This weekly newsletter is dated using the date of Sunday, the first day of the Christian week. Church calendrical calculations, however, are not simple. In the center of the Christian year there is one Sunday that is different from all the others, one Sunday when the principal Mass of the day is the secondary liturgical celebration. In the great tradition, the principal service of Easter Day is the Great Vigil.
This tradition was largely lost by the Church in the West in the Middle Ages. While it only survived in the shadows of church ritual, there was, however, even in the old Prayer Books a proper for Easter Eve. It took the Church centuries to lose the centrality of the Easter Triduum. It has been only fifty years since Pope Pius XII initiated the restoration of the Triduum. It may take at least another fifty before the Triduum gets back into the liturgical heart of the Episcopal Church’s experience of its liturgical prayer.
Liturgical living and praying have always been in the forefront of this community’s mission and work. The first evidence I have found of the Easter Vigil at Saint Mary’s is in a service bulletin dated March 28th, 1918. The bulletin is for the Easter Triduum, although this word is not used. On Maundy Thursday there was a Solemn High Mass at 10:45 AM followed by a Solemn Procession. There are not a lot of liturgical details in the bulletin, but the hymn for the procession is the same one we use today, "Now, my tongue, the mystery telling."
On Good Friday the congregation sang the office hymn for Passion Sunday, The royal banners forward go, and the choir sang the Reproaches, "Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle" and "We venerate thy cross, O Lord." The most exciting thing to me is not just the continuity of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with our worship today, but on “Easter Even," March 30th, 1918, they celebrated, “The Blessing of the New Fire and Paschal Praeconium, 5:15 PM," followed by “First Vespers of Easter.” This pattern continues until March 31st, 1922, when the service is moved to 6:30 AM on Easter Even, now called “Holy Saturday,” and the first Mass of Easter is celebrated. The service bulletin notes that abstinence ends this Saturday at noon. This service was still being celebrated but at 10:00 AM on Holy Saturday through the rectorate of Father Grieg Taber. His successor, Father Donald Garfield, at his first Easter in 1965 moved the Great Vigil to Easter morning at 6:00 AM. It has been celebrated on Easter Eve in the evening since 1967.
Why has this parish community has been committed to the Easter Triduum for so long for something more than its intellectual satisfactions? I believe it has something to do with our experience of Jesus Christ. Saint Mary’s is a place that very early on rediscovered the liturgical act: that the risen Lord is compellingly present in the sacramental worship of a sacramental community. This radical sense of the risen Lord’s presence still compels hearts and lives here and draws us together towards God.
Certainly the celebration of the Sunday of the Passion at Saint Mary’s was almost unbelievable. If you do not know the power of the liturgical act, it will probably seem crazy if I were to say to you the principal liturgy took us two and a half hours. I heard on the radio that it only took three hours to do the liturgy in Vatican Square and they had a half million people there.
We began by the assembly singing the same words that were shouted when Jesus entered Jerusalem, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. O King of Israel, hosanna in the highest.” These are also words, found first in Isaiah, which we hear in the Sanctus at every Mass. We solemnly blessed and generously distributed palms while the congregation sang words to recall exactly what happened when Jesus rode a donkey, “The children of the Hebrews bearing branches of olive went out to meet the Lord, crying out and saying, `Hosanna in the highest!’” We sang one verse of the great Palm Sunday processional hymn and then took the gospel to Times Square.
I understand that by the time the beginning of our procession exited the 47th Street doors the workers from the garage across the street were lined up for palms. The distribution of palms continued until we reached the front doors of the church for a stational prayer. There was a huge number of servers in the procession (Was it really 20?). I didn’t think about the words of the great hymn we sang as we entered the church to conclude the Liturgy of the Palms, "Ride on! Ride on in majesty!" It was just too powerful of a moment and a celebrant needs to remain a little detached emotionally to preside at these services.
The solemn proclamation of the Passion can be done in many ways, but I really do love singing it and love the congregation taking the part of Jesus. It is who we are, the Body of Christ. It is not easy to sing the words Jesus said; but he promised that we would share his life in this world and in the world to come. He promised to be with us and he certainly was.
It is such an honor and a privilege to be your rector at all times, but especially during Holy Week. I know that my belief and faith in God are not only celebrated by what we do as a sacramental community, but that sacramental life is a living reality when this community gathers to pray. I expect Saint Mary’s will always be on an “Easter Mission,” learning to die, to rise and to live in Christ more deeply and to proclaim the Lord’s resurrection to others. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for James, Mabel, Marilyn, Dennis, Carol, Olga, Helen, Jack, Margaret, Shirley, Hannah, Dawn, Bryn, Mary, Lucille, Frances, Ronald, André, Edgar, Helen, Beatrice and Timothy . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . April 24: 1993 Claude Cecil Morris, Jr.; April, 25: 1999 Helena Kingman; April 27: 1994 Frances Flagg.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:14-17,22-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Mark 16:1-8 . . . 9:00 AM Celebrant: Father Shin, Preacher: Father Gerth; 11:00 AM Celebrant & Preacher: Father Gerth . . . Confessions are not heard, except by appointment, on Saturday in Easter Week.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Your prayers are asked for the repose of the soul of Annabelle Welty who died on Monday, April 10, 2000, at the age of one hundred . . . Requiem Mass was offered for Thomas Frederick Davies Haines on Thursday, April 13, 2000 in the Chapel of our Lady of Mercy. His ashes were interred at Cedar Hill Cemetery, Newburgh, New York.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . There will be a coffee hour after the Solemn Mass on Easter Day! . . . Many thanks to all who helped with sacristy and altar preparations last Saturday. A ton of work got done. In addition the altar servers were here for two rehearsals. This kind of commitment is very gratifying and for this the parish community is most thankful . . . The New York Chapter of the Society of Charles, King and Martyr, will hold its Annual Commemoration on Saturday, April 29, at 11:00 AM at Saint Paul's Church, Brooklyn. You are invited to attend . . . Tenebrae was wonderful this year and we had a very good crowd (150). The congregation participated in the singing of the psalms. The Lessons were beautifully sung. The words, the music, the darkness and the shadows continue to make this a beautiful and prayerful preparation for the Easter Triduum. To all who helped make the service possible, especially our altar servers, our parish musicians, and our ushers, thank you! . . . Attendance last Sunday: 336.
BROTHER LAWRENCE . . . While the altar servers were boiling brass (you don’t want to know) John Delves, Jim Dennis, Herb Kirschner, Barbara Klett, Suzanne Rochester, Ann Sokolowski and Robert VanVleet transformed the kitchen into a new thing. In preparation, Steve Gilger, our building manager, re-hung the door to the kitchen pantry – which is now locked except when in use. A mountain of trash was taken out of the kitchen. The kitchen was completely cleaned. In addition, Brother Lawrence has given over a closet in the women’s restroom for the Flower Guild’s use. The kitchen is now a greater help to Brother Lawrence in its ministry of hospitality, which is remarkable and generous, like the grace of God.
Easter Week at Saint Mary’s
8:30 AM Morning Prayer
7:00 PM The Great Vigil of Easter
Parish Easter Reception follows the Vigil
There are no Masses at 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM today.
8:30 AM Sung Matins
9:00 AM Sung Mass
11:00 AM Procession & Solemn Mass
Coffee hour follows the Solemn Mass
5:00 PM Solemn Paschal Evensong & Benediction
Monday through Friday
8:30 AM, 12:00 PM & 6:00 PM Daily Office
12:15 PM & 6:20 PM Mass
12:00 PM Noonday Office
12:15 PM Mass
5:00 PM Evening Prayer
Confessions will be heard only by appointment on Saturday in Easter Week