FROM FATHER SMITH: “THE DAWN FROM ON HIGH”
Many years ago I drove with two friends from Berkeley, California, to New York City. On the first day of the trip we drove through Nevada and had just entered the State of Utah, when we decided to stop for the night. We camped out in the Bonneville Salt Flats State Park. It was late and the sun had already set. My friends, better prepared than I, spent the night in sleeping bags and a small pup tent. I fell asleep in the back seat of the car, wearing a couple of sweat shirts and a watch cap. (It’s chilly at night on the Salt Flats; and I was much younger then.) Since night had already fallen when we’d arrived in the Park, I didn’t have a very clear sense of my surroundings; and so, when I woke up, just at dawn, I was treated to a scene of great and surprising beauty: a sunrise, colored rose and purple and gold; snow-capped mountains in the distance; and the salty ground shimmering with the dawn’s reflected light. It looked as if the earth had been sprinkled with a thin layer of diamond dust. It was a spectacular sight. It is a sunrise that I’ve never forgotten.
That glorious daybreak, just visible in the distance, is a bit like the feast that we will celebrate next week on Thursday, September 8, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Beautiful in itself, the feast is, nevertheless, in some sense about anticipation. It reminds us that some great event is about to happen. The feast honors Mary, the Mother of God, while, at the same time, it points beyond itself to Mary’s Son, to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, who died in the year 430, once said, “The Church observes the birth of John [the Baptist] as a holy day; and none of the other great men of old is solemnly commemorated in this way. We celebrate John’s birth, as we celebrate Christ’s” (Sermon 293:1–3). This is interesting for several reasons.
First, Augustine is reminding his listeners that it was the customary practice for a saint to be remembered, not on the date on which he or she began his life in this world, but on the date on which the saint began his life in heaven. Therefore, the saint’s real birthday, his true dies natalis, is the day of his death. Augustine is suggesting that to celebrate John the Baptist’s “birthday” is something unusual, even extraordinary.
Second, Augustine is confirming for us what we know from other sources. The Nativity of Mary was not being celebrated in the West in the fifth century. Indeed, it is a feast that originates in the East, in Jerusalem, during the 400s; it is celebrated in Constantinople by the year 500 and then, finally, in Rome by the seventh century (Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1981, p. 217).
Third, Augustine’s observation alerts us to the fact that the eventual acceptance of the feast of the Nativity of Mary was something special. That the Church decided to add this third “nativity” to its calendar was no doubt due, in part, to the increasing veneration accorded to the Blessed Virgin in the early church, especially in the years following the Council of Ephesus in 431. (That council affirmed that Mary was Theotokos, the Bearer, or Mother, of God. See Kevin Donovan, S.J., “The Sanctoral,” in The Study of Liturgy, rev. ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 478.) However, Augustine’s words also help us to understand why the Church would have felt that there was something appropriate, something essentially right, about celebrating Mary’s nativity: the birth of Mary and the birth of John the Baptist are events that mark a beginning. God has begun to act, God is about to do something new: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14); “Christ Jesus…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-6). The birth of Mary and the birth of John the Baptist lead us, as if in procession, to that third birth, the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord.
I have been reading a book called An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order (New York: PublicAffairs Books, 2006). The book tells the story of five Carthusian novices at Saint Hugh’s Charterhouse, Parkminster, England in the early 1960s. One chapter of the book describes a single day in the life of these young men, when, led by the Novice Master, they take an unusual break from their cloistered life of prayer and solitude, embarking on a long walk through the West Sussex countryside. At midday, the men stop to rest. The author of the book, Nancy Klein Maguire, describes the scene as follows: “In this quiet wooded place, the novices formed a circle and prayed. Most of the novices felt this was a very special part of the day. At the third verse of the Angelus, ‘Et verbum caro factum est’ (‘And the Word became flesh…’), they knelt down and kissed the ground” (p. 93). I found that image arresting and very moving. The extravagance of the monks’ gesture reminded me of the extravagance of God’s love for his creation: for this earth, this world, for all His people, for you and for me.
Next week, we will celebrate a birthday. On September 8th, let us look to the East and towards the Light. Let us sing with Zechariah, and with John the Baptist, and with Mary, the Mother of God, “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79; Book of Common Prayer, p. 93). Jay Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Donald, Bob, Natasha, Julia, Caleb, Dianne, Dorothy, Gert, and Rick; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark, Christine, and Rob; and for the repose of the soul of Philip Dean Parker . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 4: 1925 Catherine Grabb; 1929 John Francis Casey; 1950 Neah Blade Mason; 1998 Patricia Gloor.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Philip Dean Parker died suddenly and unexpectedly at his home on Saturday, August 27. At the time of his death, Philip was assistant professor of sociology at Touro College. He had been a member of the parish since December 1977. A Mass of the Resurrection for Philip will be celebrated here at Saint Mary’s on Thursday, September 15, at 10:00 AM. Please keep Philip, his brother Peyton Parker, his friends, family, and colleagues, and all who mourn in your prayers.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Monday, September 5, Labor Day, Federal Holiday Schedule: the church opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM, only the noon services are offered, and the parish offices are closed . . . Thursday, September 8, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mass at 12:10 PM and Sung Mass at 6:00 PM . . . Father Gerth will be away from the parish on vacation until Wednesday, September 7. He returns to the office on Thursday, September 8 . . . Father Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, September 3. Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, September 10.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Thank you to Dexter Baksh, who created two beautiful floral arrangements for the altar last Friday before the decision was made to close the church over the weekend. However, the arrangements did well in the Nursery’s cool temperatures and were placed on the high altar on Monday morning. The flowers were given in loving memory of Frances Cappon Geer by her husband, Hardison Geer . . . Altar flowers are needed for September 25 and October 16 and 23. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the finance office . . . The members of the Stewardship Committee have already begun to plan for the launch of this year’s Stewardship Campaign. This has reminded us of the following: our Treasurer, Randy Morgan, tells us that income from pledge donations has been down over the summer months. If you would like to take this opportunity to bring your pledge up to date, we would be most grateful . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 6.
SAINT MARY’S & HURRICANE IRENE . . . Saint Mary’s closed its doors after Evening Prayer on Friday, August 26. After consulting with the executive committee of the board of trustees, the Rector decided that it would be prudent to cancel services on Saturday and Sunday since New York’s transportation system had been shut down and the mayor’s office was recommending great caution in the face of the impending storm. Many other local parishes did the same. The residents of the Mission House, Parish House, and the Rectory gathered for Mass on Saturday, August 27, at 4:00 PM and again on Sunday, August 28, at 11:00 AM in the Lady Chapel. Prayers were offered for the safety of the members, neighbors, and friends of the parish, for our buildings, and for all those living, or working, in the storm’s path. The parish complex weathered the storm well. Two small leaks appeared early on Sunday morning, one in the Parish House, one in the Mission House. The heavy rains and an overworked drain caused a relatively small amount of water to collect in the church basement. The floor was dry by Tuesday afternoon. J.R.S.
THE COMMITTEE TO ELECT A BISHOP . . . In accordance with the canons of the Diocese of New York, the Committee to Elect a Bishop recently transmitted its report to the Secretary of Convention, Mr. James Forde, and he, also pursuant to diocesan canons, forwarded the report on Monday, August 29, to all clergy in the diocese who are eligible to vote. The full report with details concerning all five nominees is available by visiting the special website for the election, www.nybishopsearch2011.org; you may also download the report from the diocesan website at www.dioceseny.org. The convention to elect a Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of New York is to take place on Saturday, October 29, 2011, at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Father Matthew Mead, formerly curate here at Saint Mary’s, served on the Committee to Elect a Bishop. The work of the Committee was difficult and time-consuming. We are grateful to Father Mead and to all the members of the Committee for their service.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude before the Solemn Mass on Sunday morning is an improvisation on Saint Columba, the tune of the offertory hymn. The cantor is Dr. Mark Risinger, bass. At the ministration of Communion, Dr. Risinger and I will sing the motet Fulgebunt justi sicut lilium (“They shall shine like the lily”), No. 11, from Cantiones duarum vocum (“Songs for Two Voices”) by Orlande de Lassus (c. 1532–1594). Lassus (or Lasso or Delattre, as he was variously named) was born in Mons, now part of Belgium. Little is known about his early life apart from the fact that he was kidnapped three times because of the incredible beauty of his singing voice! He worked for several years in various parts of Italy before settling in Munich in 1556, where several composers, including both Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, visited to study with him. Cantiones duarum vocum, a set of Latin motets for two voices, was published in Antwerp in 1609. James Kennerley
RECITAL SPONSORS NEEDED . . . James Kennerley arrived at Saint Mary’s with the great recession. He has done a marvelous job of keeping the musical standards high and keeping the expenses within budget. I want his track record to continue to be great. Looking ahead at the new music season, $2,000.00 would help us cover our honoraria for our visiting recitalists. If you would like to help, please make your check payable to Saint Mary’s and mark it for “recitalists.” Thank you very much. S.G.
MEET OUR NEW SEMINARIAN . . . Many members of the parish may have already been introduced to our seminarian, Mary Julia Jett. She has been worshipping with us with some regularity since the spring and has already started serving at the altar. However, Mary will begin her work and ministry as our seminarian on a more formal basis on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 11, 2011. Mary went to high school in O’Fallon, Illinois; she then studied at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She received her BA from Purdue in 2003. She then moved to Montana, where she became active at the Church of Saint James, Bozeman. She served there as youth ministry intern, youth director, and Christian formation director. She has also worked as a freelance graphic designer. Mary was made a postulant for holy orders in 2007 and a candidate in the spring of 2011. She is an M.Div. candidate at the General Theological Seminary, where she is a member of the Class of 2013. Mary will assist Deacon Rebecca Weiner-Tompkins on Sunday mornings with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. She will also serve at the altar in a number of capacities and will take on a number of other pastoral, liturgical and administrative tasks during the coming year. We feel lucky, and blessed, that Mary has decided to join us. Please welcome her to the parish.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . . We sent a check for $500.00 to the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry this week. Thank you to all for your great generosity and for your ongoing support of the Food Pantry. We continue to need your help! Donations to the Food Pantry from all sources have decreased significantly. Cash donations continue to be needed. (Write a check to the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and put “Food Pantry” in the memo line). Non-perishable food items can also be brought to the church and placed in the basket at the ushers’ table on Sunday mornings. J.R.S.
OKTOBERFEST & HYMN SING 2011 . . . On Saturday, October 15, at 6:00 PM, following the evening Mass, Saint Marians will gather once again to mark the arrival of autumn with food, drink, and sacred song. (Beer, the traditional Oktoberfest beverage, will be provided, along with a number of non-alcoholic alternatives.) Please join us in Saint Joseph’s Hall and the choir loft for what is always an enjoyable evening. All are welcome. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the parish, so please think about inviting a friend. Dinner is potluck, so please bring something to share, if you are able; and speak to Grace Bruni or Father Jay Smith if you have questions.
“VERTICAL TOUR” OF THE CATHEDRAL . . . On Sunday, October 16, at 1:15 PM, Dr. Dennis Raverty will continue his discussion of the “principles of Gothic architecture,” begun in the adult-education class at 10:00 AM, by leading a tour of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The tour group will be allowed to visit one of the cathedral towers, giving the tour its “vertical” aspect. Leading the tour with Dennis will be the Reverend Kathleen Liles, rector of the Church of Christ and Saint Stephen, who will be bringing a group from her parish on the Upper West Side. Mother Liles is also an art historian and has often taught adult-education classes on Christian art and iconography. The cost of the tour is $15.00 per person and some scholarship funds are available. Please reserve a place on the tour by sending an e-mail to Father Jay Smith. The ten places set aside for Saint Marians have now been reserved. If you would like to add your name to the waiting list, please contact Aaron Koch or Fr. Jay Smith. If you have already reserved a place on the tour, but are no longer able to attend, please let us know so that we can contact the next person on the waiting list.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the Rubin Museum of Art, on Wednesday, September 14, 7:00 PM, In the Shadow of Buddha, a film about the world of Tibetan Buddhist nuns and refugees in Ladakh, a region in northernmost India. Also at the Rubin, Pilgrimage and Faith: Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, an exhibit that continues through October 24, 2011. The Rubin Museum is located at 150 W. 17th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues . . . The Museum of Biblical Art (moBia) 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 October 16, 2011 . . . Also at moBia, A Short History of Family Bibles in America, October 28, 2011–January 15, 2012. The Museum of Biblical Art is located at 1865 Broadway, at 61st Street.