FROM THE RECTOR: TRANSFIGURATION
The Church of England’s Prayer Book (1662) lists the Feast of the Transfiguration in its calendar on August 6, but it didn’t provide lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer in this book until 1922. When the Episcopal Church adopted its first Prayer Book in 1789, the Transfiguration was omitted from the Calendar. This was entirely understandable as the Church had no experience of its celebration. The gospel of the Transfiguration was never read at Holy Communion, only in the Daily Office.
The Transfiguration was added to the American book in 1892, with lessons appointed for the Daily Office and for Holy Communion. The collect was written by William Reed Huntington (1838-1909), rector, Grace Church, New York City. This is the version adopted in 1892:
O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer , 210.)
There are three accounts of the Transfiguration, one in each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:23-27). Although the account from Luke is always used for the Mass on August 6, with the adoption of the 1979 Prayer Book the Transfiguration is celebrated every year on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. In turn, in our three-year cycle, we hear all of them with a different collect. This collect was adapted from the proposed 1928 Prayer Book of the Church of England.
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer , 217.)
The poetry of our prayers is part of the grace of our worship as Episcopalians. Their beauty, in traditional and in contemporary English, invite us into the mystery of God’s presence among us.
When I was in seminary we were taught that the accounts of the Transfiguration were probably constructed from a memory of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Since then, there has been a shift in scholarly opinion. His transfiguration is now understood to be one more sign of his divinity that he revealed before his death and resurrection. (Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament [New York: Doubleday, 1997], 139f; Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8-20: A Commentary, Hermeneia [Minneapolis: Augsburg, Fortress, 2001], 395.) The transfiguration invites those who see and hear to answer the question, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
The August 1892 issue of Saint Mary’s monthly parish paper, The Arrow, invited their readers to show their appreciation for the “restoration” of the Transfiguration. And, for those who couldn’t attend Mass, they printed the then new collect and the lessons (2 Peter 1:13-21, Luke 9:28-36) so that readers could pray them. (One suspects that in August 1892 not everyone owned the new book.)
As is our present custom, when “Principal Feasts” or “Other Feasts of Our Lord” fall on Saturday, our major celebration is the evening before. (One exception to this rule does come immediately to mind: Feast of the Holy Name on January 1. The liturgy gives way to civic reality on New Year’s Eve by Times Square.) On Friday, August 5, there will be a Sung Mass at 6:00 PM. Richard Brasier, organ scholar, St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, United Kingdom, will play a recital at 5:30 PM. For those new to the parish, at a “Sung Mass” the congregation sings two hymns and the “Mass ordinary” – Gloria in excelsis, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. These Sung Masses always conclude by 7:00 PM. I invite you to join us.
It’s interesting to wonder why the Transfiguration is not a more important celebration in the Western Church. Eastern Christians have been celebrating it since the fourth century. (Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book [New York: The Seabury Press, 1980], 70.) It only made it into the calendar of the pre-Reformation Western Church in 1457. Adolf Adam says its celebration in the West, beginning in the tenth century, reflects the interest the West began to take in the Holy Land after the Muslim conquest. (Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year: It’s History & Its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy [Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1981], 181.)
For my part, the transfiguration brings to mind phrases from the services on All Saints’ Day, when we pray “that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you” (The Book of Common Prayer , 243)and “together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away” (380). I invite you to join us for our celebration of the Transfiguration, especially on Friday evening at the Sung Mass. And because we are Saint Mary’s, there’s also a Said Mass for the feast on August 6, at 12:10 PM. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Joe, Geraldine, Mary, Sharon, Erika, Julia, Lee, Donna, Rolf, Dianne, Gert, and Rick; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark, Christine, and Rob . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 31: 1928 Byron George Clark; 1936 Charles Henry Kerner; 1956 Louise Wenz.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Friday, August 5, is the Eve of the Transfiguration. There will be a Sung Mass at 6:00 PM. On Saturday, August 6, Mass will be celebrated at 12:10 PM in observance of the Transfiguration. On Saturday, August 6, the Sunday Vigil Mass will be celebrated at its usual time, 5:20 PM . . . Father Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, July 30. Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, August 6.
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 is not observed on August 5 after the celebration of the Sung Mass at 6:00 PM in observance of the Eve of the Transfiguration.
THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY . . . One of our parish’s greater festivals of the year is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Monday, August 15. Morning Prayer will be sung at 8:30 AM. The Noonday Office is prayed at 12:00 PM. There will be a Sung Mass at 12:10 PM. Organist and Music Director James Kennerley will play a recital at 5:30 PM. Solemn Mass will be celebrated at 6:00 PM. A reception will follow in Saint Joseph’s Hall.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The renovation of the Atrium continues. We were delighted to discover relatively little damage was done to the original fabric of the space when it was renovated to become two offices. It will feel very much like a room that could be nowhere but Saint Mary’s when we are finished . . . Father Smith and James Kennerley have returned from their vacations. Many thanks to Dick Leitsch for his help in the parish office while our Business Manager Aaron Koch is on vacation until Monday, August 8. Sister Laura Katharine is on vacation this week, but Sister Deborah Francis is here . . . Attendance Last Sunday 171.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude this Sunday is an improvisation in the French Romantic style. The cantor is Ruth Cunningham, soprano. Several of the plainsong propers, as well as the settings of Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei are improvised by Ruth and me. At the ministration of Communion, we will sing the duet Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein reines Herz (‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’), from Kleine geistliche Konzerte, SWV 291 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 Germany during the 1630s. James Kennerley
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 . . . Pilgrimage and Faith: Buddhism, Christianity and Islam continues at the Rubin Museum of Art through October 24, 2011 . . . The Museum of Biblical Art is presenting On Eagles’ Wings: The King James Version Turns Four Hundred to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Authorized Version of the Bible. The exhibition runs through September 18, 2011.