The Sunday in June that I was in Rome I attended the Solemn Mass of the day and Solemn Vespers at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Both services were held in the apse behind the papal altar. It is a large space. It was packed. We were there early but all the seats were gone. Fortunately, our host was one of the many concelebrants that morning and knew his way around. In that he was dressed in a cassock, spoke Italian and appeared to know the right moves, he was able to find us a space to stand. Robert McCormick and I had the privilege of leaning against a pillar by the organ and choir – along with some parents of the choir members. Singing that day was a student choir from Notre Dame-- yes, South Bend, Indiana.
Robert McCormick and I rolled our eyes, smiling, more than once. There was something delicious about the choir singing Anglican Church music in the Vatican, including an anthem written for the coronation of George VI. I’m sure the assembly, including many of the choristers, would have been
shocked to know they were singing the music of what some might consider in many respects to be another tradition. One of the many impressive things about the liturgy was the presence of so many clergy, bishops and priests in the chancel. Literally dozens and dozens of bishops and clergy were in choir. There were also, my rough estimate, at least three dozen vested concelebrants in addition to the celebrant and his assistants. I found myself thinking about the vestments being worn. They reminded me of vestments I once encountered at our own cathedral in Washington, D.C. Up close they looked fine. But in the splendor of Saint Peter’s they were just too plain. This was the same problem I remember from Washington. The vesture of the ministers should have a certain consistency with the aesthetic of the building. Plain just looks out of place in Saint Peter’s or in the Washington National Cathedral or at Saint Mary the Virgin in the City of New York. The building really does shape the worship of its community in profound ways.
Vesture matters. It’s something Christians have been talking about for centuries. Sometimes Christians fight about it. Whether members of the clergy should dress distinctively during or outside the liturgy is a discussion that will never end. There is something absolutely practical and useful about ordinary clerical dress. Uniforms help to identify people. Vestments seem to me to be a useful way of reminding the ministers of the assembly whose servants they are. Again, servants wear uniforms. They remind everyone that what matters is the service of the ministers, not the personal identities of those ministers.
Recently, I wrote to the wider parish community asking for money for the Vestment Fund at Saint Mary’s. For reasons that just don’t make any sense, most of the parish’s vestments have always been kept on hangers in a totally unsuitable room in the basement. It’s very easy to become emotional about the subject. But that does no good. It does mean that I think I need to raise money so that Saint Mary’s can have the vestments the building and the liturgy in a real sense demand.
We have some vestments that are worth conserving. Some of this conservation can be done by the members of Saint Mary’s Guild. Some must be done by a professional textile conservator – including work on the black altar frontal (now held together by duct tape).
The services of Easter Eve and Easter Day (including Solemn Paschal Evensong) were spectacular for so many reasons. Among the reasons was that we had fine vestments in the right quantity. The immediate need in the vestment department is for a new summer green set. At the next meeting of the Board of Trustees I will ask for standing permission to cut up the summer green altar frontal to repair the chasuble – a temporary repair. The threads on the set are literally coming apart on the shoulders – there’s nothing to stitch together. (Unfortunately, the wrong silk was selected for this set. That fact, combined with hard wear during the summer and careless storage, has meant that the set has lasted only a short time.)
We need more than just a new green set. At 10:00 AM last Sunday, Janna Weiler was in the sacristy stitching together holes in the shoulders of the red chasuble of the solemn set (notice a pattern here) worn that day. You don’t want to know how much the white set (with five chasubles, three dalmatics, five copes and many other pieces) we need is going to cost!
As a liturgical parish in New York City we often have many bishops, priests and deacons present on special occasions. We use vestments – lots of them. We give glory to God and honor his people in many ways. There are many demands on our unbalanced budget. The Trustees and I are working on many fronts to address many issues as we go forward. In the meantime, the liturgical life of the assembly continues. Worship is the foundation of everything we do. If you have not responded to the appeal, please consider a gift today. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Alice who is gravely ill, for Jonah, 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. . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 9: 1991 Blanche Evelyn Preene; July 11: 1981 Pelham St. George Bissell.
I PUBLISH THE BANNS of marriage between Emma MacDonald of New York City and Alexander Paul Gordon Corner of New York City. If any of you knows just cause why they may not be joined in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the second time of asking. S.G.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Ezekiel 2:1-7, Psalm 123, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-6 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, July 5, by Father Weiler, and on Saturday, July 12, by Father Gerth.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This week at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Prelude on ‘Picardy’ by South African born composer John Joubert (b. 1927), and the postlude is Prelude on ‘Lobe den Herren’ by Craig Phillips (b. 1961). Mr. Phillips is associate organist of All Saints’ Church, Beverly Hills, California, and he has found great success as a composer. This exciting piece features a strong rhythmic drive that reminds one of how the organ can be used as a percussion instrument. The soloist on Sunday is Mr. Geoffrey Williams, one of our newest choir members. Proficient as both a baritone as countertenor (as the Communion anthem will show), he is a graduate of Westminster Choir College and has much experience as a singer and conductor. The solo at Communion is Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, an aria from Cantata, BWV 170 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750). This cantata, of the same name as the aria, was intended for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . During the week of July 7, both Robert McDermitt and Robert McCormick will be involved with Pipe Organ Encounters, a program of the American Guild of Organists that introduces young people to the organ through instruction in organ playing, repertoire, history, design and construction . . . Altar flowers are needed for Sundays, July 13, July 20, July 27, and August 3. If you are interested in dedicating the flowers for one of these Sundays, please call the parish office at 212-869-5830 . . . Father Smith is on vacation through Monday, July 14 . . . Attendance on Sacred Heart 62, Attendance last Sunday 184.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Friday Benedict, abbot Abstinence
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.