Jesus’ first gift to his disciples was life. It was and is his will that all should be saved. Jesus had a last gift too, as John tell us in his account of the Last Supper. “Peace” was Jesus’ last gift to his disciples. The entirety of Jesus’ gifts to us will be offered to us as we gather to celebrate his death and resurrection during the “Three Days,” the Triduum or, more commonly now, the Easter Triduum. The liturgy of the Church offers us the grace to be in the world and not of the world in a way that keeps our souls for life and for peace in Christ.
There are many, many reasons I love being an Episcopal Christian in the United States. One grace of our present Prayer Book is that it enables our worship to be something extraordinary if we offer ourselves to it. There’s just enough room in the texts and rules for us to be the Body of Christ and to go as a community to the place where Christ has gone before. The tomb where Jesus lay is here. It’s in the baptistery. And in our midst he is risen. Let those who have eyes to see see and those who have ears to hear hear.
At Saint Mary’s we are committed to a particular vision of life, a catholic Anglican tradition. I’m no longer sure when I first heard the term Anglo-catholic – probably in college. I know my first encounters with the Episcopal Church were in parishes where the clergy seemed almost unsure about what was to happen next. When I first attended a Solemn Mass at Saint Paul’s Parish, K Street, in Washington, D.C., that wasn’t an issue! There was something seamless, as it were, about the building, the liturgy, the worship and the devotion of the people I encountered there. It was all of a piece, a crucial part being that there was a certain confidence in the faith that was observable. One could almost touch it. It inspired something in me and led me to an adult faith in Christ.
Saint Mary’s is not a school for liturgy, for us or for others. It is a Christian community, a catholic Christian community within the Episcopal Church. We are not alone. We believe in the incarnation and in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe the Holy Spirit is present in us and in our world and working in us and in our world. We believe the dead live in the Lord. We trust God. And we trust that God is going to save and keep us for eternal life. His gifts to us are too many to number. During the Easter Triduum you and I have the privilege of receiving them in a wonderful and rich way.
There was a time when parishes like ours advertised, “Full Catholic Privileges.” It meant you could go to Mass every Sunday and usually everyday. You could have your confession heard. It meant a church with statues, incense, chant, vestments, candles, flowers and all the things most Episcopalians anywhere now take for granted but were rare even fifty years ago. It also meant you had found a Christian community where Maundy Thursday was celebrated, where feet were washed as Jesus told his disciples to do. It was a parish where Good Friday was more than a preaching service, where Easter didn’t happen at 11:00 AM on Sunday morning, but at the font of a darkened church on Easter Eve. It was rare and precious. In some ways it still is. I was a student at Nashotah House when the late Bishop Michael Ramsey, in 1982, was celebrant for the Easter Vigil for the only time in his life. He had been archbishop of Canterbury, archbishop of York and bishop of Durham. I strongly suspect the Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold is the first presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church to celebrate the Great Vigil every year of his episcopate, first as bishop of Chicago and now as our primate.
If you do not know what a wonderful week Holy Week is at Saint Mary’s, I am trying to woo you to be here to receive its gifts, Christ’s gifts. There’s still time for most people to clear their calendars to be here when it matters: Maundy Thursday, March 28, at 6:00 PM, Good Friday, March 29, at 12:30 PM or 6:00 PM (a second full service on this day), Easter Eve, March 30, at 7:00 PM and the final great liturgy in the tradition of the Triduum, Solemn Paschal Evensong on Easter Day, March 31, at 5:00 PM. (Notice what is not mentioned here. There are other great opportunities to worship at Saint Mary’s during the Triduum, including Solemn Mass on Easter morning. But they are additions, not the core of the tradition.)
Christ’s gifts to us are regular and unceasing. God is always present in this world, in its joy and in its sin. This week in the Daily Office we have been reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians where he reminds the Corinthians that they are all members of one Body, Christ’s Body. I hope a great number of us will be able to gather for the Triduum this year and that every member of our community will experience his or her presence as essential. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Linda, Guiseppina, Doreen, Mabel, Gloria, Marion, Olga, Peter, Michael, Kenneth, Ursula, Maureen, Marie, Rick, Edgar, John, Joanne, Barbara, Jeffrey, priest, and Charles, priest, for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Patrick, Edward, Christopher, Andrew, Robert, Joseph, Mark, Ned and David and for the repose of the soul of Ralph . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . March 18: 1947 Howard Nobel Place; 1965 Marie Louise Barreaux; March 20: 1954 Karl Irving Bennett; March 22: 1971 Mary E. Fargher.
ABOUT THE LITURGY . . . The Sunday Proper: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 6:16-23, John 11:1-44 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, March 16, by Canon Garrison and on Saturday, March 23, by Father Smith . . . NOTES ON MUSIC . . . On Sunday, March 17, at the Solemn Mass, the Mass setting is Mass in the Phrygian mode by Charles Wood (1866-1926). Wood, an important English composer and musician of his day, clearly was inspired by the music of an earlier age as he wrote this setting. The anthem at Communion is Thou knowest, Lord by Henry Purcell (1659-1695).
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Saint Joseph’s Day is Tuesday, March 19 . . . Many thanks to Dennis Smith, George Handy and Eileen Whittle for their help with the Easter Offering mailing . . . The MCs will meet with the parish clergy to review the liturgies of Holy Week on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:00 PM in the rectory . . . The Board of Trustees will meet this month on Monday evening, March 25, at 7:00 PM . . . Yes, Father Allen Shin will be coming “home” for Holy Week and assisting again this year with all of the liturgies of the week . . . Attendance last Sunday 233.
CHRISTIAN FORMATION NEWS . . . The final session of Father Jay Smith's class on the origins, history and practices of Lent will take place on Wednesday, March 20. The focus will be on modern understandings of Lent, the season as it is envisioned in the 1979 Prayer Book, and especially the recovery and/or reinterpretation of important Lenten themes: baptism, conversion, community, fasting, reconciliation, and intimacy with God. There will be no Wednesday night class on March 27 or April 3. Father Smith's four-session class on baptism in the New Testament will begin on Wednesday, April 10.
THE WATCH BEFORE THE BLESSED SACRAMENT … At the end of the liturgy on Maundy Thursday the Sacrament consecrated for the Communion of the Church on Good Friday is reposed in the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy. The transfer to this altar and the decorations of this chapel recall Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked his disciples to watch with him for one hour. We remember the watching of the disciples and we participate in that memory by keeping watch on this special night. Please consider making this a part of your observance of Holy Week. There is a sign-up sheet in Saint Joseph’s Hall for the Watch. You are asked to sign-up for one hour if you are able to do so. Although this tradition varies from parish to parish, presently the Watch is kept at Saint Mary’s from the end of the Maundy Thursday liturgy until the beginning of the liturgy on Good Friday. A security guard will be on duty through the night. The easternmost doors of the church on 46th Street will be unlocked through the night.
GUILD OF SAINT IVES LAW DAY . . . Law Day will be celebrated on Monday, May 6, at 6:30 PM at Saint Paul’s Chapel, Broadway and Fulton Street. The Right Reverend Mark S. Sisk, the bishop of New York, will preside. The Servant of Justice Award will be presented this year to Mayor Giuliani, who will deliver an address during the service. There will be a reception at the New York County Lawyers' Association. All lawyers and judges are invited to attend the Law Day celebration. For more information please contact the Rev. Richard D. Sloan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Monday Weekday of Lent
Eve of Saint Joseph’s Day 6:00 PM
Tuesday Saint Joseph’s Day
Wednesday Weekday of Lent
Thursday Weekday of Lent
Friday Weekday of Lent Lenten Abstinence
Stations of the Cross and Benediction at Transfiguration at 7:00 PM
Saturday Weekday of Lent
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Matthew Weiler, curate, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assistant,
The Reverend Canon Maurice Garrison, The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa,
The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priests, The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.