FROM THE RECTOR: NEW RESEARCH ON ADVENT
I began reading the late Raymond Brown’s short books on the Sunday readings while I served in Baton Rouge. In a footnote in the last book of the series, Brown made what he called a personal criticism of the readings appointed for Advent. He thought the Church should “prepare for Christmas by a different type of Sunday readings” (Christ in the Gospels of the Ordinary Sundays: Essays on the Gospel Readings of the Ordinary Sundays in the Three-Year Liturgical Cycle [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998], 38). But, he didn’t say what those different readings were. Father Jay Smith studied with Father Brown at Union Theological Seminary. When I asked Jay, he knew. Brown thought the Church should use the material Matthew and Luke put in their gospels as prefaces to their stories of the birth of Jesus – of course!
In Christ in the Gospels of the Ordinary Sundays Brown complained that the new lectionary ended the year with an emphasis on the coming at the end of time with the celebration of Christ the King and then followed it on the First Sunday of Advent with essentially the same teaching. His liturgical instincts turned out to have been very good. New research, reviewed critically by Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson (The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011], 158-168) suggests that the period before Christmas which we think of as the beginning of the Church year may have been understood as its conclusion in Rome. Thus, the end of time emphasis was not originally for the start of a new year. The birth of Christ was the beginning of the new Church year (Ibid., 167-168). When George Washington was born, the British still used the Julian calendar, and the civil year began on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. (In 1752, September 3 through 13 were omitted to make the change to the Gregorian calendar.)
With all of that said, there is a lot we don’t know about the emergence of Advent – just as scholars don’t know as much as they would like to know about how December 25 (Christmas Day) overtakes January 6 (The Epiphany) as the primary celebration of Jesus’ birth in the West. In addition, Epiphany, like Easter, was a time for baptism. In what we now call France, it was known as “Saint Martin’s Lent.” How a period of preparation for baptism was folded into the Church’s understanding of the time before Christmas and Epiphany is unclear. Practices varied around the Western Christian world.
Gregory the Great (bishop of Rome, 590-607) established a four-Sunday season of Advent with the kind of readings we know today, but a six-week season of preparation before Christmas is maintained in the Roman ecclesial community in the ancient rites of Milan and Toledo. Adolf Adam thinks the penitential elements of Advent, such as the omission of Gloria in excelsis and the wearing of purple vestments, originate with the work of sixth-century Irish missionaries (The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1981], 131). Despite efforts to turn Advent into a minor version of Lent – a practice Louis Weil refers to as “Lent bleeding into Advent” – the tradition has resisted this. Unlike Lent in the West, the organ is used, the acclamation “alleluia” is maintained and the ordinary weekdays of Advent, unlike those of Lent, are not days of abstinence.
Since the Reformation, Advent and the Church year for us always begin four Sundays before the fixed date of Christmas Day. The official liturgies of the Episcopal Church have resisted the bleeding of Christmas into Advent – and this is the tradition at Saint Mary’s. But it’s easy to find Episcopal parishes and cathedrals celebrating Christmas in Advent, here and elsewhere.
The famous Chicago retail merchant Marshall Field (1834-1906), is still famous for his slogan, “Give the lady what she wants.” Well, Marshall Field and Company is now Macy’s. Maybe there won’t always be an Advent as we know it at Saint Mary’s – the Lord Jesus did not organize the Church year. Yet many spiritual treasures lie in the texts of the traditional lessons and hymns for the season. The Solemn Mass on the First Sunday of Advent begins with the chant, sung here in Latin, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 25:1a). The melody is especially beautiful. It’s a wonderful way to begin.
By the time I was ordained, my own family had started decorating for Christmas just after Thanksgiving. When I was a child, the tree went up on Christmas Eve, though we weren’t Episcopalians. I’m not sure I even knew the word “advent,” but I did know the Twelve Days of Christmas began on December 25 – and worked it for all it was worth. (For the record, my own decorations come out on Christmas Eve.) And I’ve already happily, gladly attended my first seasonal holiday party.
Again, we keep Advent as Advent at Saint Mary’s. There will be more to say about the liturgies of Advent and Christmastide in the weeks to come. I invite you especially to join us for Solemn Mass and Solemn Evensong on Advent Sunday. It will help to arm us against “the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same” (“The Ministration of Holy Baptism,” The Book of Common Prayer , 277). Advent, among other things, is still an invitation to the birth of what is new in our world and in our lives. Stephen Gerth
CONGRATULATIONS, CANON DIETSCHE . . . The Reverend Canon Andrew M.L. Dietsche, canon for pastoral care, diocese of New York, was elected bishop coadjutor of the diocese of New York at the special convention held on Saturday, November 19. His consecration will be on Saturday, March 10, 2012, at the cathedral. A graduate of California State Polytechnic University and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, he served parishes in Illinois and Massachusetts before being called to work in 2001 as canon for pastoral care. He and his wife Margaret Dietsche have been married since 1977 and have two children. Canon Dietsche turned fifty-eight years old on November 8 – just before his election. Because of his work in the diocese, he knows its gifts and its challenges. We look forward to his first visit to us as a bishop in the Church.
STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN 2012 . . . We have received 103 pledges so far, 12 of them new pledges. Our goal for the campaign this year is $425,000.00. $316,757.00 has been pledged to date, which is 75% of our goal. We still have a ways to go, but we are very encouraged. Last year, 177 households made pledges to the parish. At this point in the campaign, 51% of those households have made a pledge for 2012. We very much hope that the remaining households (49%) will make a pledge again this year. Since the lay leaders of the parish will be meeting soon with the Rector to discuss the parish’s budget for 2012, it would be wonderful if we could hear soon from all of the members and friends of Saint Mary’s who are able to make a pledge for 2012. We are very grateful to all those who support the parish so generously.
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Ann, Ruth, Gerald, James, Dorothy, Richard, Peter, Gilbert, Linda, Jim, Sylvia, Janice, Peggy, Donald, Bob, Julia, Dorothy, Gert, Rick, and Deborah Francis, religious; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially John, Mark and Rob; and for the repose of the soul of Robert Fitzpatrick . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . November 27: 1907 Howell L. Clarke and Mary Schnorr; 1908 William Marion Hicks; 1914 Elizabeth J.F. Parkman; 1919 George W. Ritter; 1939 Constance Enid Smith; 1944 Lillian Rucker; 1968 Washington Irving.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . The Adult Forum will not meet on Sunday, November 27. The class resumes on Sunday, December 4. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd will meet on Sunday, November 27 . . . The “Atrium” – the room on the second floor of the Parish House where the catechesis meets – will be open following Solemn Mass on Sunday for all who wish to visit . . . Wednesday, November 30, is the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle. Mass will be celebrated at 12:10 PM and at 6:20 PM . . . Wednesday Night Bible Study meets this week at 7:00 PM . . . Father Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, November 26; Father Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, December 3.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Gerald McKelvey underwent surgery on Wednesday, November 16. He is now at home. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., had surgery on Monday, November 21. She is still at Morristown Medical Center (Morristown, New Jersey). We expect that she will be returning to the convent in Mendham soon. It is likely that she will be in Mendham recuperating for several weeks. Please keep her in your prayers. We look forward to her return to the parish! . . . Canon Carlson Gerdau continues to recuperate at home from a bad fall. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Many thanks to Daniel Craig for a great deal of brass polishing for the sacristy on Wednesday, November 23 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 246.
THE PATRONAL FEAST . . . This parish opened its doors for worship on December 8, 1870, the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first services in our present and our former church home were celebrated on this feast. Our celebration begins with Solemn Evensong on the Eve of the Conception, Wednesday, December 7, at 6:00 PM. On Thursday, December 8, there will be a Sung Mass at 12:10 PM; the Solemn Mass is at 6:00 PM. James Kennerley will play a recital at 5:30 PM. A reception follows in Saint Joseph’s Hall. For those who are new, the day is one of the great days of the year in our common life. Please join us!
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude before Mass today is Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa C–dur by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839–1901). Rheinberger, an important composer and teacher of the German Romantic period, is known especially for his organ and sacred choral music. This work, composed in 1880, was written over a span of a mere five hours – clearly efficiency was among Rheinberger’s skills. His aesthetic and style is in many ways similar to the great Johannes Brahms (both men wrote music in a classical disposition, as opposed to the freer and “wilder” music of composers such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner). At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Vigilate by William Byrd (c. 1540–1623), an animated setting of the narrative of the second coming of Christ as reported in Mark’s gospel . . . On Sunday afternoon at 4:40 PM, I will play the organ recital. The music on the program includes Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme, BWV 645, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), and a Fantasia on the chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme, which I have written. James Kennerley
ADULT EDUCATION ON DECEMBER 4 . . . Deirdre Cornell will talk about her book American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary. Deirdre’s book is a meditation on Mexican narratives about Mary, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe. That image plays such an important role in Mexican life and devotion and has travelled thousands of miles to the farms of upstate New York, the orchards of rural Georgia, and the meat-packing plants of Minnesota, where it is a source of inspiration, strength, and courage to thousands of workers, “who find in her an intimate witness to their daily struggles.”
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . During November and December, we will be collecting new and gently used coats for the New York Cares Coat Drive. The deadline is December 31. If you would like to donate a coat, please speak to Father Smith or bring the coat with you on Sunday . . . We are also collecting toys and gifts, including gift cards, to donate to the New York Foundling Hospital. The hospital, located on Sixth Avenue in Chelsea, works with children, teenagers, and families in need. The deadline is December 16 . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please consider making a regular donation to the Food Pantry. Look for the basket in the back of the church or in Saint Joseph’s Hall. You may make a cash donation as well . . . Father Smith continues his Book Sale on Sunday. All proceeds are used to benefit the Food Pantry and others who are in need . . . We recently made a small gift of $100.00 to the Food Pantry of Iglesia San Andres, Yonkers, where the Rev. Yamily Bass-Choate is the vicar. Mother Bass-Choate is a good friend of Saint Mary’s. San Andres raises funds every year to provide turkeys at Thanksgiving for families in need. We are grateful to all those who support our outreach efforts and who make such gifts possible.
CONCERTS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . December 1 and December 2 at 8:00 PM, and December 3 at 3:00 PM, Holiday Concert by The Choral Society, John Maclay, conductor. Works by Gabrieli, Bernstein, Pärt, and favorite audience carols . . . Saturday, December 10, 8:00 PM, Miller Theater Early Music Series: Songs of Mary: A Christmas Celebration. The Tallis Scholars, Peter Philips, director . . . Saturday, December 17, 8:00 PM New York Repertory Orchestra Annual Benefit. David Leibowitz, music director. Music by Chausson, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky. Tickets are required.
AWAY FROM SAINT MARY’S . . . The Peccadillo Theater Company at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s presents a revival of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s classic and very funny play, The Man Who Came to Dinner. Limited engagement, November 25-December 18. Directed by Dan Wackerman. Dan is a good friend of Saint Mary’s and often worships with us on Sunday mornings. For reservations and tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.thepeccadillo.com. The Theater has very kindly offered Saint Marians and their friends discounted tickets. When ordering tickets, use the following code in order to get the discount: PTCCH.