of which is in English, is celebrated nearly every hour from the early morning to late at night to accommodate the great multitude of worshipers. Even so, the large new church is often filled to overflowing, with people standing in the aisles and the vestibule and, at certain times of the year, such as the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe or All Souls Day, crowds of literally thousands make a pilgrimage here.
It is not uncommon for a “pilgrim statue” to make a brief stop here and that, too, will draw teeming multitudes. Such “old-world” devotions are increasingly a rarity in the United States; the unbridled enthusiasm that that greets them here is especially hard to find in Anglo-American culture. The good news is: All are genuinely welcomed here and any differences in culture or language are joyfully enveloped by the great faith that permeates the place.
Andrew Walther writes from Los Angeles.