From the Rector: Ascending
If forty were not such an important number in the Old Testament, we probably would not be celebrating Ascension Day. One of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the one in the Acts of the Apostles, fixes the Lord’s ascension on the fortieth day. Some may remember when the Church made a ceremony of putting out the paschal candle during Mass on Ascension Day as a remembrance that the Risen Christ in his physical person was now gone from us.
This ceremony was suppressed during the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. If you study Scripture and liturgy, it’s perfectly clear why. The Church was trying to return to an earlier understanding of the Easter Season and to be faithful in a new way to the biblical record. In the gospels and in the rest of the New Testament Jesus comes and goes from heaven a lot.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have heard people say that Pentecost, the fiftieth and final day of the Easter Season is the day when the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Again, a reading from Acts provides the biblical reference for this. But the New Testament record is much richer. Recall that it is on the evening of the first Easter day that the Lord appears to the disciples save Thomas and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). This passage, John 20:19-23, in fact, is the gospel appointed for Pentecost.
It’s not really very important for most serous Christians to know the colors generally used for vestments and hangings across the Church year. (The parish clergy and lay altar servers can generally be trusted to remember these things.) I think it is important for Christians to know that we gather on Easter and on every Sunday of the year to celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection. This is the fundamental cycle of the Christian calendar. From the time of the Apostles those who confess Christ gather on this first day of the week to eat the Lord’s Supper. The Sunday Mass, no matter the season of the year, is always an Easter Mass. (There is no shame in giving up all Lenten disciplines on the Sundays in Lent. In fact, not to do so may imply dishonor to the Lord’s dying and rising for us.)
In addition to this fundamental Sunday cycle, the Church very early began to assign the celebration of particular events in the life of Jesus to fixed dates on the calendar. In part, the early Church did this to convert people to the faith and to sustain this faith. The fourth century Church in Rome seems to have established December 25 as the feast of the Lord’s nativity to replace a feast of the “Unconquered Sun-God.”
The ecumenical calendar reforms of the 1960s restored a sense of the primacy of Easter, of Sunday and of liturgical celebrations rooted in the life of the Lord, as recorded in the gospels. A very few “idea” feasts survive, Trinity Sunday and Christ the King, to name two. Historical feasts of Jesus would include Christmas, Annunciation (March 25) and the Presentation (February 2). And although there is something entirely arbitrary about the fixing of dates for these celebrations, they have a certain rhythm that marks the passing of the year.
I think it is important for us to think broadly about the mystery of the Church year, just as a wise person thinks broadly about many things in general. Words can be very precise and can be used in very precise ways. Words can also be used poetically, richly. Easter and all the Sundays of the year do not begin to capture the richness of the mystery of Christ’s death and life and of our own death and life in him. Ascension Day is a moment of focus – an important one, mind you, when the Church expects her members to be at Mass wherever they may be (a subject for an article on another day).
Here at Saint Mary’s we commemorate the Lord’s ascension with a particular richness. There is a simple Sung Mass at noon and at 6:00 PM the Right Reverend C. Christopher Epting, ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church, will be with us to preside and preach at Solemn Pontifical Mass. The music will be big (see Notes on Music). And yes, the paschal candle will continue to burn by the altar throughout the day on the fifty days of Eastertide on Sundays and feast days. The mystery of the Lord’s death, resurrection, ascension and of the sending of the Holy Spirit are so great that any single celebration is always an entry and not an ending. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Virginia, Roxanne, Tony, Christina, Charlton, Patrick, Eileen, John, Virginia, Mary, Ruth, William, Jane, Thomas, Brian, Deborah, Ibo, Pamela, Penn, Gilbert, Robert, Gloria, Kay, Bart, Marion, Mamie, Rick, Thomas, priest and Charles, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Jonathon, Patrick, Bruce, Joseph, Brenden, Christopher, David, Nestor, Freddie, Patrick, Derrick and Christina; and for the repose of the soul of Richard, priest . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . May 10: 1994 Malcolm Benton Wallace.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 148:7-14, Acts 17:22-31, John 15:1-8 . . . Father Beddingfield will be the celebrant and preacher for the 9:00 AM Mass . . . Father Gerth will be the celebrant and preacher for the 10:00 AM Sung Mass and the 11:00 AM Solemn Mass . . . Ms. Clare Nesmith, our senior seminarian, will preach at Solemn Evensong & Benediction at 5:00 PM . . . On Saturday, April 30, Father Gerth will hear confessions . . . On Saturday, May 7, Father Mead will hear confessions
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Congratulations to Robert McCormick for being selected as one of six semifinalists to compete in the next round of the Improvisation Competition of the 23rd International Organ Festival at St. Albans, England. The festival will be held July 7, 2005 through July 16, 2005 . . . Father Beddingfield’s class on the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Center for Christian Studies continues on Monday night. The class this week covers the Marian theology of Calvin and Cranmer, as well as current non-Roman perspectives. The class meets at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church at 55th Street and Fifth Avenue . . . Father Mead’s Bible Study on Saint John’s Gospel meets at 7:00 PM this Tuesday in Saint Benedict’s Study . . . Attendance last Sunday 282.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This Sunday at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is an improvisation on the plainsong hymn of Our Lady for Eastertide, Regina coeli laetare, and the postlude is an improvisation on the hymn tune ‘Abbot’s Leigh’. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa ‘Ego flos campi’ by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c. 1590-1664). Padilla, greatly respected in his lifetime, was among the Spanish composers who immigrated to Mexico; he became maestro de capilla (master of the music) of Pueblo Cathedral, home to a distinguished musical tradition, in 1629. Church music in the Spanish colonies was similar to and derived from Spanish practice. Padilla composed in a style founded on 16th century polyphony, the music of Morales, Guerrero, Victoria and other composers heard frequently at Saint Mary’s, though one hears the traits of the “new style” in his compositions. This “parody mass” is for double choir (two choirs of four parts each) and is based on an unknown motet; Ego flos campi comes from the Song of Solomon (translated, “I am the flower of the field”) and has specific Marian associations. The motet at Communion is Regina coeli by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1553) . . . The organ recital at 4:40 is played by Jason Roberts . . . This Sunday we welcome at Evensong & Benediction the choir of Saint Luke’s Church, Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Terry Heisey is the organist and William Claxton is the organist . . . On Ascension Day, the recital at 5:30 is played by Casey Cantwell of Tulsa, Oklahoma . . . The choral music on Ascension Day is among the most beautiful of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), perhaps the greatest composer of polyphony ever to live, his five-voice motet Ascendo ad Patrem and the Mass setting based upon it. Robert McCormick
FROM SAINT ANDREW’S GUILD: JOIN US! . . . Pray for Saint Mary’s congregation to grow. Share your ideas. Bring a friend to church. Join the lunch bunch. Share your ideas for helping Saint Mary’s to grow. Become an official member of the Saint Andrew’s Guild, those parishioners who are committed to welcoming newcomers and to attracting visitors who will become newcomers. Speak to MaryJane Boland or Eric Peterson with your ideas or send us an e-mail. Help Saint Mary’s congregation to reach 400 people by Christmas 2005.
SPIRITUALITY READING GROUP . . . Several members of the Women’s Spirituality Group that used to meet one Tuesday a month would like to form a new group of all interested persons, men and women, to meet on the third Sunday of each month at 1:00 PM to discuss a book or a topic or possibly even hear a talk from a presenter. Join us after Mass and over lunch in Saint Benedict’s Study on Sunday, May 15 to discuss this new group.
GERRE HANCOCK IN RECITAL . . . The organist and master of choristers emeritus of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue will play at Saint Mary’s at 7:30 PM on Friday, May 13. Considered the finest organ improviser in America, the program includes an improvised Sonata on submitted themes and music of Grigny, Bach and Reger. For tickets, phone 212.869.5830, extension 25, complete the form at www.stmvirgin.org/MusicatSaintMarys or purchase them at coffee hour this Sunday.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Monday Saint Philip and Saint James (transferred)
Tuesday Easter Weekday
Wednesday Monica, Mother of Augustine of Hippo, 387
Eve of Ascension Day 6:00 PM
Thursday Ascension Day
Friday Easter Weekday No Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, The Reverend Matthew Mead, curates,
The Reverend Ian Bruce Montgomery, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assisting priests,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.