FROM FATHER SMITH: THE REAL PRESENCE
Shortly after I was ordained deacon in 1989, I began working at an Anglo-catholic parish in New Haven, Connecticut. The rector there knew Saint Mary’s a bit and often talked about it. On more than one occasion he recalled how, as a young Lutheran seminarian, he had gone to Benediction at Saint Mary’s one Easter Day afternoon and had never forgotten the experience. Indeed, that hour at Saint Mary’s seems to have played a part in his decision to become an Anglo-catholic and a priest of the Episcopal Church. He always ended the story the same way: “I knew then that those people were serious!” At the time, I think I assumed that the point of this tale was a kind of liturgical athleticism which we might admire, but which we could never hope to imitate.
Since coming to Saint Mary’s, I have realized that that wasn’t the point of the story at all. What had surely moved the rector so deeply was not some species of liturgical works-righteousness, but rather this community’s deep belief in the living presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. The open doors of this church bear witness to that belief and give access to that presence. A couple of examples: on a Saturday afternoon not long ago I was sitting in the choir. I saw a woman come up to Our Lady’s shrine. She lit a candle and said a prayer. Then the woman spoke to me, told me that she was Armenian and that she was a singer — she wondered if I would mind if she sang something in her native language, a “prayer,” she said. The church was all but empty and so I said sure, fine. She began to sing. She had a powerful voice and at first the sound was shocking, almost intrusive. I confess that I began to wonder what had motivated the request and the performance; and yet she seemed so unselfconscious as she stood there in the crossing, focused on tabernacle and crucifix, singing her heart out. The music was haunting, her voice beautiful, and I couldn’t help but pay attention. When she was done, I thanked her and she told me that she had sung the Lord’s Prayer. She said that she had come into the church for the first time that day and had simply been moved to sing. I suddenly realized that this impromptu performance had been a true “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”
The following day, after Solemn Mass, a quiet, neatly dressed man in his forties came up to me, introduced himself and told me that he had wandered into Saint Mary’s that morning and had decided to stay for Mass. He wanted me to know that he was moved by the service, and that it had meant a lot to him. He then told me that he had recently been released from an Upstate prison and was now living in a halfway house. Without much prompting, he sketched out his life history for me with such matter-of-fact honesty that it would have put a Desert Father to shame: chaos, habitual loss of control, alcoholism, prison, guilt, hard-won insight, AA & NA, remorse, something like conversion, time done, hope, end of the story not clear. Once again, I confess that I was suspicious. I kept waiting for the request. Surely it would be money, I thought. But there was no request. He just wanted to tell me that he had worshipped God that day at Saint Mary’s and that it had helped. Some days later I remembered him and suddenly I thought of the words over the cup, “This is the Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
This week we celebrate Ascension Day. Karl Barth, the great Reformed theologian, describes the Ascension as that “thin line,” between the past time of Christ’s work, ministry, death and resurrection and the present time in which we confess that Christ is “seated at the right hand of the Father.” He speaks of it as “the change from revelation time to our time.” After asking, “What is the meaning of the Ascension?” he writes, “It means…that Jesus leaves earthly space, the space, that is, which is conceivable to us and which He has sought out for our sakes. He no longer belongs to it as we belong to it. That does not mean that it becomes alien to Him, that this space is not His space too. On the contrary, since He stands above this space, He fulfils it and He becomes present to it.”
Let us pray for the grace to know and feel the power of that presence. Let us pray for the wisdom and courage to continue to bear witness to that presence both in this holy place and as we “go forth to love and serve the Lord.” James Ross Smith, assistant priest
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Howard, Bettyann, Eileen, Fred, Jerri, Myra, Mary, Sarah, Doreen, Mabel, Gloria, Marion, Olga, Peter, Betty, Kenneth, Maureen, Marie, Rick, Edgar, John, Joanne, Barbara, and Charles, priest, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Patrick, Edward, Christopher, Andrew, Robert, Joseph, Mark, Ned, David and John. GRANT THEM PEACE . . . May 10: 1994 Malcolm Benton Wallace; May 12: 2000 Dong Kingman; May 15: 1981 James Thomas Gordon; May 16: 1960 Minnie Packard Rounds, 1992 John Francis Arnold; May 18: 1949 Don Patterson.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . On Sunday, May 12, at the Solemn Mass, the prelude will be Prelude in G major, Op. 37, No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and the postlude will be Prelude on ‘Christ ist erstanden’ by Healey Willan (1880-1968). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Short Communion Service by Adrian Batten (1591-1637). The anthem at Communion, also by Adrian Batten, is a setting of Psalm 81:1-4, O sing joyfully. Batten was organist at Winchester Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and finally at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Acts 1:1-14, Psalm 47, 1 Peter 4:12-19, John 17:1-11 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, May 11, by Father Smith and on Saturday, May 18 by Father Gerth.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The Rector is on retreat through May 16 . . . The exhibition, “In Search of Mary Magdalene: Images and Traditions” continues through June 22 at the gallery of the American Bible Society, Broadway at 61st Street. For more information call 212-408-1500 . . . Attendance last Sunday 190.
CHRISTIAN FORMATION IN MAY . . . “The Eucharist in Christian Thought and Spirituality” began May 8 and will continue for two more Wednesday evenings from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM in Saint Benedict’s Study. This interesting and informative class is being led by Mr. Junius Johnson, a Ph.D. student in the religious studies department at Yale University, whose special area of interest is the history and theology of the sacraments. On May 15 we will be considering and discussing some of the most important ways that Christians (especially medieval Christians) have thought about the Eucharist. Please join us for what is sure to be a lively discussion . . . Last month the “Women and Spirituality Group” continued their study of the Gospel of Matthew and they will get even closer to the end when they meet again this month on Tuesday, May 14 at 7:00 PM in Saint Benedict’s Study. All female members and friends of Saint Mary’s are warmly invited to attend.
WALKING TOUR OF CHURCHES . . . Saturday, May 11 continues our tour of New York City churches, begun last year. Father Weiler and Mr. Ben Northrup, an architect and friend of the curate, will lead a walking tour of several historical Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches of the Upper East Side. The tour departs from Saint Mary’s at 10:00 AM and will conclude about 3:00 PM. In the midst of the tour, we’ll be stopping, of course, to have lunch. Please call Father Weiler at 212-869-5830 if you would like to join the tour.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Monday Easter Weekday
Tuesday Easter Weekday
Wednesday Easter Weekday
Thursday Easter Weekday
Friday Easter Weekday No Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Matthew Weiler, curate, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assistant,
The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa, The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priests,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.