FROM THE RECTOR: BENEDICT OF NURSIA
During Lent in my first or second year at Nashotah House, I went with a small group from the seminary to make a retreat at Saint Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan. We arrived on a Friday afternoon shortly before the last service of the day, Compline, at 7:00 PM. It was March in Michigan. The sun had set. It was almost dark in the very simple abbey church as the monks did not really need light to sing the service. In their church, when a person entered, he or she knew he was in a place of prayer.
I remember a few things in particular about that first visit. We were not the only guests. The four or five of us from the seminary sat in the back row and listened as the monks sang compline. The monks provided leaflets so one could follow the service, but they sang so much as one quiet voice that no one else joined in. At the end, those of us from the seminary, very gently, joined in the singing of the only part of the service in Latin, one of the four hymns addressed to Mary, known as the “final antiphons of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” which conclude the service. We seminarians were all regulars at compline at Nashotah, and we knew the antiphon.
The final hymn for Lent is “Ave Regina Coelorum” – “Queen of heaven, we hail you.” I remember the other guests turned around and stared at us. I also remember that we sang quietly enough that the monks did not turn around.
The other significant thing I remember was the care with which the monks prayed. Daily corporate prayer is the heart of their life and witness. It was a commitment I had found expressed in the worship of the parish that sent me to seminary, Saint Helena’s Church, Burr Ridge, Illinois, and the seminary I was attending. I don’t think it’s entirely an accident that I would end up as rector of parishes where worship was clearly the center of a congregation’s common life and the source of its nourishment for mission. There are many roots for this kind of prayer. Saint Benedict gave shape to this ordered life of prayer. His work continues to shape Western Christian spirituality.
Benedict was born in Nursia. Italy – now called Norcia – c. 480 and died c. 540. He was born into what we call the classical world, as that world was falling rapidly into ruins. As a young man, he withdrew to the hills – the tradition of Christian solitaries (hermits) was already known. A group of other monks gathered around him and he became their abbot. Eventually he moved this community to Monte Cassino.
Benedict is famous for his Rule – his instructions that ordered the prayer and work of the monks. As far as we know, he himself wasn’t ordained and did not intend to found an order. How much of the Rule, as we have it, was actually written by Benedict is a matter of academic discussion and research. One can say with some confidence, the personal and spiritual discipline he set out met an enormous need in a society in turmoil. Monks were among the few who would preserve reading, writing, and manuscripts from earlier times.
The actual date of his death is uncertain. For centuries his life was remembered on March 21, which always falls in Lent. When this commemoration was proposed for inclusion in our calendar in 1957, the Episcopal Church selected July 11 – the date of the movement of Benedict’s relics in 653. Independently of us, I’m sure, the Roman Communion adopted this July date in its 1969 calendar reform.
It was a Benedictine monk, Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome, who in 596 decided to send a Benedictine abbot, Augustine, to England to reestablish the connection of Mediterranean Christianity with the Christians who continued in England after the collapse of the Roman Empire. In England and throughout Western Europe, monastic spirituality would shape the daily prayer of the Church.
Perhaps most relevant for us as Anglicans, The Book of Common Prayer (1549) recaptured, as it were, one of the greatest traditions of the Church: the daily corporate prayer of the Christian community in the morning and in the evening. Cranmer’s Prayer Book reformed what had become a monastic, largely clerical, prayer – generally known as the “Divine Office.” The Prayer Book office provided forms for daily Morning and Evening Prayer. I’m not aware of any other Western denomination in which the ordered, daily public prayer of psalms and Scripture, is primarily congregational, not just something for the clergy and religious.
For reasons that I don’t understand, in our Episcopal Church it is an unusual for a parish or a cathedral to offer daily Morning and Evening Prayer. It is still more unusual to find a congregation where clergy and laypersons can be found daily together praying publicly in the church. It is easy to read thoughtful and caring criticisms of ordinary Morning and Evening Prayer in the Prayer Book tradition. There are reasons why questions are raised and reforms proposed. I have never found the Daily Office to be a problem. It speaks to me.
For my own part, nothing continues to be more important than reading the Bible aloud in presence of others – when it is my turn to read at Morning or Evening Prayer – and listening to the lessons from the Bible when others read them. There are often things that are hard to read or hard to hear. That’s Scripture.
Saint Benedict didn’t foresee what his life and work would mean for others. In a world where living had become so much harder than before, his commitment to the gospel and to the vocation God gave him continues to bear fruit. At the beginning of the Rule, Benedict wrote that he intended “to establish a school for the Lord’s service” (Timothy Fry et al., eds. RB: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1981), 165). I think parish churches, like monastic communities, are at their best when they are “schools for the Lord’s service.” Common prayer can help lead us to God’s Table and to God’s Word so we might have continual growth in God’s love and service. May the prayers of Benedict, and of all the saints, keep us in the Way. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Sharon, Erika, Christopher, Sharon, Jimmy, John, Krislea, Julia, Hema, Basil, Isaura, Maria, Lee, Donna, Robert, Dorothy, Rolf, Dianne, Gert, and Rick; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Christine, Rob, and Mark; and for the repose of the souls of Timothy and Billy . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 10: 1904 Samuel Hughes; 1913 Aubrey Boucicault.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Jason Mudd’s grandfather, Billy Isenberg, of Bowling Green, Kentucky, died on Tuesday, July 5. He was eighty-eight years old. Please pray for Billy, for Jason, and for all who mourn.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . New York Polyphony will sing the Mass ordinary on Sunday, July 10, at the 11:00 AM Solemn Mass . . . Father Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, July 9. Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, July 16.
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 . . . This Friday, July 8 at 7:30 PM, Uppingham School Chapel Choir, UK, will perform a concert of music for choir, organ, brass and percussion. Admission is free. The concert should last around an hour . . . Photographer G.L. (Gerry) Gould has an exhibit of his work at Upstate Artists Guild gallery in Albany now through July 22. Some of his work is featured on Saint Mary’s “flickr” page . . . Altar flowers are needed for the following dates: July 31, and August 21 and 28. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the parish finance office . . . If you would like to help sponsor the reception following the Solemn Mass on Monday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, please contact Aaron Koch . . . Father Jay Smith is away from the parish on vacation. He returns to the office on Friday, July 29 . . . Sr. Laura Katharine returns from vacation on Sunday, July 10. Sister Deborah is away on vacation from Monday, July 11. She returns on Friday, July 22 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 192.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . This Sunday’s service is sung by members of the acclaimed vocal quartet New York Polyphony, joined by me. The setting of the Mass ordinary today is Mass for Four Voices by William Byrd (1543-1623), sung at the original pitch for male voices (the work is most commonly sung at a pitch suitable for boys, or female sopranos, singing the top part). The communion motet is Ave verum corpus by Grayston Ives (b. 1948). Ives recently retired as Informator Choristarum (director of music) at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he directed the choir for eighteen years. Beforehand, he was a member of the King’s Singers. Much of his compositional output is for choral forces – often written for the liturgy at Magdalen. James Kennerley
A WOMEN’S GROUP AT SAINT MARY’S . . . You are invited to join the women of Saint Mary’s for tea to share your ideas and thoughts about how we might connect with each other. Because we’re an urban church with parishioners from all over the metropolitan area, we know that sometimes it can be a challenge to get to know each other outside of services. At this meeting, we’ll enjoy refreshments at a parishioner’s home and consider ways we can support each other and encourage fellowship. Please come and join the discussion and get to meet some new people. All are welcome, including children! Our first meeting is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, July 30, from 2:00 to 4:00 PM at a parishioner’s home in the Northwest Bronx (very convenient to public transit, parking nearby). Please contact the church office if you’d like to join us.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We are still collecting non-perishable food items for our outreach partner, the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please look for the basket at the ushers’ table near the 46th Street entrance to the church on Sunday mornings. If you have questions about the Food Pantry, please speak to Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . Saturday, July 9, On Eagles Wings: Celebrating 400 years of the King James Bible. The American Bible Society (ABS), 61st Street & Broadway. At 9:00 AM: Symposium by internationally renowned King James Bible expert Dr. David Norton, and theologians Dr. Scot McKnight, Dr. Euan K. Cameron and Dr. Marlon Winedt. At 2:00 PM: premiere of the film KJB: The Book that Changed the World, a ninety-minute film documenting the creation and significance of the King James Bible, produced and directed by Norman Stone, followed by a discussion with the director. Visit the event website, www.kjb.americanbible.org/ for more details.
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector;
The Reverend James Ross Smith, curate;
The Reverend James Pace, assisting priest;
The Reverend Rebecca Weiner Tompkins, deacon;
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.
The Parish Staff
Mr. Aaron Koch, business manager;
Mr. Miguel Gonzalez, Mr. Mario Martinez, Mr. H. Antonio Santiago, sextons.