From the Rector: Meaning and Discipline
I think it was during Eastertide before the beginning of the present war in Iraq that someone asked Father John Beddingfield whether we might have a special shrine and candle dedicated to prayers for peace. His response included a remark about the paschal candle that was standing by the altar and reference to the prayers of the Mass and of the Offices. Every service at Saint Mary’s, every Mass and every Office, Morning, Noon, and Evening, includes real prayers for peace, for justice and for the increase of the Kingdom of God.
It is fair to say that Father Beddingfield’s off the cuff response tells you something about how he experiences the ordinary prayer of the Church. His instincts were exactly right and have led me many times since to reflect on the meaning of the words we use in common prayer. Worship is not intended to be some kind of sacred drill or incantation. The words have meaning because they are part of the unfolding of God’s plan for people and for all of creation. Meaning and discipline are crucial values for us.
Most of us have probably been through a point in our spiritual journey where the rites open so many graces to us that the rites, the words, the gestures and everything in worship, seem almost as holy and mysterious as God himself. This intensity is a gift from God but I don’t think it is intended to be a final gift. It’s a place on the journey, the journey to a deeper awareness of our relationship to God, to each other, and to all people.
There is an abiding appreciation and commitment to the power of worship that is written into the DNA, as it were, of this parish church. Worship is never a drill at Saint Mary’s. I confess that as a human being it can seem like a duty, and on very rare occasions, for me as a priest, just work. But that is, again, the rare occasion. We don’t rush worship here. We give it our best.
Discipline is crucial to the integrity of liturgical prayer. Fortunately, Saint Mary’s isn’t a parish where clergy and people are making it up as we go along. It is fair to say that we try to live deeply into the rites, not to presume they need to be fixed.
There are many maxims, as it were, that one learns in liturgical studies. One of the more famous is called Baumstark’s law. If I recall correctly, Baumstark, a nineteenth century scholar, observed that the most sacred days of the year preserve the most ancient rituals. One notable example of this is that our Good Friday liturgy contains no provision for a collection of an offering during the service. And as hard as it is for me as a rector not to pass the plate, liturgical discipline on Good Friday means that although we may put baskets at the door, we do not interrupt, let’s say, the singing of “Were you there” with the passing of plates.
Another commonplace comes from Aidan Kavanagh – his observation that liturgical discipline tends to break down at the beginning and end of services. Before the introduction of the new rites in the late 1970s, many Anglo-catholic catholic parishes could regularly have four or five hymns of one sort of another before they got to the opening prayer. There could be a short choral anthem, an introit, an opening hymn, a setting of Kyrie eleison and a setting of Gloria in excelsis. Then you could add in a chant to sprinkle the assembly with holy water.
Prayers and devotions tacked on to the end of Mass often included a setting of the Angelus and the reading of the prologue of John’s Gospel. The clean-up has meant, among other things, that the crucial elements of the liturgy have recovered function and balance. The entrance is again an entrance. The dismissal rite is again a dismissal rite. We do the Angelus all the time at Saint Mary’s – but not as part of the principal Sunday Mass.
Let me hasten to add that when I write about liturgy and our common life, I never mean to imply that there is one right way to do things or that the way we do things at Saint Mary’s is the one right way. What I hope I convey is our goal to be one expression and living of the best thinking of our day about worship and Christianity, not the only expression of best thinking, but one. I think a thoughtful person who enters our church and joins us in worship will see that we have love for God and for each other. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked especially for Judi who is hospitalized, for Ethan, John, Brendan, Laura, Gabriela, Eve, Judi, Roy, Betty Ann, Deborah, Virginia, Mary, William, Ana, Gilbert, Marion, Jeanne, Joseph, Rick, Thomas, priest and Charles, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Fahad, Joseph, Patrick, Bruce, Brenden, Jonathan, Christopher, Timothy, Nestor, Freddie, Dennis and Derrick . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . May 10: 1994 Malcolm Benton Wallace.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, May 6, by Father Gerth and on Saturday, May 13, by Father Mead.
SAINT MARY’S AIDS WALK TEAM . . . MaryJane Boland and Andrew Smith are coordinating walkers and contributions for this year’s AIDS Walk on Sunday, May 21. There is still time to join the team of walkers from Saint Mary’s. There is time to make a contribution. Our Saint Marian team will be attending the Saturday Vigil Mass on May 20 and walking on Sunday morning. We hope to have full details posted on the web page shortly – as we go to press an upgrade of our system is underway that prevents us from posting the information. In the meantime, you can contact MaryJane at firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrew at email@example.com. Both can be reached at 212-362-9289. Last year, 45000 New Yorkers walked in the belief that we could change the course of this epidemic. Our Episcopal Church was one of the twenty top fundraising groups here in New York. We hope we will be able to do even more this year for this vital ministry.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . As we go to press, Judi Kerr continues in rehabilitation following surgery. We are thankful she is doing very well and expects to be home soon. Please keep her in your prayers . . . Robert McCormick is to play a recital on Friday, May 5, at 8:15 PM at the Church of the Nativity, Huntsville, Alabama. He returns to the parish on Saturday . . . Giving records for the first four months of 2006 have been mailed to all who formally “pledged” to the 2006 operating budget. The record is supposed to include all giving of any kind to the parish from January 1, 2006 through April 30, 2006. If there are any questions, please call the Finance Office at extension 13 or speak with the treasurer, Jim Dennis . . . Movie Night in May will be on Friday, May 19 at 7:00 PM in Saint Joseph’s Hall. This month we will watch Luther, made in 2003 with Joseph Fiennes, Peter Ustinov and others. Join us for the flick, food, foamy beverages and fun . . . Jim Zmyslo, one of our seminarians, will be with us one more Sunday this semester, May 7. Jim, it’s been great to have you with us this year! . . . The Rector will be on vacation from Tuesday, May 9, through Tuesday, May 16. He returns to the parish office on Wednesday, May 17 . . . Attendance last Sunday 410.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This Sunday at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is an improvisation on ‘Resignation’ (hymn 664) and the postlude is an improvisation on ‘Victory’ (hymn 208). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa ‘Ave Regina coelorum’ by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). The Spanish Victoria, one of the great musicians of the late Renaissance, lived and worked for many years in Rome, though he is recognized as Spain’s finest composer of that period. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1575 by the last surviving English Roman Catholic bishop. This ebullient setting for double choir (two distinct choirs of four parts each) was published in 1600, and is a “parody” on Victoria’s own two settings of Ave Regina coelorum, the Marian antiphon appointed for Compline from Candlemas (February 2) through Lent. The motet at Communion is another of Victoria’s works for double choir, a setting of Regina coeli, the Marian devotion used daily throughout Eastertide . . . The recital at 4:40 is played this week by John Buckel of Yonkers, New York . . . At Solemn Evensong & Benediction, we welcome the choir of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, White Plains, New York. They will sing music of Ossewaarde, Matthews and Victoria. Robert McCormick
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION & FORMATION . . . Sunday School meets on Sundays at 10:00 AM in Saint Benedict’s Study . . . The Tuesday Night Bible Study meets on Tuesday, May 9, at 7:00 PM in Saint Benedict’s Study. This class will read through the book of the Acts of the Apostles. We will read chapters 13 through 19 . . . The Spirituality and Reading group continues with the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At the next meeting, on Sunday, May 21, we will discuss The Cost of Discipleship.
MISSION NOTES . . . On Saturday, May 6 from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM in Donegan Hall at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine there will be a meeting to evaluate the 2006 mission trip to Honduras and to begin planning the trip for 2007. This is a wonderful time to meet some of the participants and leaders and to begin thinking about joining next year’s group. Let Father Beddingfield know if you would like to attend so that you can be included for lunch.