...despite being televised, has a normal and reverent feel to it. There are robot cameras that swivel around noiselessly, high up on the walls, on either side, near the sanctuary. But once you have noticed them on first looking around the church, they make no impact. The glittering candles on the altar, the high Monstrance with a statue of a golden-winged kneeling angel on either side, the quiet amosphere, the familiar sense of welcome with pews and hymbooks and people finding places and so on, are what greet you.
The 7am Mass each day is televised - and is a sung Mass, with a cantor standing in the area behind the altar, where once the sisters were. They now, of course, live at their new convent some 40 minutes away, the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament - known in local dialect as The Shrahn, and visited by numbers of tourists and pilgrims every year. Non-Catholic groups from various Alabama churches often turn up there to enjoy a visit and there's a gift-shop and picnic area. EWTN here at Irondale has long since spread to occupy what was once the sisters' small convent. Yesterday I broke my glasses and in getting them mended I was introduced to the vast - and I do mean VAST - warehouse - where the scenery and props are made and stored. And there is a Franciscan monastery, and facilities for visitors who come to tour EWTN and watch TV shows being made, and so on.
EWTN also includes a number of houses in a nearby road, where guests like Auntie stay. I'm typing this in a comfortable downstairs room in a well-equipped house with several comfortable rooms, big kitchen, sitting-room etc.
The Church in America has changed in the years since EWTN started to flourish - and EWTN has been a part of that change. A more reverent liturgy, a robust pro-life stance, a renewed sense of Catholic identity, are all evident in many parishes and Catholic groups and institutions. Not all, though. There is still a lot of silly stuff going on, and some awfully silly music in too many parishes. And a new worry is the presence of a rather angry "traditionalist" wing - part of which seems tto loathe EWTN, incidentally - about which a US-based friend contached me the other day. She had just been subjected to a sermon from a young priest about female submission, and this, coming after being asked "Don't you feel drawn to veil?" in what is evidently the latest jargon of the group, has got her worried about the loopy trend among what she had thought were fairly normal people who attended an Extraordinary Form Mass...
America, land of the California hippy, the Amish, the burn-the-flag protesters and the gun-owning hunker-down-they're-coming types, seems to cater for all extremes. EWTN has a a commitment, vigour, pace, and serenity which seems capable of riding out whatever storms hit the Church.