I happened to be in Rome this spring on the weekend that a prominent group of Roman Catholics was gathering at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to celebrate a solemn Mass using the rite of the Roman Church on the eve of Vatican II. During the course of the trip I was a member of the congregation at Saint Peter’s Basilica and at the Pontifical North American College for three Masses celebrated according to the new instruction to the Roman Missal. I felt so privileged to be able to attend these liturgies. They gave me a great deal of material for reflecting on the liturgy in our Episcopal Church and the very special liturgical mission of our parish.
“The liturgical act” is a name given by scholars and pastors to sacramental worship. I think it is intended to convey the intention of a Christian community not merely to do a Christian rite but to live its reality. A straightforward example is to observe that the liturgical tradition expects that when we baptize we do not just want to hear the universal Christian formula said and water poured, we desire to see Jesus Christ die and rise in our midst in the person he is calling to faith. We expect the words to mean what they say.
Last week I received a gracious note from a member of the Roman Catholic Church who happened to be at Saint Mary’s for the solemn liturgy on the Assumption. He said he had intended to be with us for a few minutes to see what we were up to and then to move on. He lives in Europe now. He had heard about us. He admitted he couldn’t leave once he was here. His heart was captured by the liturgical act.
Episcopalians generally have come to accept the recovery of the Peace in the eucharistic rite, but not, I think, for the sake of the liturgical act. It’s about touching and greeting members of the Body of Christ – a living reality and bond that passes human understanding. I’d like to think that at Saint Mary’s our minds are leading our hearts to this deeper reality. The liturgical act is going to call us to new relationships with Christ and each other.
In Rome, the chance to observe the 1962 rite was a great gift. It confirmed so much of what I had studied about the liturgy before the liturgical renewal of the 1960s. The rite had taken on a life of its own apart from the service of the assembly. The chance for me as an Anglican to observe the liturgy of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal was a gift too. It made me appreciate what very good work overall the Episcopal Church did in 1979 when it adopted our present Prayer Book.
In the current Roman rite, every member of the assembly other than the celebrant and concelebrating priests is required to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer. This is not done just out of devotion. It is done because the priest represents Jesus Christ himself and offers the sacrifice in the place of Christ. What then of the assembly? It is not essential to the Mass. The inward and spiritual reality of this theological stance is that the people of God, the Body of Christ, is not essential to the eucharistic offering. The first and second editions of the General Instruction was divided into three sections, “Mass with a Congregation,” “Concelebrated Mass” and “Mass without a Congregation.” The new General Instruction renames the third section, “Mass at which only one Minister Participates.” The titles alone speak volumes.
The practice in our Prayer Book of allowing for people to kneel or to stand during prayer begins to recover the ancient, biblical and universal custom of all Christians standing for all prayers. But there is more here. The inward and spiritual reality is, I believe, to encourage us to understand that every member of Christ’s Body matters when the People of God gather.
Kneeling is not a bad thing. But it doesn’t represent the practice of the New Testament or the historical practice of Christians. It comes into the devotional life of Western Christians in the Middle Ages when Christians were afraid to receive Holy Communion more than once a year at Easter. I suspect it will be a long time before many of us are comfortable standing for the Eucharistic Prayer during Mass, but I think it is really important for members of Saint Mary’s to know and believe that we truly are worthy to stand to pray. I think it is important that everyone feel free to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer in this parish. It is the way Jesus himself prayed. It is the way he taught his disciples to pray. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Francis and Hazard who are hospitalized, Louise, Gates, Billie, Susan, Joan, Michael, Virginia, Bart, Brett, Nicole, Jack, Thomas, Annie, Patricia, Paul, Robert, Gloria, Jerri, Margaret, Marion, Rick, and Charles, priest, Gregory, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty especially Ned, Timothy, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Marc, Timothy, David, John and Colin . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 8: 1952 Gwendolyn Eugenia Sands; September 8: 1989 Ruth M. Hinckley.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Isaiah 35:4-7a, Psalm 146:4-9, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:31-37 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, September 6, by Father Smith, and on Saturday, September 13, by Father Gerth . . . On Sunday, September 7, Father Smith is the celebrant and preacher for the 9:00 AM and 5:20 PM Sunday Masses. The Rector is the celebrant and preacher for the 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM Sunday Masses.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This week at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Elegy by Robin Orr (b. 1909) and the postlude is Paean by Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988). Our soloist is Ms. Ruth Cunningham, soprano. The solo at Communion is Antiphon for Divine Wisdom by Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Hildegard was abbess of Rupertsberg, a mystic, composer and writer. Her chant-like monophonic compositions have a haunting, ethereal quality, and she maintained that many of them were divinely inspired though the visions that she experienced throughout her life. It is interesting to note that after her death, Popes Gregory IX, Innocent IV, Clement V and John XXII oversaw the process concerning her possible canonization. She was never canonized, but she is observed in our calendar on September 17 . . . On Wednesday, September 17 at Solemn Evensong, the choir will sing Short Evening Service by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) and Iustorum animae by William Byrd (1543-1623). The choir is conducted by Mr. Robert McDermitt, assistant organist . . . On Thursday, September 11 at the Solemn Requiem Mass, the choir will sing Missa pro defunctis (1583) by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). This is Victoria’s earliest setting of the Requiem Mass. His 6-voice setting of 1603 was sung at Saint Mary’s last year on this occasion. Mr. Geoffrey Williams will conduct the choir, and Mr. Mark Peterson, a parishioner who is currently interim music director at Central Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, will play the organ.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . We welcome the Reverend John Kilgore this Sunday as an assisting deacon at Saint Mary’s. Father is a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Missouri and will be with us this fall. He is a cardiologist in private practice in Saint Louis, is starting General Seminary, and will be ordained priest in March . . . Father Beddingfield will join the other candidates for the priesthood for a pre-ordination retreat on Tuesday, September 9, and Wednesday, September 10 . . . On Saturday, September 20 at 10:30 AM at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, Father John Beddingfield will be ordained priest. A reception for the new priests will follow in Synod Hall on the Cathedral campus. Father Beddingfield’s first celebration of the Holy Eucharist will be at Saint Mary’s on Sunday, September 21 at 11:00 AM . . . The fall parish retreat will be held at Mount Saviour Monastery, near Elmira, New York, www.msaviour.org, Saturday, November 8, through Tuesday, November 11, Veteran's Day. The retreat topic is “Sheep May Safely Graze.” The maximum number of participants is fifteen. E-mail reservations or questions to email@example.com . . . Attendance last Sunday 197.
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION BEGINS September 17 . . . For four Wednesday evenings the Right Reverend Richard F. Grein, XIV Bishop of the Diocese of New York, will lead “The Gospel According to Mark.” The class meets after Mass from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM in Saint Benedict’s Study. We will seek to answer the question: Why did someone we call ‘Mark’ invent what we call a ‘gospel account of the life of Jesus’? In using the material available to him, how does he portray Jesus? What is demanded by Jesus of those who would follow him? We will also pay close attention to the structure of the Gospel as it reveals the purpose of the author.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Monday The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Tuesday Constance, religious, & and her Companions, martyrs
Friday John Henry Hobart, bishop Abstinence
Saturday Cyprian, bishop and martyr
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, curate, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assistant,
The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priest, The Reverend John Kilgore, assisting deacon,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.