From The Rector: Christmas & Epiphany
As the fourth century of the Christian era began, Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman world. Some may have foreseen the inevitability of this new faith. Few could have foreseen that when the century ended it would be the only legal religion in the Roman Empire.
Across the fourth century enormous changes took place within the Christian communities. It is in this century that the Church, newly legal, can work out within the political and social context of the Roman world, how it understood God’s revelation of himself and his purposes for humankind. The great fights over the nature of the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ emerge. The clergy begin to assume a privileged position in what becomes a state religion. Many are converted, but for the first time the liturgy begins to be experienced widely as something that is done for the assembly, not by the assembly. There is a bishop in Rome whom no one has started to call “pope.” Change will continue.
As this fourth century began, Christians often gathered daily for worship in their homes, sometimes simply to pray, sometimes to receive Communion from the Sacrament they brought home from their weekly Eucharist. Sunday is weekly day for Christian worship and celebration. Easter and an Easter Season of fifty days have emerged. But that’s pretty much the calendar. The cycle of feasts we know and love begins to emerge in this century, among them Christmas (Christ + Mass) in the West and Epiphany in the East (from the Greek word for “manifestation”). But we really don’t know much.
We do know that the birthday of Jesus was celebrated in Rome in the year 336 A.D. It would not be until the seventh century that we have evidence that the Annunciation on March 25 was observed. There is a reference to a Gnostic celebration of the baptism of Christ in Alexandria at the beginning of the third century. The Epiphany may find its origins in this. In the fourth century, the West would begin to celebrate Epiphany on January 6 and the East would begin to celebrate Christmas.
Epiphany is a great example of a Christian celebration that is always about more than one thing. It’s the original feast of the kingship of Christ: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). It is also a celebration of Jesus’ baptism and his first miracle at Cana. Attempts to make this celebration neater over the centuries, like attempts to harmonize the gospels, have simply failed.
In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, those who work with children try not to answer many theological questions the children have very directly. This is not to mislead the children but to try to take advantage of the nature of childhood development. God is always beyond whatever words we may faithfully use to describe him. We don’t want a child to think narrowly about God or God’s creation. We want to encourage the child to know and enjoy how God is present and leading him or her from the present to the future.
There is a special joy many people experience at Christmas and Epiphany. I used to think that this was mostly due to adult sentiment about childhood. Somewhere in my late forties or early fifties there was a spiritual shift for me. It may seem to be about the past, but like the world itself, it’s really about God’s plan for the future, for all to hear the voice of the shepherd and to come safely home to his fold.
I invite you to join us for Mass and Evensong on Sunday. I invite you to be here for the celebration of the Epiphany. Merry Christmas. Happy Epiphany. Happy New Year. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED for Carol, Steven, Lucia, Peter, Nicholas, Marcie, Jack, Sandy, Chris, Robert, Stephen, Elsa, Juan, Chris, William, Gert, Mary, Rick, Emil, religious, and Pegram, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Kayla, Benjamin, Patrick, and Andrew; and for the repose of the souls of Frederick and Raymond . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . January 3: 1927 Mary Catherine Pomeroy Starr; 1935 George William Grotz.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . On Tuesday, January 5, Solemn Evensong for the Eve of the Epiphany will be sung at 6:00 PM . . . On Wednesday, January 6, The Epiphany, Morning Prayer will be sung at 8:30 AM and the Noonday Office will be prayed at 12:00 PM. Father Smith will be celebrant and preacher for the Sung Mass at 12:10 PM. Father Gerth will be celebrant and preacher for the Solemn Mass at 6:00 PM. James Kennerley and Joseph Arndt will play an organ recital at 5:30 PM. There will be a reception following Solemn Mass in Saint Joseph’s Hall . . . Father Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, January 12.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Church School for children will meet on Sunday, January 3, at 10:00 AM . . . Thank you Grace Bruni, Scott Holman, and Dick Leitsch for distributing our Christmas postcards to local hotels and information centers. We heard from many visitors that their efforts had paid off! . . . Thank you Clint Best, Grace Bruni, Dick Leitsch, and Bob Picken for helping out around the office during this very busy time of the year . . . Thank you Grace Bruni for organizing and overseeing the supper for volunteers early on Christmas Eve and thank you to all those who brought delicious things to eat . . . Thank you Rick Austill, MaryJane Boland, Grace Bruni, Tom Heffernan, Scott Holman, Chris Hoyte, Mary Leonard, Wayne Mahlke, Mike Rodriguez, Marie Rosseels, Tom Sulzer, José Vidal, and Cooki Winborn for all that you did to decorate the church for Christmas. The church looks beautiful . . . Correction: We got Tom Heffernan’s name wrong in last week’s Angelus. Thank you, Tom, for your help polishing brass and helping out in the sacristy on December 19 . . . Altar flowers are needed for the following Sundays: January 17 and 31 and February 7. Please contact the Finance Office if you would like to make a donation . . . Attendance: Christmas 1054; Last Sunday 195.
FROM THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT . . . The prelude at the Solemn Mass on Friday, January 1, is La vierge et l’enfant (“The Virgin and Child”), the first movement of Olivier Messiaen’s (1908-1992) organ suite La Nativité du Seigneur (1935). The music is sung by the Saint Mary’s Singers, the church’s volunteer choir. The setting of the mass ordinary is Missa de Sancto Albano by Healey Willan (1880-1968). At the ministration of communion, the choir sings the motet In the bleak midwinter by Harold Darke (1888-1976) . . . On Sunday morning, the Second Sunday after Christmas Day, the prelude will also be Messien’s La vierge et l’enfant. The setting of the mass ordinary on Sunday is Missa O magnum mysterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). Victoria, perhaps the best known Spanish composer of the Renaissance, spent much of his career in Rome and may even have studied with Palestrina. He was ordained priest in 1575 by Bishop Thomas Goldwell, the last surviving English Roman Catholic prelate after the Reformation. The “parody” mass (so-called because of its use of a pre-existing work) is based on Victoria’s own setting of O magnum mysterium, sung today at the ministration of communion . . . On Sunday at 4:40 PM Christopher Barrett Jennings, who lives here in New York City, will play the organ recital. The program is Sir Edward Cuthbert Bairstow’s (1874-1946) Sonata in E-flat . . . On January 6, at 5:30 PM, Joseph Arndt, organist and music director, Grace Church, Newark, and I will play the organ recital. The program is Organ Sonata No. 1, Opus 30, by Gustav Merkel (1827-1885) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756-91) Fantasia (Andante and Allegro) in F Major and F minor, K. 598, arranged by Martin Hasselböck. At the Solemn Mass the setting of the ordinary is Mass by Scottish composer James MacMillan (b. 1959). The work was composed for the Millennium celebrations at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Westminster in London. MacMillan is in extremely great demand as a composer, having collaborated with numerous orchestras and solo musicians. A devout Roman Catholic, he has composed many works for the church, including three masses and a setting of the Passion according to Saint John (2008). At the ministration of communion, the choir sings the motet Epiphany to music and text by Judith Bingham (b. 1952). Bingham was born in Nottingham, England, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her unique musical language, and particular skill in writing for voices, has resulted in numerous commissions for choral works. Both works performed at the Solemn Mass on January 6 are notable for their use of the organ. While the mass features virtuosic writing in contrast to the often more lyrical choral parts, Epiphany creates a sound-world through the organ’s tonal colors, from the mysterious star to the plodding of feet, to God appearing in the darkness. James Kennerley
WHY I LOVE SAINT MARY’S . . . As part of the 2010 Stewardship Campaign, the Stewardship Committee is continuing to publish contributions to its series, “Why I Love Saint Mary’s.” Leroy Sharer, parishioner and member of the board of trustees, has written the latest addition to the series: I first entered the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin over forty years ago, when I was a medical student in New York City. I had done a lot of “church shopping,” since I felt that I needed more than I had gotten from religion, and from the church, earlier in my life. I had also heard about Saint Mary’s when I was in college in upstate New York, from some people in the university’s Music Department. When I said that I was going to medical school in New York City, they said that I should visit “Smoky Mary’s,” since it had a very good music program. However, they also told me that it was in Brooklyn! One day I was perusing the New York Times when I saw an ad for the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. So I decided to try the place. Once inside, I knew that I was certainly in Smoky Mary’s, which was, of course, not in Brooklyn after all! The amount of smoke was almost scary, but the music was wonderful, then as now. Over the next few years I visited several times, and in the mid 1970s I decided it was time to approach the altar (I had held back, and initially I even found it difficult to make the sign of the cross – as the Rector has recently noted, this can be oddly problematic for Protestants), and then to join the parish. I took confirmation classes, and I was confirmed and chrismated by Bishop Wetmore at the Easter Vigil in 1976, one of the most thrilling nights of my life. I like to say, “I came for the music, but I stayed for the Mass.” The rich, complex liturgy, new to me in the 1970s, has been an ever increasing source of comfort and edification, and it is now a central part of my life. Leroy Sharer
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . Adult Education on Sunday morning resumes on Sunday, January 17. The adult-education class meets on Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM in the Arch Room on the second floor of the Mission House. January 17 & 24: The Church Fathers and the Epiphany: Saint Gregory Nazianzus’s Oration 38 on the Theophany of Christ. Led by Father Jay Smith . . . January 31 and February 7 & 14: Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Led by Mr. T. Remington Slone, seminarian . . . February 21 & 28 and March 7, 14 & 21: The Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Led by Father Peter Powell. The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will resume on January 20, 2010. The class meets at 6:30 PM on Wednesdays (7:00 PM on Holy Days) in the Mission House. The class is led by Sisters Deborah Francis and Laura Katharine. The class will be reading Ecclesiastes and Job.
HOSPITALITY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . After Solemn Mass on Sundays and feast days we try our best to provide warm and gracious hospitality to our many guests and visitors. In order to defray the cost of our coffee-hour and feast-day receptions we invite our members and friends to sponsor a reception. We now have donors for Epiphany (January 6) and the Easter Vigil (April 3) and we are looking for donors to help with the reception on Candlemas (February 2), Annunciation (March 25), and Ascension Day (May 13). Please speak with Father Smith if you are able to help with our ministry of hospitality.
OUTREACH MINISTRIES AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items and new or “gently used” clothing for the Food Pantry at Saint Clement’s Church. The Pantry serves families living in our own neighborhood. The Pantry fills an increasingly important need during this time of economic difficulty. Those needs are particularly pressing during the next month or so. You are invited to bring food or clothing and place it in the basket in Saint Joseph’s Hall after Mass (or at the ushers’ table before Mass). You can also make a cash donation, if that is more convenient for you (Please speak to Father Smith about how to do that; in fact, cash donations are in some ways more efficient and cost-effective) . . . We recently made another delivery of hand-knitted woolen hats, gloves and scarves to the Seamen’s Church Institute, in Downtown Manhattan. The Institute’s Christmas-at-Sea Program donates warm clothing to merchant mariners visiting the Port of New York and New Jersey, who are not always well-equipped to deal with our region’s winter weather. Please speak to Patricia Mottley for more information about this project, and about acquiring wool from the Institute . . . Parish of San Juan Evangelista, Villanueva, Honduras: Though we are not planning a mission trip this year, we hope to be able to continue to provide our friends at San Juan Evangelista with financial support. Please speak to Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins for details. J.R.S.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Second Sunday after Christmas Day
Monday Christmas Weekday
Tuesday Christmas Weekday
Eve of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Wednesday The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
Eve of the First Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord
Saint Mary’s is open every day of the year for worship, prayer and rest. Most weekdays the church is open from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. On Saturdays the church is open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. On Sundays it is open from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM. On holidays the church is open from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. The regular services of the Church are offered. For the list of the daily services of worship, please see our web page at www.stmvirgin.org.