From the Rector: One Body, One Cup
The first time I attended a service in an Episcopal parish church was sometime during my teenage years. I was there with friends and, frankly, I don’t remember much. But I do remember how everyone received communion. They were drinking from the same cup. In the Southern Baptist congregations in which I was brought up, we drank from individual cups. In my paternal grandparents’ Roman Catholic Church, the only person I ever saw drinking was the priest. Episcopalians sharing one cup was something that made enough of an impression for me to remember it, but I never gave it much thought until some years later. That was in the 1970s when I was in graduate school in Chicago.
One Sunday some friends and I attended Mass at one of Chicago’s historically black parishes, Saint Edmund’s Church. At communion, the priest had some kind of combination plate and cup set I had never seen before. Everyone received communion from one of the priests at the altar rail who dipped the host into the wine before placing it on one’s tongue. I was told this “intinction set” was the way communion was given in African-American congregations. The practice was a legacy from the days of segregation so blacks and persons of mixed race would not have to drink after one another, not to mention the occasional white visitor.
There’s nothing wrong of course with receiving communion by intinction, but the reason this tradition had come about at Saint Edmund’s, though understandable, was so sad, so wrong. It was one of the many ways the sin of racism continued to express itself in a denomination long after the end of the American Civil War. I think it is important to remember that even after World War II, support for racial segregation was no bar to membership or leadership in the Episcopal Church until all too recently – nor, if you were a bishop, was it ever a bar to receiving an invitation from the archbishop of Canterbury to a Lambeth Conference.
Except for the occasional person who held a host in the palm of his or her hand for a minister to take and dip in the wine because he or she had been sick, I don’t think I was really aware of communion by intinction again until I got out of seminary. That was in 1983. People were starting to be very worried about AIDS. Intinction came back, and this time with a twist: Priests in many places started to permit communicants to dip the host they had received into the wine themselves.
One of the things one learns early as a member of the clergy is that you don’t have to worry about getting sick when drinking after others. If that were a problem, none of the clergy of the Church would be here for very long, or would ever be healthy. We drink after everybody, often daily.
The practice of letting communicants, kneeling or standing, put a host into the chalice themselves always results in many fingers going into the wine. In congregations where this practice has become normative, one can always see some communicants bringing handkerchiefs or tissues with them to the altar rail to be prepared to wipe their fingers if they get wine on them. Father Mead tells a useful story from his days serving as seminarian in a parish where people dipped the host into the wine themselves. One Sunday when he was serving as a minister of the chalice, with the light just right, he saw a film form on the surface as communion continued. The word he uses when he recounts the experience is “disgusting.”
Recently I had the chance to ask the Reverend George Brandt, rector, Saint Michael’s Church, New York City, about Saint Edmund’s Church. Father Brandt had grown up in one of the great black parishes of Harlem. He said my memory was correct. One of his own childhood memories is singing with his parish’s boys’ choir at a Eucharist in a Manhattan parish. The parishioners, white, drank from the chalice. The boys, black, received by intinction. Father’s memory made me wonder what happened at Saint Mary’s in days past, knowing as I do that as late as 1914 and perhaps later, it was the practice here for African-American members to be seated in the rear of the church on the side aisles.
Let me be clear: intinction is not the problem. The practice is ancient and has its roots in reverence, not racism or in prejudice against persons living with HIV or other diseases. But its new and widespread place in our Church’s common life isn’t a renewal of reverence. The practice of “auto-intinction,” doing it yourself, to coin a phrase, is a new thing for Episcopalians and it is very troubling. It should be eschewed for reasons practical (see above). The general encouragement being given for intinction should stop for reasons theological (continue reading).
Why does the way in which we receive communion matter? First and most important of all, we do not pray over bread and wine at Mass to consecrate bread and wine. God doesn’t need us to make more Christ. We, the congregation, pray – note well, the presider is always proclaiming “our” prayer on behalf of all of us, never “his” or “her” prayer – that the Holy Spirit will come to fill the gifts of bread and wine with his presence and to fill us with his presence so that the holy meal may help us grow to be one in Christ. The Mass is not about God’s bread and wine as much as it is about God’s people. We are not at Mass to be or grow spiritually merely as individuals but to be one in Christ.
The sharing of a meal and the use of a common cup starts with Jesus and his disciples. But our customs have always been about more than the way people drank in earlier days. How we eat and drink was and is a sign of relationship, a recognition, rooted in our human biology, of the other being of the same family, language, tribe and nation. Nothing continues to say who we are in Christ as Episcopal Christians more than how we eat the Lord’s Supper. Again, the common cup proclaims and reminds us and all who join us that we are sisters and brothers in Christ, one family, one body, one Christ. My own impression is that receiving by intinction is practically unknown in families that have been Episcopalian for more than two generations, except in African-American congregations.
We at Saint Mary’s are heirs of a tradition that sets aside a Sunday, commonly called “Corpus Christi” – Latin for “Body of Christ,” to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist. This is what we will be celebrating on June 14, this “Second Sunday after Pentecost.” I invite you to be here to share the one cup, to be made even more a part of Christ’s one body. Stephen Gerth
SUNDAY PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked especially for Frances who is hospitalized; and for Ian, Murphy, Allan, Jewell, Aaron, Charisse, Dorothy, Rick, Jean Marie, Kirk, Jack, Alice, Harold, Marcia, Richard, Mary, Stephen, Laura, Donna, Madeleine, Marc, William, Gert, Mary, Daisy, Colleen, and Rick; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Marc, Curtis, Omar, Christopher, Benjamin, Steven, Andrew, and Patrick; and for the repose of the soul of Len . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . June 14: 1878 Robert Hiddle Wishart; 1890 Hugh Agnent McKeon; 1897 Monika Steckler; 1902 Charles Bourguignon; 1913 Harry Lowery; 1944 Arthur Francis Campbell; 1964 Viola Lee Parks.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . The new Summer Schedule begins Sunday evening June 14 . . . Sunday, June 14, 2009, The Body & Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi, Sung Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Said Mass, 9:00 AM, Said Mass 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass, Procession to Times Square & Benediction 11:00 AM, Guild Fair & Lunch in Saint Joseph’s Hall 12:30 PM, Evening Prayer 5:00 PM
GUILD FAIR AND LUNCH . . . On Sunday, June 14, after the Solemn Mass, a buffet lunch will be served in Saint Joseph’s Hall. At the same time, and also in Saint Joseph’s Hall, we will be holding a Guild Fair. Representatives of the various parish guilds will be available to answer questions about their work and ministries here at Saint Mary’s. It will be a great opportunity to find out more about the parish and to join a parish guild! We hope that you will be able to join us.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . As we go to press, Frances Geer, Hardison Geer’s wife, is at Roosevelt Hospital. Please keep her in your prayers . . . It was great to have the Reverend Thomas Heard and his wife Cheryl Winters-Heard with us for Trinity Sunday. Father Heard, who served here while in seminary, is rector of Saint John’s Church, Mobile, Alabama. He was a concelebrant at Solemn Mass and worked with Father Mead to make repairs to our sound system. We are very grateful . . . The Choir of Saint Paul’s, K Street, Washington, DC, directed by Robert McCormick, will sing at Solemn Mass on June 21 . . . Altar flowers are needed for the following dates: July 5, 12, 26. Please contact the parish office if you would like to make a donation . . . Father Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, June 13. Father Mead will hear confessions on Saturday, June 20 . . . Father Smith will be away from the parish from June 15 until July 12. He returns to the office on July 13. Please contact Father Mead during that time to make additions or changes to the prayer lists . . . Attendance: Trinity Sunday 459.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude at Solemn Mass this Sunday is Rhapsody No. 1 by Herbert Howells (1892-1983). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa aedis Christi (“Mass of the house of Christ”) by Howells. This hauntingly beautiful setting was composed in 1958 for the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, England. Though set for four-part choir, it frequently splits into six and seven parts, giving the texture a rich and full sound. Howells made many notable contributions to sacred music; a great deal of it is not widely heard, however, and this mass is among his numerous neglected works. At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Ave verum corpus by Colin Mawby (b. 1936). Following the postcommunion prayer, the choir sings O sacrum convivium by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), and, at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, O salutaris hostia by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) and Tantum ergo by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). This is the last time that we will hear the full choir until the Eve of the Assumption on August 14. In the meantime, music will be sung at Solemn Mass by solos, duets and trios drawn from the professional choir. The Saint Mary’s Singers sang their last service of the season at Solemn Evensong on Trinity Sunday. In a splendid combined effort with the Saint Mary’s professional choir, we were able to welcome several newcomers to our ranks. It has been an extremely pleasing year for all concerned – many thanks to all who have worked so hard to keep music at Saint Mary’s alive and well! James Kennerley
MISSION & OUTREACH . . . Monday, June 15, 2009 : 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM, at the New York Times Center, 242 West 41st Street, The New York Times presents The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, in a conversation about his life, his ministry, and his views on gay people of faith and gay rights. Bishop Robinson will be interviewed by Times national religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein. General admission is $20.00 . . . Post-Katrina Mission Trip to the Gulf Coast (Mississippi and Louisiana) . . . A group from Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, is planning a mission trip to the Gulf Coast for November 8-14, 2009. This is not their first trip so the effort seems to be well-established. The coordinators have already booked lodging (described as “convenient and comfortable”) in New Orleans’s Garden District. For more information, please speak to Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins or send an e-mail to Barbara Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org . . . Food Pantry: You are invited to bring non-perishable food items on Sundays and place them in the basket at the back of the church or on the table in Saint Joseph’s Hall. The food is then delivered to the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry on 46th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues. Thank you to all those who have given so generously and so consistently to this very important outreach effort. If you would like to volunteer at the Food Pantry during the summer months, a time when there is sometimes a particular need for volunteers, please speak to Father Smith. J.R.S.
FROM THE ARCHIVES . . . Ministry in Times Square has always presented certain challenges. Father Grieg Taber, rector of Saint Mary’s from 1939 to 1964 and a man known for his dry sense of humor, once published the following notice in an edition of Ave, the parish magazine: “Unless the violet stoles stop disappearing from the confessionals, the clergy of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin will have to cease hearing confessions.”
A FRIENDLY REMINDER . . . If you plan to be away from the parish for all or part of the summer, we would appreciate it if you tried to stay current on your pledge payments. We often run into cash-flow problems during the summer months and that is, of course, a special concern this year. Thank you very much for your consideration – and thank you to all who give so generously to support the work and mission of this parish.
HOSPITALITY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . During this time of belt-tightening and budget cuts, we would like to invite the members and friends of Saint Mary’s to consider making a donation to support the parish’s hospitality efforts. There are several ways that one can do that. One thing you can do is donate unopened boxes of cookies or other sweets or pastries for use at Coffee Hour on Sunday mornings. Even if there is a surplus of donated items on a given Sunday, we are able to freeze items for use at a later date. You can also make a cash donation. Checks should be written to the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and “Hospitality Fund” should be written in the memo line. We are grateful to all those who have already answered this appeal and have helped with this important ministry of hospitality. J.R.S.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS of the year are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. Friday abstinence resumed on June 5. It is not observed during Eastertide, Christmastide or when feasts of our Lord occur on Fridays.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Body & Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi
Tuesday Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, 1752
Thursday Bernard Mizeki, Catechist and Martyr in Rhodesia, 1896
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
Eve of the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday: 8:30 AM Sung Matins, 9:00 AM Said Mass, 10:00 AM Said Mass, 11:00 AM Solemn Mass,
5:00 PM Evening Prayer
Childcare is available from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM all Sundays of the year.
Monday–Friday: 8:30 AM Morning Prayer, 12:00 PM Noonday Office, 12:10 PM Mass, 6:00 PM Evening Prayer. The Wednesday 12:10 PM Mass is sung. The Thursday Mass includes anointing of the sick.
Saturday: 12:00 PM Noonday Office, 12:10 PM Mass, 5:00 PM Evening Prayer, 5:20 PM Sunday Vigil Mass.
Confessions are heard on Saturdays 11:30-11:50 AM & 4:00-4:50 PM.