FROM THE RECTOR: CHRISTMAS GOSPELS
Only when Christmas Day is a Sunday, as it is this year, do I really get a chance to write for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. This year, not only is Christmas Day a Sunday, but one of our two Christmas stories is read, not on Christmas, but on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Yes, you read that correctly.
The two New Testament Christmas stories are Matthew 1:18-25 ("Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way . . . ") and Luke 2:1-20 ("In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled . . . "). Yet the historic gospel lesson for Christmas Day in the West is John 1:1-14 ("In the beginning was the Word . . . "). Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) used all three of these Christmas lessons in the First Book of Common Prayer (1549). He used Luke for the first Mass of Christmas and John for the second. He placed Matthew on the First Sunday after Christmas Day. Though Luke was omitted from the English book in the 1552 revision, it returned to the American book in 1892.
In 1970, in preparation for what would become the 1979 Prayer Book, Prayer Book Studies 19: The Church Year (1970) was authorized for trial use beginning on Advent Sunday 1970. The Standing Liturgical Commission elected to use, with some revisions, the then-new 1969 three-year cycle lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church as our lectionary. This was a popular move. It gave congregations and preachers exposure to more of the Bible during Sunday worship than Episcopalians had had since the 1892 Prayer Book-though that is a story for another time.
In the wake of the ecumenical movement and the interdenominational character of theological scholarship after the Second World War, the idea that more Christians would be hearing the same lessons on Sundays was a powerful one. That said, the 1979 lectionary is essentially a Roman Catholic lectionary, shaped by the theological agenda of the Roman Catholic Church. The 2006 lectionary did not address this fundamental issue. So, we still end up with Matthew's birth story being treated as an annunciation gospel and hearing it only once every three years-2016 being one of those years-on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
Roman Catholics never hear the last verse of this coming Sunday's gospel, the one that makes the passage complete, that is, the story of Jesus' birth, "But [Joseph] knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus" (Matthew 1:25). Roman Catholics have traditionally gone to great lengths to maintain that Mary and Joseph were never married in the ordinary meaning of those words as they are used in the Bible, including the New Testament.
In a similar way, Roman Catholics never hear the risen Jesus speak on Easter morning. They always hear John's story of Easter morning (John 20:1-9), but the appointed reading ends before Jesus makes himself known to Mary Magdalene and makes her, and not Peter or the Disciple Jesus loved, the apostle of the resurrection to the men and women who were with Jesus in Jerusalem (John 20:10-18). Now it is true that the 1979 Prayer Book made it possible for a congregation to hear the risen Jesus speak to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, but it did not require it.
I was very surprised that our 2006 lectionary does not require that John ever be used on Easter morning, even in Year A when it requires Matthew 28:1-10 to be used at the Easter Vigil. (Apart from John, Matthew is the only other gospel where the risen Lord speaks, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" [Matthew 1:10]).
The much greater problem with the 2006 revision is that it largely ignores many important theological developments in New Testament studies that have taken place since the 1960s. So, we continue to hear too little of Mark and Luke. The distinctive voice, as it were, of each evangelist is obscured by the editorial decisions of the Roman Catholic Church in the late 1960s about what is to be read in their services. Still, I think our church and the other Protestant denominations involved with the Revised Common Lectionary should have done a much better job with our recent revision. We Christians have been uniquely blessed with the gift of four distinct versions of the gospel story. I like Matthew's gospel, but I like it much better when I am able to read it along with Mark, Luke, and John at my side. -Stephen Gerth
OUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Julie, Alexander, Antonio, Clara, Nadira, Peter, May, Donald, Matthew, Sharon, Barbara, Jean, Clara, Robert, Nicole, Joanna, Jason, Dolly, Melissa, Juliana, Heidi, Catherine, Sam, Penny, Linda, George, Dennis, Emil, Burton, Takeem, Toussaint, Abraham; Sidney, deacon; Horace, Hamilton, Gaylord, Harry, Jay, and Louis, priests; all victims of war, poverty, famine, and disaster; and the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark; and for the repose of the souls of Margaret Guenther, priest, and Harry Shipps, bishop . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . December 18: 1910 Eliza Ackley Lempton; 1912 Bertha Schaeffer; 1921 Mary Webb; 1931 John Poff; 1962 Alice Davis Anthony.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . The Rev. Dr. Margaret A. Guenther died early on Sunday morning, December 11, 2016. Mother Guenther was professor emerita of ascetical theology at the General Theological Seminary, where she served for many years as director of the Center for Christian Spirituality. She was a well-known retreat leader and lecturer, and author of many books including Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction (1992) and At Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us (2006). Please keep Margaret, her husband, Jack, her family and friends, and all who mourn in your prayers.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR
are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN . . . Our pledge campaign continues. Here are some statistics: $310,075.00 has been pledged so far. This is 73% of our pledge goal for 2017. We hope to achieve three goals between now and the end of the year: (1) to encourage all Saint Marians prayerfully to consider how they can offer their time, talent, and treasure to God here at Saint Mary's during the coming year; (2) to raise $425,000.00 during this year's pledge campaign; and (3) to have all those who made a pledge for 2016 fulfill that pledge no later than December 31, 2016. To make a pledge for 2017, please fill out a pledge card and mail it to 145 West Forty-sixth Street, New York, NY 10036; or place your pledge card in the collection basket at Mass; or make a pledge online.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Sunday, December 18, Fourth Sunday of Advent, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Coffee Hour 12:15-1:30 PM. Evensong & Benediction 5:00 PM . . .Wednesday, December 21, Saint Thomas the Apostle, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Mass 6:20 PM . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Class will not meet on December 21 . . . Saturday, December 24, Christmas Eve, Last Mass of Advent 9:00 AM, Christmas Music 4:30 PM, Sung Mass 5:00 PM, Christmas Music 10:30 PM, Procession & Solemn Mass 11:00 PM.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . At their Annual Stated meeting of the Board of Trustees onMonday, December 12, the Feast of the Dedication of the Church, the members elected Brendon Hunter, Adam Morrow, and Mary Robison to the board for four-year terms. Marie Rosseels and J. Grace Bruni were re-elected to their positions as officers. Marie is vice-president of the board and Grace is secretary. Steven Heffner was elected treasurer. Clark Mitchell's four-year term on the board came to an end. Later in the meeting, Clark, who had recently served as treasurer, was elected to the position of assistant treasurer. The assistant treasurer is not normally a member of the board. The members of the board expressed their gratitude to Clark for his expertise, commitment, and service . . . The Right Reverend Allen K. Shin, bishop suffragan of the diocese of New York, has been chosen to serve as bishop visitor of the Community of Saint John Baptist. Bishop Shin, who served here at Saint Mary's as both assistant and as curate, was installed as bishop visitor this week at the community's convent in Mendham, New Jersey. Sister Laura Katharine, C.S.J.B., and Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B., joined Bishop Shin and their sisters in Mendham for the installation . . . On Sunday, December 18, Father Michael Allen, the husband of parishioner Penelope Allen, will celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood at Evensong, at 4:30 PM, at Trinity Church, Allendale, New Jersey, where Father Allen serves as rector. Father Gerth will preach and Clark Mitchell will serve as thurifer. Marie Rosseels will represent the guild of acolytes. All Saint Marians are invited to attend . . . For Five Coffee Shop, 117 West Forty-sixth Street, recently opened for business a few doors east of Saint Mary's. The manager and the baristas have quickly become great supporters of the parish. They have been donating unsold bagels and pastries, when available, at the end of the day, and we've been able to share some of these items with the homeless here on Forty-sixth Street. We are grateful for their support of this ministry . . . The art exhibit, Water, Light, City: Paintings by Ricardo Mulero, continues in the Gallery in Saint Joseph's Hall. For more information, contact curator José Vidal. . . We are grateful to Larry Long, organist and choir master at the Church of the Epiphany, York Avenue and Seventy-fourth Street, who played the noon service for us on Wednesday, while David Hurd was away from the parish . . . Our seminarian, Dr. Matthew Jacobson, has begun his Christmas break, though he will be with us, serving at the altar, on Christmas Eve. He will be taking the General Ordination Exams (GOEs) during the first week of January. Please keep Matt in your prayers . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 218.
MUSIC NOTES. . . The setting of the Mass on Sunday morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, is Missa Dixit Maria by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612). Hassler was a student of Andrea Gabrieli (c. 1510-1586) in Venice, and one of the first of a succession of German composers to experience in Italy the musical innovations that were shaping what would later be identified as Baroque style. Although he was a Protestant, Hassler's early compositions were for the Roman church. His Missa Dixit Maria, published in 1599, is a parody mass with themes borrowed from his own motet Dixit Maria ad Angelum. The source motet's text recounts Mary's words to the angel of the Annunciation, "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me, according to your word." The motet sung during the administration of Communion is a setting of Ave Maria by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943). This musical setting of one of the most often prayed of all Christian devotions is dedicated to Paul Salamunovich, who conducted the Los Angeles Master Chorale for its premiere in December 1997. Lauridsen, distinguished professor of composition at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, was named an "American Choral Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2005. His serenely atmospheric setting of Ave Maria exploits a colorful range of choral textures, swelling and receding flexibly between the basic four voices and multiple divisions of parts.
The organ prelude is one of the miscellaneous chorale preludes of J. S. Bach (1685-1750). It is afugue in the French manner with theme and counter-theme introduced simultaneously at the outset. The theme is based upon the Tonus peregrinus, the "wandering tone," sometimes called the ninth tone, a distinctive medieval melodic formula to which Magnificat was often sung. Only in the final section of this fugue does Bach call for the use of the organ's pedals to play the theme in long notes as the fugal counterpoint continues above. The postlude is by the celebrated African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941), currently professor of composition at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia. In Hailstork's Toccata one can hear fragments of the fifteenth-century Advent hymn O come, O come Emmanuel, although the entire chant melody is never stated as such. The unusual meter of five beats to the bar gives the Toccata a curiously off-balanced rhythmic energy, and the harmonic dissonances may reflect a world in chaos awaiting the birth of the Savior.
ADULT EDUCATION . . . The Adult Forum on Sunday mornings has begun its Christmas break. Classes resume in January, when Dr. Charles Morgan will lead a three-part series (January 15, 22, and 29), Dealing with the Hard Stuff: Talking about Anger. Charles is a member of the parish and a practicing psychiatrist. Last season he led several sessions on dying, death, and grief in the Dealing with the Hard Stuff series . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class has begun its Christmas break. The class will resume in January.
FLOWER GUILD NEWS . . . The Flower Guild is making plans to decorate the church for Christmas. This year the effort will be led by Guild members Rick Austill and Marie Rosseels. Decorating the church is hard work, but it is also a lot of fun, and there is a great sense of fulfillment as the church is made ready for the liturgies of Christmas. If you would like to help out, or if you would like to find out more about what the Guild does and how it does it, please speak to Marie or Rick.
FOR MARINERS AT CHRISTMAS . . . One of the great ministries of the Episcopal Church is its association with the Seamen's Church Institute, which ministers to merchant ship sailors in New York City; Newark, New Jersey; the San Francisco Bay area; and in the Gulf of Mexico. You can read about their work and ministries here. We've been asked to collect travel-size toiletries (as one finds in hotel rooms) that can be distributed at Christmastide to the men and women who sail, men and women who often don't have a visa to permit them to shop ashore. There is a basket in Saint Joseph's Hall for collection of items. Money is welcome too. Make your checks payable to Saint Mary's, and note that it's for Seamen's Church Institute.
HOMELESS MINISTRY AT SAINT MARY'S
. . . Plans are moving ahead for our first Drop-In Day. The plan is this. On a weekday afternoon in February, two or more volunteers will greet our homeless guests in the Mission House, and two or more volunteers are needed also to accompany them downstairs to our clothes closet. They will then have the opportunity to receive needed clothing items, as well as a bag with toiletry items, our recently designed book of prayers, as well as some information about the parish. At some point, if not in February, we hope to have a social worker or two present on these Drop-In Days to discuss other services. We hope also to have a chance to talk to our guests to hear more from them about the struggles they face in the Times Square neighborhood and to discover ways to shape our ministry based on the actual needs of the homeless in our area . . . Our Wish List: as the weather grows colder, we are looking for donations of socks, blankets, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, toothpaste, toothbrushes, coats, backpacks, gloves, winter hats, earmuffs, rain ponchos, and, most important, gift cards for McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts. If you'd like to volunteer to help distribute clothing and other items, please contact Sister Monica. We are grateful to all those who have been supporting this ministry so generously. -Members of the Homeless Ministry Committee
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Sunday, December 25, Christmas Day, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM . . . On Sunday, January 1, 2017, The Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church will be open from 10:00 AM until 2:00 PM. There will be only one service, Solemn Mass at 11:00 AM . . . Thursday, January 5, Eve of the Epiphany, Solemn Evensong 6:00 PM . . . Friday, January 6, The Epiphany, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Organ Recital 5:30 PM, Solemn Pontifical Mass 6:00 PM, the Right Reverend Allen K. Shin, celebrant and preacher . . . Saturday, February 11, 10:30 AM, Blessed Absalom Jones Celebration, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. At the Eucharist, Bishop Dietsche will celebrate and the Reverend Canon Gregory Jacobs will preach
Please click here for this week's worship schedule.