FROM THE RECTOR: EASTER IMAGES
At the end of April I was on vacation in Florence, Italy. I was last in Florence in 2008; but I had not been inside the Pazzi Chapel and the adjacent museum, which are part of the Santa Croce parish complex, since my first visit there in 1997. The Pazzi Chapel (with its echoing acoustics) is fun—though I think it would be very hard to read or sing a service in it. Of all the things I saw on this trip to Florence, Venice, and Rome, it was a painting in Santa Croce’s museum that moved me most: the Descent of Christ to Limbo, signed and dated 1552, by Agnolo di Cosimo (1503–1572), known as Il Bronzino, or Agnolo Bronzino.
I’ve seen many very famous paintings, but I can’t recall a more powerful experience while looking at a work of art. It wasn’t just the quality of the painting itself, but the subject itself: Christ alive after his crucifixion and before his resurrection, gone to the place of the departed to reach out to the dead. I’m a Christian. This year I’m acutely aware that it’s Easter. I’m beginning to think there’s been a real spiritual shift in my life.
Before and during Holy Week we buried two of the members of our parish who were part of the parish leadership that brought me to Saint Mary’s. Few days go by without me thinking of my mother who died in 2013 and my father who died last Christmas Eve. I don’t worry about their souls at all. I believe their love for me grows, as I know my love for them deepens. The Bronzino painting spoke to my faith at this point in my life.
It’s easy to find Christ on the cross in Italian churches—though at Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, he’s hard to find: visually the building, and its decoration, focus on the papacy and the theology and devotional practices of the Counter-Reformation. Unlike Michelangelo’s extraordinary Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Bronzino’s Jesus in the Descent doesn’t raise his hand in judgment, but reaches out to gather the departed to himself. The shepherd himself goes in search of his lost sheep and brings it home (Luke 15:4–6).
Our images, like our words, don’t begin to capture or control the reality of the life God has created for us in the world to come. But the creation God has made for humankind does point to the greater reality God has revealed to us with the resurrection of his Son.
Some may recall that on the feast of the Annunciation we ran out of our ordinary white vestments at the Solemn Mass, celebrated and preached by Bishop Allen Shin, because of the number of concelebrants with him that night. I suddenly remembered that I actually own two vestments, a white and a purple set. The chasubles are cut in the very ancient conical shape. The white set was made for my ordination to the priesthood—and I bought the purple set using the generous gifts given to me on that occasion. When showing the two vestments to a colleague in Baton Rouge, I remarked that I wanted to be buried in the white set. John Senette immediately remarked something like, “A little presumptuous, aren’t we?”
I grew up afraid of judgment and hell—there was a lot of that in the Southern Baptist congregations in which I was reared. As I grew older I would learn that all Western Christians were overwhelmed by the fear of death and judgment in the Middle Ages. But the central part of the story has never disappeared: Easter, the Paschal mystery, death and resurrection.
This Thursday we will celebrate the ascension of Christ into heaven on the fortieth day after Easter—there are other ascensions in the New Testament, but the one at the beginning of Acts is the liturgical winner. Ascension Day is always a great day here at Saint Mary’s. I’m honored that a friend from seminary days, the Reverend Christopher Powell, rector, Christ Church, Winnetka, Illinois, will be with us as preacher. It’s one of the principal feasts of the church year—and we keep it that way.
Our first Ascension service is on Wednesday, May 13. Solemn Evensong with the appointed psalms and lessons for the Eve of Ascension Day is offered at 6:00 PM. A quartet from the choir will sing the canticles and a motet. I invite you to join us on Wednesday evening and also on Thursday as we move toward Pentecost. (There will be a Sung Mass at 12:10 PM; the Solemn Mass begins at 6:00 PM, following an organ recital at 5:30 PM.) Happy Easter for ever. —Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Thomas, Richmond, Willy, Bill, Herman, Dennis, John, McNeil, Mazdak, Trevor, Brayden, Andrew, Barbara, David, Abalda, Linda, Eric, Takeem, Arpene, Paulette, PRIEST, and Harry, PRIEST; for the repose of the soul of Mary Armoogan, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . May 10: 1873 William Clark Pancoast; 1898 Mary Elizabeth Leute; 1898 William Husenetter Kies; 1926 John D. M. Priest; 1948 Florence M. Webb; 1957 Rhea McKee Scott; 1959 Everett Bertram Bosshard, PRIEST; 1994 James M. Barth.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study class will not meet on May 13 . . . Friday abstinence is not observed during the Easter Season . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, May 9, by Father Jim Pace, and on Saturday, May 16, by Father Stephen Gerth.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The Reverend Peter Douglas Thompson will be ordained priest on Ascension Day, Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Saint Paul’s Church, Norwalk, Connecticut. Peter spent an intern year here at Saint Mary’s while he was an undergraduate at Columbia University, and he is remembered fondly here at the parish. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Father Jay Smith will be away from the parish attending a Leadership in Ministry Conference between Saturday, May 9, and Wednesday, May 13. He will return to the office on Thursday, May 14 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 263.
EARTHQUAKE IN NEPAL . . . Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) is now accepting donations to assist with the relief effort in Nepal. We invite you to consider making a donation. Please keep the people of Nepal in your prayers.
AIDS WALK 2015 . . . Last year, the Saint Mary's AIDS Walk Team, fourteen people strong, ranked eleventh in fundraising among all teams walking. The Team raised $39,883 from more than 250 generous donors. This year, the goal is to raise at least $40,000 and to walk in solidarity with people living with HIV and AIDS and with those who support and care for them. We have already had so much support that we feel confident of reaching our goal, and now we hope to surpass it. We invite you to join our Team and raise money or to make a donation to the Saint Mary's AIDS Walk Team. You can join or contribute by clicking on this link. You can also direct your questions to Father Smith or to co-leaders MaryJane Boland and Clark Mitchell. If you have trouble with the link, type the following URL into your browser, https://ny.aidswalk.net/Team/View/7543/Saint-Mary-the-Virgin-0445 in order to access the website. Our heartfelt thanks to those who have already supported us.
FEASIBILITY STUDY . . . Our façade is covered by scaffolding, our roof leaks in some places, some of our paintings have suffered water damage, and we have poor access for people with disabilities. A small group of parishioners, working with the Episcopal Church Foundation, has taken the lead in a feasibility study to determine whether we can raise the funds necessary to correct this situation and to plan for Saint Mary's future. If you have given any financial support to Saint Mary’s during the last five years, we mailed a case statement and questionnaire to you last week; if we have your e-mail address, the questionnaire was sent to you electronically. The opinions of our friends and parishioners are invaluable to us in planning for the future, and we urge you to complete the questionnaire. If you did not receive your mailing, please call the parish office, at 212-869-5830, Ext. 10, and leave a message. A member of the planning committee will return your call. May 15 is the deadline for returning the questionnaire with your opinions.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . The American composer Everett Titcomb (1884–1968) holds a unique place in the catalogue of sacred organ and choral works by twentieth-century Anglican composers. His compositional voice was clearly influenced by his affinity for French music, yet his work is also informed by his vast knowledge and understanding of plainchant and the polyphonic style of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He was an Anglo-Catholic who spent fifty years nearly to the day (1910–1960) as organist and choirmaster at Boston’s Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Bowdoin Street. His best known organ works are based on plainchant tunes, and some of his best polyphony is in the form of Latin motets that were used at Saint John’s and other Anglo-Catholic parishes. His Schola Cantorum at Saint John’s was singing plainchant and Renaissance polyphony while the majority of church choirs (and even Cathedral choirs in this country) were still mired in the kind of late-Victorian preciousness which Titcomb so disdained in choral music. Titcomb tends to be known for a handful of works, including the lovely Missa Salve Regina that we hear at the Solemn Mass on Sunday, which maintains its popularity with church choirs, although much of his work goes largely unsung and unheard. This Mass was written during the rectorship of Granville Mercer Williams, S.S.J.E., the eighth rector of the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, who had previously served as rector of Saint Mary’s for nine years. At the ministration of Holy Communion on Sunday we will hear one of the most celebrated motets by Italian Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725). An intricate composition in five voices, the motet is an expression of great joy . . . This coming Sunday, May 10, at 4:40 PM, Andrew Yeargin will play the organ recital. Andrew’s program includes works by McNeil Robinson (b. 1943) and Louis Vierne (1870–1937). —Mark Peterson
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, the Food Pantry at Saint Clement’s Church, 423 West Forty-sixth Street . . . If you would like to find out more about the work of Saint Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, please speak to Father Gerth . . . AIDS Walk New York 2015 will take place on Sunday, May 17. Please read about the parish’s Team and its fundraising efforts, goals, and successes above, in this edition of the newsletter.
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will not meet on May 13, since Father Smith will be out of town. The class will meet for the final time this season for its annual end-of-year dinner, which will take place on May 20. The class will resume in October and will continue reading the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, beginning at chapter 40 . . . On Sunday, May 10, at 10:00 AM, Zachary Roesemann will give a presentation in the Adult Forum on icons and his work as a painter, or writer, of icons. Zachary is a full-time professional iconographer who has recently become a parishioner here at St. Mary’s. He apprenticed with Fr. John Walsted here in New York and now writes icons for churches and homes around the world. Illustrating his talk with slides, Zachary will speak to us about what icons are, their history and theology, and how they are made, as well as a bit about his own calling to be an iconographer. Icons have become immensely popular among Anglicans as we reclaim this part of our shared ancient Christian heritage. Come find out why! —James Ross Smith
PLEASE MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Wednesday, May 13, Eve of Ascension Day, Solemn Evensong 6:00 PM . . . Thursday, May 14, Ascension Day, Sung Mass 12:10 PM and Solemn Mass 6:00 PM . . . Sunday, May 17, AIDS Walk 2015 . . . Sunday, May 24, The Day of Pentecost . . . Monday, May 25, Memorial Day, Federal Holiday Schedule . . . May 31, Trinity Sunday . . . June 1, The Visitation (transferred) . . . Sunday, June 7, The Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Corpus Christi.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA), 1865 Broadway at 61st Street, Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral, February 20–June 14, 2015, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello. “Twenty-three masterpieces of early Florentine Renaissance sculpture—most never seen outside Italy—will be exhibited at MOBIA as the centerpiece of the Museum’s tenth anniversary season. MOBIA will be the sole world-wide venue for this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. These works—by Donatello, Brunelleschi, Nanni di Banco, Luca della Robbia and others—were made in the first decades of the fifteenth century for Florence Cathedral (Il Duomo), which was then in the last phase of its construction, and are figural complements to Brunelleschi’s soaring dome, conveying an analogous sense of courage and human potential. Like the dome, these statues of prophets and saints express the spiritual tension of a faith-driven humanism destined to transform Western culture.” The American Bible Society has sold the building where MOBIA is located, and the museum will be closing at the end of June, at least temporarily. The Museum has not yet announced when or where it might reopen. A review of the show recently appeared in the New York Times.