Welcome! Whether you’re a visitor or a new member, we’re glad you’re here.
What is a Proto-Cathedral?
A “Proto-Cathedral” is a Catholic church that is a former Cathedral. The Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater was the very first Cathedral for the Diocese of Nesqually, which would later become the Archdiocese of Seattle. We trace our roots back to a small mission of priests from Quebec into Oregon Country in the 1830s, at Fort Vancouver. To learn more about our history, click here.
Plan a Visit
The Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater is a historic Catholic church in the heart of downtown Vancouver, Washington, USA.
We’re located at: 218 W 12th Street Vancouver, Washington 98660
Visitors to the Proto-Cathedral have access to free parking in our lot on 12th Street, on the other side of Columbia Street, next to the Post Office. Paid parking spots are available directly in front of our main entrance on 12th Street, as well as on many of the surrounding blocks in Downtown Vancouver.
Where should I go when I get there?
Our front doors (on 12th Street) unlock before Mass, but the door on the west side of the Proto-Cathedral is open during Office Hours (Monday through Friday, 9am – 4pm). Feel free to come inside! Please note that the sanctuary area (the raised area beyond the communion rail) is armed with a security alarm, unless Mass is about to begin. The choir loft is similarly off limits to visitors. Please be respectful if your visit coincides with Mass.
From the main front steps of the Proto-Cathedral, you’ll see a gate to your left. Through the gate is our piazza, where you can enjoy the shade and sacred art. To the right, you’ll see the west entrance to the Proto-Cathedral, covered with an awning to keep off the rain. The brick building to the left houses both the rectory and Parish Office. When visiting our Parish Office, please ring the doorbell. Staff or office volunteers will greet you at the door.
Straight ahead you’ll see the entrance to our Parish Hall, the location of many of our parish activities and programs. The Lower Hall, down the stairs, usually has coffee and donuts after Sunday morning Masses. If you follow the path straight through the piazza, you’ll come to the north side of the block, across the street from Tap Union Freehouse.
When is Mass?
During the week (Tuesday through Friday) Mass begins at 12:10pm. We also have Mass on Saturday mornings at 9am.
On the weekends, our Saturday Vigil Mass is at 5pm. On Sundays, we have Mass at 7:30am (no music), 9am, and 11am. At 2:30pm, our Vietnamese community celebrates Mass in Vietnamese.
What can I expect at Mass?
We are a Roman Catholic church, and use the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. As Catholics, we believe using our whole bodies helps us pray more fully; at different times we stand, sit, and kneel. When we have music, you’ll hear members of our choir, St. James Collegium Musicum, and our historic organ. To learn more about music at the Proto-Cathedral, click here.
Everyone is invited to participate in the prayers, movements, and songs as they are able. You can use the Lumen Christi Missal and Adoremus Hymnal in our pews to follow along, but don’t be afraid to just take in the experience as well.
Every Mass includes the distribution of Holy Communion. We at the Proto-Cathedral use our Communion Rail. When it’s time for Holy Communion, follow the person in front of you up to the rail and kneel on the cushion. If kneeling is difficult for you, feel free to stand below the step instead. If you are in a wheelchair or have limited mobility, please ask one of the ushers to assist you before Mass, so our ministers can make sure you have the opportunity to receive Holy Communion.
Only Catholics who have properly prepared themselves can receive Holy Communion at Mass. Normally, Catholics must have fasted (excluding water and medicine) for at least one hour before receiving Holy Communion, and if they’ve committed a mortal sin, have gone to Confession. If you aren’t a Catholic who’s prepared themselves for Holy Communion, you’re still welcome to come and receive a blessing. You can indicate that you’d like a blessing at the Communion Rail by crossing your arms over your chest, palms lying flat on your chest, near your neck. If you’re not receiving Holy Communion, you may also choose to remain in your pew and pray for Christian unity and peace in our world.
Why does the altar look different? Why does the priest face away from the people?
Here at the Proto-Cathedral, we worship using our historic high altar. On it you’ll see statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with St. James the Greater and St. Augustine on either side. It also houses our tabernacle in the center, which the celebrant faces during parts of the Mass. We don’t consider the priest to be “turning his back on the people”; rather we consider that all of us are praying in the same direction, toward God. Consider this: a drum major faces away from the marching band in a parade so he or she can lead the way. At certain times, when speaking directly to the people, the priest will turn around and speak to them. But when speaking to God, the priest faces the same direction as the people, so he can “lead the way” in our prayer. For more information on “ad orientem” worship, click here.
What about kids?
Children of all ages are always welcome at Mass! Our historic building does not include a cry room; if you feel the need to step outside with your child, you may, but please come back! Children learn to worship by copying you, so please help them sit, stand, kneel, and follow along with the Mass as they are able. We encourage families with children to sit closer to the front, so it’s easier for little ones to see what’s happening near the altar.
Our historic parish does not have restrooms located within the church building, outdoor accessible restrooms are available on the corner of the Parish Hall in our courtyard, and also in the Lower Hall during events.