From the Rector: Recent Research on Lent
Notre Dame professors Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson make some significant recent liturgical research available to the non-academic reader in their new book, The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011). The book has me thinking about what people have been learning about this subject and what the new work means for worship today.
One example of Bradshaw’s and Johnson’s approach to the subject comes on the first page of the introduction. They chose not to use the phrase “liturgical year” in their title because the concept of a “liturgical year” only came to be articulated in the late sixteenth century. Their book is about the first four centuries. From this perspective, it would be anachronistic, that is, reading the present into the past, to refer to a “liturgical year” in early Christianity.
The origin of Lent is among the many questions they survey. It is an academic and pastoral question of continuing interest. The legalization in the Roman Empire, or “imperialization” if you will, of Christianity in the fourth century is determinative for so much that follows. What we know as the season of Lent comes together in this fourth century of the Christian Era.
After the first council of bishops from across the Mediterranean world, called by the emperor Constantine and held at Nicaea in 323 A.D., three different traditions seem to have come together to shape the forty-day pre-Easter season we know as Lent.
First, a forty-day fast was already being celebrated after Epiphany in many places in the east. There, Epiphany was a baptismal day. This forty-day fast was based on the fast Jesus himself observed after baptism. Second, in the Christian communities in Rome and North Africa, well before the beginning of the fourth century, there was already an established three-week period of pre-baptismal fasting before Easter. Third, three-week periods of preparation for baptism were also common in other Christian cities and communities that did not associate baptism with Easter or any particular day other than Sunday.
They conclude that if current research is correct, “the origins of what becomes ‘Lent’ have very little to do with Easter at all. Rather, the origins have to do both with early fasting practices in general and with the final preparation of baptismal candidates for whenever their baptism might be celebrated” (page 113). So, how did Lent come to be about hoards of people in New York lining up for ashes by the hundreds and thousands? The answer lies in a past far from New York City.
Civilization collapsed in Western Europe with the end of the Roman Empire. Then, there was the Black Death which scared the soul of Europe for centuries. The Eucharist became about death and sacrifice. The idea that it was the weekly common meal of the Christian community was lost. By the thirteenth century, the Eucharist was something to look at, not to eat. This shift continues to be foundational for Western Christians to this day. A Focus on sacrifice and death still shapes our traditional language Eucharist in the new Prayer Book.
In our 1928 Prayer Book’s Eucharistic Prayer, now Eucharistic Prayer I (The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 333), the Mass is described as “a perpetual memory of [Jesus’] precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.” That’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. The word “resurrection” appears only once in this prayer, the word “death” appears five times, the word “passion” four times. The central belief of Christians is about death and resurrection, not just death. The theological rebalancing that takes place in the new Eucharistic prayers in our Prayer Book is one of its most important achievements.
Bradshaw’s and Johnsons’ book suggests we continue to be on firm ground in this journey the new Prayer Book took. Lent isn’t about ashes; it’s about baptism; it’s about Easter. In history, the Church often strays, but the gospel has a way of reasserting itself. Let us, in the words of our new book, “cleanse [our] hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast” (page 379). Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Carol, Sharon, Emily, Doreen, Margaret, Julia, Dorothy, Alan, Chris, Rolf, Gert, Daisy, William, and Rick; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Nicholas and Christine; and for the repose of the souls of Helda and Raj . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . March 13: 1872 Thomas Richardson; 1893 Catherine E. Swart, Christiana Marston; 1916 James Dunn; 1924 Thomas William Meadows; 1925 Selden Blakeslee; 1930 Harriett Breslin; 1943 Frederick Charles Schmidt, II; 1956 Ida Jane White Blinn.
WELCOME, BISHOP JENKINS . . . The Right Reverend Charles E. Jenkins, X Bishop of Louisiana, will be here at Saint Mary’s while I am away on vacation from March 15 through March 23. I served as Bishop Jenkins’s first curate while he was rector at Saint Luke’s Church, in Baton Rouge. He is known to many at Saint Mary’s having been with us before, and to the wider Church for his courageous leadership after the devastations of hurricanes Katrina and Gustav in his diocese. Bishop Jenkins will be assisting at weekday Offices and Masses and will preside and preach at the 10:00 AM Said Mass and at the 11:00 AM Solemn Pontifical Mass on Sunday, March 20. It’s a great honor for us as a community, and for me personally, that he is coming to the parish. S.G.
THE OBSERVANCE OF LENT . . . The ordinary weekdays of Lent are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. In addition, the Fridays of Lent are observed traditionally by abstinence from flesh meats.
THE WAY OF THE CROSS . . . On Fridays in Lent we offer the service of Stations of the Cross at 6:30 PM. The service lasts about 35 minutes and includes the singing of Stabat Mater (“At the cross her station keeping”). We use the exceptionally fine version of the service published by the Episcopal Church in its Book of Occasional Services.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . Sunday, March 13, Daylight Saving Time begins. We move clocks forward one hour . . . The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and the Adult Forum will meet on Sunday, March 13 . . . Friday, March 18, Stations of the Cross, 6:30 PM, following Evening Prayer . . . Father Stephen Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, March 12. Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, March 19.
SAINT JOSEPH’S DAY is Saturday, March 19. In the calendar of the Church it is not a weekday of Lent and abstinence is not observed. Mass will be offered for this feast only on Saturday at 12:10 PM. On Friday evening, March 18, the Eve of Saint Joseph’s Day, Evening Prayer will be offered at 6:00 PM and Stations of the Cross at 6:30 PM. S.G.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Friday, March 11, 8:00 PM: Organ Recital by William Whitehead . . . Thank you to all our ushers, acolytes, readers, musicians, and sextons for their dedication and hard work on Ash Wednesday . . . The New York Times published a picture of the church on Ash Wednesday in its City Room blog . . . At the Solemn Mass on Sundays during Lent we will sing the plainsong version of the Nicene Creed . . . Father Pete Powell’s sermon for Sunday, February 27, is on Saint Mary’s web page here . . . José Vidal works with Visual Aids and was curator for a recent web gallery exhibition, “Why Religious Images Now.” José’s introduction and the images can be found here . . . The Church Pension Group’s Office of Research is assisting the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in fulfilling its General Convention mandate in Resolution B004 to determine whether a revision of The Hymnal 1982 is needed and wanted by the Episcopal Church. All members of the Church are invited to participate in the Hymnal Revision Feasibility Study (clicking on this link will take you there), a research study being conducted via online surveys and focus groups through the end of March 2011 . . . Many thanks to James Kennerley for his continuing work on our sound system . . . Thanks MaryJane Boland and Clark Mitchell for the current supply of bread for the Solemn Mass . . . to Attendance: Last Sunday 203; Ash Wednesday 587.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . Music at the Solemn Mass on Sunday is sung by a quartet drawn from the main choir. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa secunda by Hans Leo Hassler (1512–1562). Though he was Protestant, Hassler, a student in Venice of Andrea Gabrieli (c. 1510–1586), wrote a good amount of Latin music for the Roman Catholic liturgy (in addition to madrigals, keyboard music and instrumental music). This Mass setting is one of his most popular, and is admired for its beauty and brevity. At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Sicut cervus by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525–1594). The organ is used only minimally at services during Lent, and there are no organ recitals before Evensong on Sundays until Easter Day. James Kennerley
HOSPITALITY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Cash gifts are needed to fund the receptions planned for the Annunciation, March 25, the Easter Vigil, April 23, and Ascension Day, June 2. Please contact Father Smith or Aaron Koch in the Finance Office if you would like to help.
STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN 2010-2011 . . . As of March 7, we have received pledges from 177 households. $428,381.00 has been pledged to date. We are still 6% short of our goal and have received pledges from 82% of the households that pledged during last year’s campaign. We still have some work to do, but we still think we are going to make it! Every single gift, no matter its size, brings us closer to our goal! Thank you to all who have pledged during this year’s campaign.
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class meets in the Arch Room, on the second floor of the Mission House from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM. The class is led by the sisters. Newcomers are most welcome! . . . On Sundays during Lent, March 13 through April 10, Father Peter Powell will lead the Adult Forum in a discussion of First Corinthians 15 . . . On the four Sundays in May, Grace Bruni will lead a church-history series on the complex relationship between civil and ecclesiastical authority during the Middle Ages . . . On Sunday, June 5, Dr. Dennis Raverty, will give a lecture on The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood & the British Arts and Crafts Movement.
THE AMERICAN GLOBE THEATER’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing continues through Sunday, March 20 (Thursday-Saturday 7:30 PM; Sunday 3:00 PM). Call 212-869-9809 for ticket reservations. (“AGT” is the resident theater group at Saint Mary’s. Their auditorium is on the third floor of the parish house.)
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please consider making a regular donation to the Food Pantry. Look for the basket in the back of the church or in Saint Joseph’s Hall. If you would like more information about how the Food Pantry works or if you would like to volunteer, please speak to Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B. . . . Father Smith resumes his Book Sale in Saint Joseph’s Hall on Sunday morning. All proceeds benefit the Food Pantry and other outreach efforts . . . Saturday, May 14 & Sunday, May 15, AIDS Walk. Please speak to MaryJane Boland about registering for the Walk and to begin fundraising efforts.
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Saturday, March 19, Saint Joseph, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Mass 12:10 PM . . . Thursday, March 24, Eve of the Annunciation, Solemn Evensong, 6:00 PM . . . Friday, March 25, The Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM, the Reverend Dr. Ryan Lesh, preacher . . . Sunday, May 1, 1:00 PM, Annual Meeting of the Parish.
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus
The Parish Musicians
Mr. James Kennerley, organist and music director
Mr. Lawrence Trupiano, organ curator
The Parish Staff
Mr. Aaron Koch, business manager
Mr. Miguel Gonzalez, Mr. Mario Martinez, Mr. H. Antonio Santiago, sextons