FROM THE RECTOR: SEDUCTIVE AND (ALMOST) VULGAR
In the sacristy before last Sunday’s Solemn Mass, I encouraged the clergy and the acolytes not to be afraid of spilling water when the font was filled for the celebration of Holy Baptism. Some words from the late French Dominican theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu (1895-1990), that I had learned from his student Louis Weil, came to mind. I’m sure I didn’t quote Father Weil or Father Chenu as carefully as I should have. Here is what Father Weil has written:
It was my great privilege in the 60s, to study sacramental theology with Marie-Dominique Chenu, the distinguished Dominican theologian, and one of the great lights of Vatican II. One day in class, Father Chenu startled us by saying that "in their celebration, the sacraments must border on the vulgar.” He then explained that what he meant by this is that their signification should be made abundantly clear by the manner in which a rite is celebrated. One should not have to explain that Baptism is a spiritual bath, or that the Eucharist is a sacred meal at which people actually eat and drink. (Louis Weil, “When Signs Signify: the Baptismal Covenant in its Sacramental Context,” The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire 21 November 2007)
Parishioner Julie Gillis spoke up and said, “I thought the Sacraments were supposed to be seductive.” I’ve been thinking about her remark ever since. I think she and Father Chenu are both right – and right for the same reason. When liturgy is at its best, we are in some sense back in the Garden, as it were, naked and unashamed; alive as God intended us to be; alive, eating and drinking together.
There was something seductive and almost vulgar about the celebration of Baptism and Mass at the principal liturgy last Sunday. There was plenty of water, oil, bread and wine. The ritual of the service was traditional, familiar, and straightforward. It was a joyful morning. We saw two children dying and rising to new life through the water of Baptism. They, along with us, were nourished with real food for this new life.
There has been a shift in my prayer over the last year or so. I can’t pinpoint its beginning. I don’t think the shift is complete. It’s probably not unrelated to my age and to the aging of parents, siblings, and friends. The movement I sense is interior. Not much has changed in the worship of this parish or of my own pattern of prayer. But I know there has been a shift that has something to do with a larger awareness of God, and a new kind of companionship. I don’t have a sense that my faith is greater. But, I do have a new sense of trust in the larger purposes of God’s creation, even as I find myself from time to time thinking more about death. Seduction may be one good word to describe what I experience in worship most days.
I’m not sure Father Chenu’s phrase “border on the vulgar” comes to mind much for those who worship at Saint Mary’s. But I suspect Father Weil, the liturgical theologian who knows us so well, might say that is essentially why Saint Mary’s is such a powerful witness of the gospel. Do we hear Good News plainly? Are we helped to see Jesus in all those around us? Are we fed real food? Are we led to feed others? Are we alive with faith? Are we living the Christian hope?
My favorite cookbook-theologian, if you will, is Marcella Hazan. I have quoted, more than once, words from “Afterthoughts” at the end of her first cookbook, The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980). Those paragraphs begin with the following sentence, “What people do with food is an act that reveals how they construe the world” (page 459). In the introduction to one of her last books, Marcella Cucina (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997), she wrote, “It happens too often when I eat the food of highly trained chefs, food that is ingeniously contrived, elaborately described in the menu, and eye-catchingly presented, that virtually nothing registers on my palate. Such occasions remind me of a plea that the composer Richard Strauss once made to an orchestra he was rehearsing: ‘Gentlemen, you are playing all the notes perfectly, but please, now let me hear some music’” (page 5).
Great worship, great living, is about seeing what human beings have longed to see, about hearing what human beings have longed to hear, since our ancestors left the Garden. We pray that in God’s mercy, and by God’s grace, we are singing songs of praise with our lives, not just playing the notes. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Barbara, Burton, Lisa, Julia, Caleb, Brendan, Dianne, Dorothy, Gert, Rick, and Peter, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark, Christine, and Rob; and for the repose of the souls of Goldie Harrison Bell, Evelyn Cullen, Joan Wetlesen Heffner, and Paul Reeves, bishop . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . August 21: 1907 Kate Steinbrinkner; 1948 Harriett M. Downey, Jane Wheeler Wood; 1955 Horace Edwin Hayden.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Evelyn Cullen, mother of Father Peter Cullen, rector of Saint Paul’s Church, Carroll Street, Brooklyn, died last week after a long illness. Father Cullen has preached here at Saint Mary’s and is a friend of the parish. Archbishop Paul Reeves died in New Zealand on Sunday, August 14. Archbishop Reeves worshipped with us here at Saint Mary’s at a daily Mass earlier this year. He served as bishop of Auckland, primate and archbishop of New Zealand, as New Zealand’s governor-general, and as the Anglican Representative to the United Nations. Please pray for the souls of Evelyn and Paul, bishop, for their families, and for all who mourn.
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 . . . Wednesday, August 24, is the Feast of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle. Mass will be celebrated at 12:10 PM and at 6:20 PM . . . Father Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, August 20. Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, August 27.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . At the Solemn Mass on Sunday, August 14, Alessandra Suyeko Innis-Kopelson and Marco Timothy Silvia received the sacrament of Holy Baptism. It was a joyous celebration. Alessandra’s parents Heather Kopelson and Michael Innis-Jimenez are former members of the parish. They now know live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Marco’s father, Tim Silvia, is a member of our noonday congregation. Please keep Alessandra, Marco, and their families in your prayers . . . A Requiem Mass for John C. Klett, Jr., husband of parishioner Barbara Klett, was celebrated at the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Thomas More, New York City, on Tuesday, August 16. Please continue to keep John, Barbara, and their family and friends in your prayers . . . The Reverend T. Remington Slone is to be ordained priest at the Church of Saint Peter, Savannah, Georgia, on Saturday, August 21, at 11:00 AM . . . The Board of Trustees meets on Monday, August 22, at 6:30 PM . . . The Rector’s sermons for Sundays and feast days have been updated and are available online here . . . Altar flowers are needed for September 4 and 11. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the finance office . . Attendance: Last Sunday 148; Assumption 307.
ABOUT ASSUMPTION . . . Thank you to all those who worked so hard and so well here at Saint Mary’s on the Feast of the Assumption: to our faithful and very capable acolytes, who served at both Masses, and who helped decorate the altar; to our hard-working ushers, who welcomed over 300 visitors to the parish on Monday; to our musicians, who played and sang so beautifully, helping all who were present to worship more prayerfully; to the members of the Flower Guild, whose beautiful creations adorned the altar, the church, and Saint Joseph’s Hall; to all those who organized, sponsored, and were hosts at the reception at Saint Joseph’s Hall; to all those who baked delicious confections for the reception; to all those, known and unknown, who worked so hard that day to welcome our guests and make the day a special one here at the parish.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . Music this Sunday is sung by Linda Jones, soprano, Geoffrey Williams, countertenor, and James Kennerley, tenor. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa Dominica by Nicholas Ludford (c. 1485-c. 1557). Little is known of Ludford’s early career, but he was almost certainly born in London. An extremely skillful and prolific composer up until the religious reforms that were taking place in England around 1535, his work is certainly much less well-known than that of his contemporaries Robert Fairfax and Thomas Tallis. Ludford composed seven Mass settings scored for three voice parts, named for each day of the week. Because of this, they were almost certainly written for the votive Masses of the Virgin Mary, which would have taken place daily in the Lady Chapels of the larger religious foundations. At the ministration of Communion, we will sing the motet Haec dies by William Byrd (1540–1623), a three-part setting of the joyful Eastertide text published by the composer in his 1605 Gradualia. James Kennerley
COMMUNITY OF ST. JOHN BAPTIST . . . The sisters have begun a capital campaign. One of their fundraising efforts is a new cookbook they have produced, The Nun Better Cookbook. There are 380 recipes in the book, which has hard covers and a tough comb binding. Each section of the book is marked by an attractive tabbed divider. The cost of each book is $18.00, plus shipping and handling. For more information or to order a copy (or two!), please speak to one of the sisters or call the convent, 973-543-4641 x 9.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We need your help! We are still working hard to support our outreach partner, the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Sister Deborah Francis, who often volunteers at the Food Pantry on Friday, reports that donations, including donations from government sources, have decreased significantly. Recently, the pantry was only able to provide a much reduced amount of food to those who depend on it for their weekly nutritional needs. We have received a letter from the Food Bank of New York City (www.foodbanknyc.org) which helps to explain the problem. The letter begins, “Because more agencies applied to received allocations in New York State’s emergency food program, the Food Bank for New York City . . . is losing close to 50% of its annual budget”; and so, please consider making a cash donation to the pantry (write a check to the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and put “Food Pantry” in the memo line); or place non-perishable food items in the basket at the ushers’ table near the 46th Street entrance to the church on Sunday mornings. If you have questions about the Food Pantry, please speak to Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., or Father Jay Smith.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Thursday, September 8, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mass at 12:10 PM and Sung Mass at 6:00 PM . . . Wednesday, September 14, Holy Cross Day, Sung Mass at 12:10 PM and 6:00 PM . . . Wednesday, September 21, Saint Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist, Mass at 12:10 PM, Evening Prayer at 6:00 PM and Mass at 6:20 PM . . . Thursday, September 29, Saint Michael and All Angels, Mass at 12:10 PM and Sung Mass at 6:00 PM . . . Sunday, October 2, Fall Schedule Begins: Sung Matins resumes at 8:30 AM; Church School resumes at 9:45 AM; the Adult Forum resumes at 10:00 AM; The Saint Mary’s Choir returns to sing at the Solemn Mass at 11:00 AM; Solemn Evensong and Benediction resumes at 5:00 PM . . . Saturday, October 15, 6:00 PM, Oktoberfest and Hymn Sing . . . Monday, November 14, 6:30 PM, New & Prospective Members Reception.
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class resumes on October 5, at 6:30 PM, in the Arch Room on the second floor of the Mission House. The class will be reading The Letter to the Ephesians. Led by Father Jay Smith, the class will meet on October 5, 12, 19, 26; November 9, 16, 30; and December 14 and 21 . . . This year many of the adult-education classes on Sunday mornings will focus on the things that make Anglicans and Episcopalians distinctive, even unique. We will look at polity, liturgy, architecture, vocabulary, theology, ethics, and Scripture as we explore our rich Anglican tradition. We begin on Sunday, October 2, at 10:00 AM with a discussion of bishops – after all, the word “episcopal” comes from the Greek word for bishop. We will look at the origins and history of the episcopal ministry in the church, and will focus on the following questions: Why are bishops so important to Anglicans? How do they serve the church? And, just in time for New York’s election of a coadjutor bishop on October 29, we will ask, how does the Episcopal Church go about choosing its bishops? The class will be led by Father Jay Smith. The following week, Sunday, October 9, just five days after the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Dennis Raverty will teach a class on the late medieval painter, Giotto, and the relation of his work to the life of Saint Francis. On Sunday, October 16, Dr. Raverty will return and give a lecture on the principles of Gothic architecture. This class will give us a foundation for a return, later in the year, to a study of our own church building and its neo-Gothic style . . . On Sunday, October 23, and Sunday October 30, the adult-education class continues its study of Episcopal traditions and customs, turning to the Book of Common Prayer. On the 23rd, Father Gerth examines the structure of the Eucharist. On the 30th, Father Jim Pace will lead the class in a discussion of the Ministry to the Sick.
“VERTICAL TOUR” OF THE CATHEDRAL . . . On Sunday, October 16, at 1:30 PM, Dr. Dennis Raverty will continue his discussion of the “principles of Gothic architecture,” by leading a tour of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The tour group will be allowed to visit one of the cathedral towers, giving the tour its “vertical” aspect. Leading the tour with Dennis will be the Reverend Kathleen Liles, rector of the Church of Christ and Saint Stephen, who will be bringing a group from her parish on the Upper West Side. Mother Liles is also an art historian and has often taught adult-education classes on Christian art and iconography. The minimum number of people for such a tour is twelve. The cost of the tour is $15.00 per person and some scholarship funds are available. Please reserve a place on the tour by sending an e-mail to Father Jay Smith.