The Angelus

Volume XI, Number 42

From the Rector: Notes on Hearing Confessions

As you might imagine I have more than a few Prayer Books from my years as a member of the clergy.  Frankly, I can’t keep up with all of them.  When I want a Prayer Book, I want a Prayer Book.  You can find them all over the rectory where I live.  There are at least a half-dozen copies in my office too – so at a meeting all who are present can have one in her or his hands.

The other day I found a Prayer Book that I had used as a senior in seminary.  On the endpaper, at the back of the book, I found notes I had made when Father Louis Weil gave my class a lecture on hearing confessions during the spring of our last year in seminary.  I had forgotten them – and I had forgotten how legible my handwriting was in 1983.

First note, “Assume contrition.”  No further notation.  I suspect that in the spring of 1983 I well remembered my first confession in December 1976.  At the time I was a graduate student in Chicago.  I walked a mile through the snow to the local parish to make my first confession.  In December, the snow in Chicago is fresh.  I, who had been reared as a Southern Baptist, had several four-by-six cards in my pocket on which I had made notes about everything I could remember that I had ever done wrong.  Looking back, as a member of the clergy, I am so very thankful for the understanding and compassion of the priest who listened to me.  I remember the snow on the ground and the cold air as I left the church.  It seemed to confirm I was clean.  Fresh snow and a biting wind still remind me of drawing close to God, of trusting his plan for the world he made.

Second note, “Do not look ‘normally’ at the person – the less he needs to respond to your presence, the better.”  “Looking at the person” isn’t an issue in a traditional confessional, but of course the newer usage of “face to face” changes this.  The clergy at Saint Mary’s customarily use “Father Brown’s” confessional on Saturdays, but we are all happy to move to a chapel for “face to face” if someone requests this.

Third note (really good), “Resist curiosity, surprise, boredom – your feelings are irrelevant.”  The only time I ask a question is when I don’t understand what is being said.  Questions sometimes also help a person distinguish between a feeling for which one is not responsible and an act for which one is.

Fourth note, “With scrupulosity, seek an occasion to deal with it outside the confessional.”  It’s been my practice to suggest that someone make an appointment with me or another priest to deal with a particular issue – and then leave the initiative to the person to bring it up to me if he or she wishes to do so.  If I’ve learned it in the confessional, that’s where it stays.

Fifth note, “Resist the temptation to be profound, clever or moving.  Comfort and encourage.  Keep it brief.”  Sixth note, “Assume responsibility on the part of the penitent.  Assume that they are mature.”

Seventh note, “Do not talk about yourself – let your fuel for compassion be implicit.”  I think twice before bringing up something about myself, but I feel free to do so if I think it may be helpful.  I’m going to think about this one again.

Eighth note, “Assign a simple and straightforward penance.”  Ninth note, “After confession, leave the penitent alone.”  These need no further explanation.  Tenth note, “Never refer to penitents as ‘my penitent.’  Avoid all conversations like this.”  No further explanation is needed.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is not practiced by all Episcopalians or by all members of the clergy of the Church.  The classic Anglican approach has been “All may, some should, none must.”  That said, one can only learn to hear confessions by making one’s own confession.  The confessional is a place I have known grace over and over again as a penitent.  I hope I have helped others as I have been helped.

Twice as a penitent I have been disappointed by a priest.  Once, a priest could not disguise his disgust with something I told him; once a priest said to me in the presence of another that he had not heard my confession for a while.  I try hard never to repeat their behavior.

Here is a rubric from the Prayer Book (page 446) that every priest of the Church knows by heart, “The secrecy of a confession is morally absolute for the confessor, and must under no circumstances be broken.”  A very few times persons whose confessions I have heard have wanted to speak to me later.  I do not engage in any conversations about a confession outside the confessional.  And if someone wants to go to revisit something, the initiative must be with her or him; and any priest will tell you that one of the unexpected graces of being a minister of this sacrament is that one can’t possibly keep straight who has told one what.  You may not believe me but this really is true.   Stephen Gerth


SUNDAY PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Carol, Burt, Robert, Alex, Harm, Dorothy, Kevin, Linda, Cindy, Autumn, Sándor, Margaret, Eva, Allan, Harold, Marcia, Stephen, Madeleine, William, Gert, Mary, Allan, and Rick; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Marc, Benjamin, Steven, Andrew, and Patrick . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 13: 1898 Susan Ann Widmayer; 1917 Jacob Vetter; 1918 Matthew Carey; 1940 Faith Ralph; 1944 Emma Schneider Snyder.


I PUBLISH THE BANNS OF MARRIAGE for Sándor Márton and Autumn Martin of New York City. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the third time of asking. S.G.


THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . On Friday, September 11, 12:10 PM, there will be a Sung Requiem Mass for the repose of the souls of the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 . . . If interested in Saint Mary’s Guild, our parish altar guild, please speak with Sister Laura Katharine or Marie Rosseels. You are most welcome to join them on Saturday, September 12, following the 12:10 PM Mass . . . There will be a meeting of all those interested in enrolling their children in Church School for 2009-2010 on Sunday, September 13, after Coffee Hour, in Saint Joseph’s Hall, around 1:00 PM.  Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins will lead the discussion.  Please contact Rebecca if you have questions or if you can’t be at the meeting, but would still like your child to attend Church School . . . Monday is Holy Cross Day.  In addition to the customary morning and noonday services, Solemn Mass will be celebrated at 6:00 PM.  A reception follows in Saint Joseph’s Hall.  Evening Prayer on Sunday will be of the Eve of Holy Cross Day . . . Father Merz will hear confessions on Saturday, September 12.  Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, September 19.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . Sister Laura Katharine celebrated her fortieth anniversary of life profession with her community on Tuesday, September 8.  Congratulations! . . . Many thanks to all who helped with the services for the Nativity of Mary . . . The Rector will be away from the parish from Sunday afternoon, September 13, to attend a course, “Leadership in Ministry.”  He returns to the parish on Wednesday night . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 266; The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary 100.


FROM THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT . . . The prelude at Solemn Mass this Sunday is the first two movements from Toccata, Adagio und Fuge C-dur, BWV 564, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); the final movement will be played as the postlude. Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei will be improvised to settings by Ms. Ruth Cunningham, cantor, and Mr. Kennerley.  At the ministration of Communion, Ms. Cunningham sings the motet O süßer, O freundlicher from Kleine geistliche Konzerte I, Opus 8, SWV 285, composed by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).  The motet is taken from the first of the two volumes of Schütz’s Kleine geistliche Konzerte (“Little Sacred Concertos”), published in Leipzig in 1636.  At the 6:00 PM Solemn Mass on Holy Cross Day, Monday, September 14, the prelude is Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s (1848-1918) chorale prelude on the hymn tune Rockingham, sung as the postcommunion hymn to the words “When I survey the wondrous cross.”  The tune is taken from the Second Supplement to Psalmody in Miniature, ca. 1780, harmonized by Edward Miller in 1790. Miller was apprenticed to his father, a pavior (a layer of paving stones and the like), but ran away from home to study music. He ended up having a successful career: at one time he was a flautist in Handel’s orchestra and he played the organ for fifty years at Doncaster Church, England.  He also composed hymn tunes and harpsichord sonatas. Cambridge University awarded him a doctoral degree in 1786.  James Kennerley


CHRISTIAN EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN & ADULTS . . . Saint Mary’s Church School will resume on Sunday, October 4, 10:00 AM, in the Morning Room, just outside the Sacristy. Please contact Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins if you would like more information, or if you are planning to have a child attend Church School on Sunday mornings. (Please consider inviting your friends who have children to come to Mass on Sunday mornings and to introduce the children to Deacon Rebecca and the other church-school students.)  There will be a meeting to discuss plans for the Church School this coming Sunday, September 13, after Coffee Hour, around 1:00 PM, in Saint Joseph’s Hall.  Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins will lead the discussion and be available to answer questions . . . Adult Education will resume on Sunday, October 4, 10:00 AM. Father Smith will teach a three-part church-history series, “The Episcopal Church in the Post-World War II Era, 1945–1985” (October 4, 11, and 18). No prior knowledge or experience is necessary. All classes will include a presentation and an opportunity to discuss issues and relevant texts . . . Father Gerth will teach the Adult Education class on Sunday, October 25. The topic will be “The American Editions of The Book of Common Prayer, 1789–1979” . . . On October 7, 6:30 PM, the Wednesday Evening Bible Study will resume. The class will be led by Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., and will meet on seven successive Wednesdays, 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM, following Evening Prayer. The class will be studying the Book of Proverbs.   All adult classes are held in the Arch Room on the second floor of the Mission House, 133 West 46th Street, east of the doors of the church.


CONCERTS & RECITALS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Saturday, October 3, 2009, 3:00 PM, Ryan Jackson, organ; Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 7:30 PM, Tenebrae Chamber Choir, Nigel Short, founder & director . . . Saturday,  October 24, 2009, 8:00 PM, The New York Repertory Orchestra, David Leibowitz, music director and Gretchen Windt, mezzo-soprano; Saturday, November 21, 3:00 PM, Cameron Carpenter, organ (for further information and ticketing, please visit:; Saturday, December 12, 2009, 8:00 PM, The Miller Theatre at Columbia University Early Music Series: The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips, director; Saturday, December 19, 2009, The New York Repertory Orchestra, Annual NYRO Benefit Concert, David Leibowitz, music director & James Kennerley, organ soloist; Saturday, January 23, 2010, 8:00 PM, The Miller Theatre at Columbia University Early Music Series: Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre, conductor; Saturday, January 23, 2010, 8:00 PM, The Miller Theatre at Columbia University Early Music Series: “The Art of the Canon,” Vox Vocal Ensemble, George Steel, conductor; Saturday, February 13, 2010, 8:00 PM, The New York Repertory Orchestra, David Leibowitz, music director and Susie Park, violin soloist; Saturday, February 27, 2010, 8:00 PM, The Miller Theatre at Columbia University Early Music Series: “The Birth of the Renaissance: Guillaume Dufay,” Orlando Consort; Saturday, March 27, 2010, 8:00 PM, The New York Repertory Orchestra, David Leibowitz, music director and Erin Keefe, violin soloist; Saturday, May 22, 2010, 8:00 PM, The New York Repertory Orchestra, David Leibowitz, music director & Jennifer Grimaldi, soprano


OUTREACH MATTERS . . . Food Pantry: You are invited to bring non-perishable food items and new or clean, gently-used clothing items on Sundays. Those items are then delivered to the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry on 46th Street. You can also make a cash donation, if you would like . . . Hope in Richmond, South Africa: Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., and parishioner Michael McNett traveled to South Africa last winter to work with this organization, which sponsors a number of projects, focused on HIV/AIDS Education and Awareness, community building and organization, healthcare, sanitation and employment; one such project is Grassroots Soccer HIV Prevention, in which volunteers work with young people to prevent HIV infection.  Their website is or speak to Sister Deborah Francis or Michael McNett for more information . . . Once again this year we will be working with AIDS Action International (AIA) to collect gifts and toys for families in need, especially for those families affected by HIV and AIDS. AIA’s annual event at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine will be held on Tuesday, November 17. We will be delivering the gift items we’ve collected a few days before that. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Father Smith . . . New York Cares Annual Coat Drive: Before you know it the colder weather will be here. From the NY Cares website: “Did you know that 90% of homeless adults need a new, warm coat each winter because they have no place to keep one over the summer months? But it’s not just homeless people who need our help; thousands of New Yorkers are forced to make a choice between buying a winter coat and putting food on the table, or meeting other basic survival needs. Each December, New York Cares collects nearly 80,000 gently used winter coats and distributes them to thousands of men, women, and children who would otherwise go without.” If you have a new or gently-used coat, please contact Father Smith. We are beginning to gather coats now . . . Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) “Christmas at Sea” Program: We have now made three deliveries of wool caps, scarves, and gloves knit by members of the parish to SCI. Those items are then distributed to mariners from warmer climes who are visiting the Port of New York and New Jersey. For more information, speak to Reha Sterbin or Patricia Mottley . . . “The Glass Garden” rehabilitation program at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (400 East 34th Street) is looking for volunteers to work with their exotic birds, in their conservatory.  Experience is not absolutely necessary, but if you have worked with such birds, your skills would be particularly welcome. Rusk is part of the New York University Hospital. It is a first-rate rehabilitation center, serving those who have suffered strokes, other neurological disorders, and a variety of conditions requiring a long-term stay in the hospital. If you are interested, speak to Barbara Stettner . . . Jay Smith



The Parish Clergy

The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector.

The Reverend James Ross Smith, curate.

The Reverend Rebecca Weiner Tompkins, deacon,

The Reverend John Merz, assisting priest.

The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.


Saint Mary’s Mission House

Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B.

Sister Laura Katharine, C.S.J.B.

The Community of St. John Baptist


The Parish Musicians

Mr. James Kennerley, organist and music director.

Mr. Lawrence Trupiano, organ curator. 


Parish Staff

Aaron Koch, business manager.

Finance Office, finance office.

Mr. Hector Rojas, building mechanic.

Mr. Mario Martinez, Mr. Luis Rentas, Mr. Timothy Zimmerman, sextons.


Questions about the Angelus newsletter 



Sunday: 8:30 AM Morning Prayer, 9:00 AM Said Mass, 10:00 AM Said Mass, 11:00 AM Solemn Mass, 5:00 PM Evening Prayer.  Childcare is available from 8:45 AM until 12:45 PM every Sunday.


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. Thursday Masses include anointing of the sick. Holy days as announced.


Saturday: 12:00 PM Noonday Office, 12:10 PM Mass, 5:00 PM Evening Prayer, 5:20 PM Sunday Vigil Mass. Confessions are normally heard on Saturdays at 11:30 AM and 4:00 PM or by appointment.