Not Even Crumbs
I traveled from Rome to London on Tuesday, May 27. I had been in Rome six days. I had had a wonderful time in a wonderful place and I knew I would be coming back to Rome for three nights after my trip to England. In London I was the guest of Father Alan and Theresa Moses, well known to many in our parish here. Father is vicar of All Saints Margaret Street.
Morning Prayer was at 7:30 the next morning. Mass followed. I felt as at home liturgically in Common Worship, the new rite of the Church of England, as I do in the Roman Rite. But there was a huge difference. I was welcome to eat.
I have been ordained for twenty years now. I’ve been at Mass so many times, celebrated so many times, assisted so many times, that in some sense I hardly notice whether I eat or not. Communion is one part of the Eucharist. And of course almost always I eat at Mass. In Roman Catholic churches I am a guest. In many ways I am treated very graciously, especially when my hosts know that I am an Episcopal priest. But I am never welcome to eat, not even the crumbs.
Excommunication, that is, refusing someone or some group Communion, is one of our ancient Christian traditions. Do we do it because parents have forever been sending children to bed hungry for misbehaving? Who knows? There were fights among the disciples while Jesus was alive. They continued when word of his resurrection reached them. They have never stopped. Predictably, Christian people have been excommunicating one another since the time of the apostles. I have come to think that it is almost always wrong for the Church to do this, no matter how badly people behave, no matter how significant the theological argument.
Jesus preferred to eat with “all sorts and conditions of men,” to use the old Prayer Book phrase. He sought out the most notorious sinners for his meals. Whenever he was the host, he fed everyone who was present.
From the fifteenth chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, beginning at the twenty-second verse,
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Years ago, shortly after I became rector of a parish for the first time, one of the criticisms made of me was that I didn’t speak enough about being an Episcopalian. People supposed this was because I was a convert to this denomination. What was I speaking about from the pulpit? Being a Christian.
This kind of prejudice against those in other denominations still abounds. And it hasn’t been that many years since it was common in ours. We Episcopalians had inherited rules about the necessity of Confirmation for reception of Communion, rules that were written in a time when the rite simply was not understood. There was a huge fight among Anglican scholars over the role of Confirmation and who could receive Communion in the middle of the last century. Eventually history and theology triumphed over following rules for the sake of rules. The rules changed. The excommunication of baptized persons is still permitted. (If you are interested in the rules, please see page 409 of the Prayer Book.) Yet I find it hard to imagine a circumstance where I would refuse to give Holy Communion to a person who presented himself or herself at the Lord’s Table to eat.
The pride with which people excommunicate one another is shameful. Roman Catholics are not alone in this. Lots of other folks do it, and if someone needs me to name names, I will. There is more excommunication than less across the Christian world. It is shameful. Our own denomination is not without its faults. But sometimes it is helpful for me to remind myself about some of the particular graces we seem to have received in our part of the Christian community. One of the greatest of these graces is that all are welcome to eat, especially the other members of our family who are also the Lord’s guests. It’s always his table. It’s always his food. And as far as I know he still likes to eat with everyone. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Alice who is gravely ill, for Susan, John, Michael Lois, Virginia, Bart, Brett, Nicole, Jack, Thomas, Annie, Patricia, Paul, Robert, Gloria, Jerri, Margaret, Marion, Olga, Rick, and Charles, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Timothy, Jonathan, Patrick, Edward, Keith, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Mark, Ned, Timothy, David, John and Colin. Your prayers are also asked for the repose of the soul of James, priest . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . June 22: Rachel Reed Todd; 1967: Edith Kellock Brown; June 24: 1993 William Ray Kirby; June 26: 1985 Kenneth Mealy.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, Psalm 116:10-17, Revelation 19:1-2a, 4-9, John 6:47-58 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, June 21, by Father Weiler, and on Saturday, June 28, by Father Gerth.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . The Reverend James E. Griffiss died on Tuesday, June 17. Father was professor of philosophical and systematic theology at Nashotah House from 1970 through 1990. I had the honor of being one of his students. I can’t remember now if Father had known Saint Mary’s since before his days as a student at the General Theological Seminary. He certainly knew Father Taber and assisted here at Saint Mary’s after Father’s death and in the first year of Father Garfield’s rectorate. A phonograph album was made during this time of Evensong and Benediction at Saint Mary’s and he was the officiant of the service. Jim was an extraordinarily gracious and learned priest. In retirement he served as editor of the Anglican Theological Review and as canon theologian to the Presiding Bishop. Not long after I became rector, he came to Saint Mary’s to see what I was up to. I’ve never been more nervous in the pulpit or at the altar than the day he was in the congregation. It is a hard for me to say his name at Mass as I stand in the place he once stood. Please pray for him and for all who mourn. S.G.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This week at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Pange lingua from Le Tombeau de Titelouze, Op. 38 by Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) and Improvisation (Élévation) from Suite Médiévale by Jean Langlais (1907-1991). Both pieces are appropriate for Corpus Christi – the Dupré is a setting of the great hymn to the Blessed Sacrament, found in The Hymnal 1982 as hymn 329. The Langlais, inspired by the elevation of the host at Mass, quotes Adore te devote (hymn 314) which will be our Postcommunion hymn. The postlude is Carillon-Sortie by Henri Mulet (1878-1967). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa brevis by Jackson Hill (b. 1941). Hill is professor of music at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and dedicated this Mass setting to Louise Basbas, director of music at Corpus Christi Church, Manhattan. The motet at Communion is O sacrum convivium by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. This relatively early work, written in 1937, has nonetheless become one of his most frequently performed sacred compositions.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Reminder: The summer Sunday Schedule starts this week, Evening Prayer 5:00 PM, Mass 5:20 PM . . . Weather permitting, the Solemn Mass this Sunday includes a Procession of the Sacrament through Times Square and concludes with Benediction after we return to the Church . . . Congratulations to Brian and Monica Foote on the birth of Graham Sebastian Foote on June 11, 2003 . . . Two Sung Masses this week: Tuesday, June 24, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, Friday, June 27, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Weekday Sung Masses are offered on Feasts of our Lord when we do not have a Solemn Mass. These services last one hour . . . Attendance last Sunday 277.
MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR EILEEN SORENSEN . . . A Sung Mass of the Resurrection will be offered for our former parish secretary, Eileen Sorensen, on Saturday, June 28, at 10:30 AM. We especially welcome some of Eileen’s family, who will be with us for this Mass.
MEMBERSHIP NOTES . . . Welcome our newest church member, Mark Peterson. This week the parish office received and registered baptismal information for Mark, which formalizes his relationship with us. Originally from Iowa, Mark is an organist who served a number of Episcopal and Roman Catholic parishes in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area over a period of 22 years before coming to New York to serve as Assistant Organist and Music Administrator at Trinity Church, Wall Street. More recently, he has served in interim positions at several churches in the area. An ardent student of liturgy and the Oxford Movement, Mark has done graduate work at Cambridge University, and served at the Church of All Saints, Marlow, UK. While he is not always able to be with us on Sundays, please look out for Mark, and welcome him when you see him.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Body & Blood of Christ
Eve of the Nativity of Saint John 6:00 PM
Tuesday The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Sung Mass 6:00 PM
Eve of the Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Friday The Sacred Heart of Jesus No Abstinence
Sung Mass 6:00 PM
Saturday Of Our Lady
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Matthew Weiler, The Reverend John Beddingfield, curates,
The Reverend James Ross Smith, assistant, The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priest,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.