FROM THE RECTOR: CHRISTMAS COMES
Few celebrate Easter Day early. Easter has Lent and Holy Week to shield it. Christmas Day only has Advent which, despite attempts in different ways to subvert it, continues to offer opportunities to prepare joyfully to celebrate the birth of Christ. I invite you to join us on the Fourth Sunday of Advent for the regular services of the church.
Over the weekend some of the work of decorating the church for Christmas will begin—the Flower Guild (all volunteers) has an enormous amount of work ahead of them. As I write, Mark Peterson, Father Smith and I are meeting today to give a final reading to our Christmas bulletins. Sister Laura Katharine has been very busy in the sacristy. Brass polishing is underway. The sextons have extra duties. If we were a parish that celebrated Christmas early, we simply wouldn’t be ready!
On December 24, Morning Prayer will be said at 8:30 AM, followed by the last Mass of Advent at 9:00 AM. The doors of our church will be open all day. At some point in the early afternoon, the decorating and clean-up will be complete. The church will be ready. Visitors will wander in throughout the day. If they come at 3:30 PM, they will hear the musicians. At other times they might also see clergy and server rehearsals. Christmas music will be at 4:30 PM and 10:30 PM, the Sung Mass at 5:00 PM. At 11:00 PM Procession & Solemn Mass begins.
Saint Mary’s began with a commitment to the renewal of congregational worship and with a conviction about the importance of the “beauty of holiness” (N.F. Read, The Story of St. Mary’s  17). Our church, even without music and special flowers, is a very beautiful place. I know people and clergy here care deeply that our worship be celebrated with reverence, commitment, joy and love. I also know that the abiding beauty of this place, like the beauty of Christ’s manger, is in the life and love God’s people have for God and for each other.
The largely anonymous musicians and scribes who gave us the great treasury of Latin chant used the bible in poetic ways. They often put to new purpose words and phrases they thought could carry Good News. These words are heard in Latin on the First Sunday after Christmas Day at the entrance, “While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night was in the midst of her course your all-powerful word, O Lord, came down from heaven, from your royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15a). It’s a beautiful song and its use is here transformative.
It comes from an extraordinary passage about how the Egyptians “acknowledged [God’s people] to be God’s son” (Wisdom 18:13) when the Lord at midnight killed the first-born of all the Egyptians (Exodus 12:1-28). I don’t think at all that the author of Wisdom was thinking of Jesus, but he or she did have a conviction God was present and active among God’s own children. We believe God still is. I invite you to join us not just this coming Sunday, but also for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! In Bethlehem were Mary, Joseph, a child and shepherds—and a larger community that had no idea why the heavens that night were alive with light and song. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Jonathan, Sharon, Dick, Rick, Rob, Dominique, Stephen, Pierre, Takeem, Linda, Babak, Eloise, Arpene, Roy, Laurence, priest, John, priest, Clair, priest, and Paulette, priest ; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark, Alex, and Elizabeth . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . December 22: 1909 Emma Baley; 1912 Florence Gertrude Wilson; 1918 Elizabeth McDowell; 1920 Mary Ann Meadows; 1932 Mary C. Parsons France; 1934 Lillian Emily Dellegar Spence; 1938 Elizabeth Hahn; 1960 Marion H. Newcombe, Fannie Murray; 1962 Elizabeth St. John Day; 1984 Anne Starry.
CHRISTMAS EVE AND CHRISTMAS DAY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . On Christmas Eve there will be Morning Prayer at 8:30 AM and the last Mass of Advent at 9:00 AM . . . At 4:30 PM there will be Christmas music. The Sung Mass is at 5:00 PM . . . At 10:30 PM there will be Christmas music. Procession & Solemn Mass is at 11:00 PM . . . On Christmas Day there is one service, Solemn Mass & Procession to the Crèche at 11:00 AM.
COMPANIONS OF CHRIST . . . The three Holy Days after Christmas Day commemorate those who, in Latin, are known as Comites Christi, “The Companions of Christ” . . . Thursday, December 26 is the Feast of Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr. The church will be open on the regular schedule, but the only services will be 12:00 PM Noonday Prayer and 12:10 PM Mass . . . Friday, December 27 is the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist. In addition to the regular schedule of services, that is, Morning Prayer at 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer at 12:00 PM, Mass at 12:10 PM, and Evening Prayer at 6:00 PM, Mass will also be celebrated at 6:20 PM. Saturday, December 28, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The regular noonday services will be held. Evening Prayer at 5:00 PM will be for Holy Innocents Day. At 5:20 PM The Sunday Vigil Mass will be for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day.
THE COMPLETE SCHEDULE FOR THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS and the Epiphany has been posted on the parish webpage.
THE FRIDAYS OF CHRISTMASTIDE are not observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial. Friday abstinence resumes on January 10, 2014, the first Friday after the Epiphany.
2013 DONATIONS . . . All donations, including cash gifts, must be postmarked by December 31, 2013, or received in the finance office by noon on December 31, to qualify as a deduction for 2013 tax purposes. Likewise, gifts of stock must be received in the church’s investment account by December 31, 2013. For stock-transfer instructions or other questions, email Aaron Koch or call him at (212) 869-5830, ext. 14.
STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN 2014 . . . As of December 19, we have received pledge cards from 115 households. Although we have received a number of pledges in recent days, for which we are very grateful, we still have a ways to go. We still have not heard from some of the households that made pledges for 2013. Our statistics thus far: $342,931.00 has been pledged to date, 76% of our goal of $450,000.00. We urge all the members and friends of Saint Mary’s to return their pledge cards as soon as possible. The budget committee will be meeting shortly in order to draw up plans for 2014. It is always helpful if the committee has a complete and realistic picture of the results of the campaign when they begin their work. Thank you to all who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Saturday, December 21, Saint Thomas the Apostle: Mass will be said at 12:10 PM . . . The parish office will be closed on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, December 21, by Father Stephen Gerth. Confession are not heard except by appointment during the Christmas Season.
CLERGY TRANSITIONS . . . Mother Mary Julia Jett came to Saint Mary’s as a seminarian. She was ordained deacon and priest in our church. Since graduation Mary has continued with us as an assisting priest while she began Ph.D. studies at Union Theological Seminary this past fall. However, she and I have known for some time that budgetary constraints might prevent her from continuing here in the New Year. At the beginning of December, it became clear that going forward the parish would not be able to fund this position. I’m delighted she has found a new position (announcement forthcoming). She has made many contributions here in a short time. On behalf of the parish, we wish her the very best. S.G.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Saturday, December 21, 8:00 PM, Annual New York Repertory Orchestra Benefit Concert. Admission: $10.00 . . . The members of the vocal ensemble New York Polyphony are great friends of Saint Mary’s. Their new BIS Records release Times go by Turns was recently nominated for a Grammy in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category. Congratulations, gentlemen! You are in our prayers . . . Donations are requested: for altar flowers for Sundays in January; we also hope to receive donations to help defray the costs of the reception after the Solemn Mass on Monday, January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the Finance Office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 202.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–1594) was an Italian composer and a prime representative of the Roman school of musical composition. His works can be heard as a summation of Renaissance polyphony. The Mass heard on Sunday, Palestrina’s Missa brevis, was first published in 1570. It is a work of strong character, most likely based on plainsong. No composer of the sixteenth century was more consistent in following his own rules, and staying within the stylistic bounds he established. It is a work of Giovanni Maria Nanino that we hear at the ministration of Holy Communion on Sunday. The motet Diffusa est gratia, utilizing two verses of Psalm 45, is a prime example of the compositional techniques initiated by Palestrina and taken up by so many others . . . Christmas Eve: At 4:30 PM the choir will sing Christmas Cantata of American composer Daniel Pinkham (1923–2006). We will also hear a piece from a much larger oratorio entitled Hodie by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), which we will also hear at 10:30 PM. The Hymn to the Virgin, by Benjamin Britten (1913–1976), heard at both services on Christmas Eve, was written when the composer was only seventeen years old. A carol which spans the Atlantic is O Little Town of Bethlehem, written by Phillip Brooks (1835–1893) while he was rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia. This year it is the American tune Saint Louis to which we sing the hymn before both Masses on Christmas Eve. The Mass setting at 5:00 PM, The Communion Service in E (“Collegium Regale”) is by Harold Darke (1888–1976), a renowned musician who became something of an institution in London where he served a number of Anglican parishes, and presented weekly organ recitals for more than fifty years. One of the most often set carols, In dulci jubilo, is heard at 10:30 PM in a trio setting by the German composer, Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637–1707), accompanied by strings and continuo, and in a romantic treatment for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706). The Mass setting at 11:00 PM, Missa O Magnum mysterium, by the great Spanish composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611), is a parody mass, based on a motet by the same title . . . Christmas Day: Harold Edwin Darke (1888–1976) was born in London, and in his lifetime became something of a musical institution in that city. He became organist at Saint Michael’s Cornhill (London) in 1916, and served there until 1966, leaving only briefly from 1941 to 1945 to cover for Boris Ord as Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge during World War II. Darke’s numerous compositions are mostly, but not exclusively, choral and organ works. At the Solemn Mass on Christmas Day, we will hear Darke’s Mass setting, The Communion Service in E (“Collegium Regale”), and during the ministration of Holy Communion we will hear his setting of In the Bleak Midwinter. Mark Peterson
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . Thank you to parishioner, Blair Burroughs, who discussed the practice of Centering Prayer in the Adult Forum last Sunday . . . Christian Education on Sunday, December 22: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, 9:45 AM, The Atrium; Church School, 10:00 AM, The Morning Room; The Adult Forum will not meet on December 22, 29, or January 5. The Forum will resume on Sunday, January 12 . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will not meet on December 25 or January 1. The class will resume in the new year on Wednesday, January 8.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We are gratefully accepting donations of warm clothing, as well as new, unopened packets of underwear and socks, especially white cotton socks. We send some items of clothing to the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Other items are kept here for distribution to those in need. We also continue to collect non-perishable food items and cash donations for the Food Pantry . . . The New York City Coalition Against Hunger is in the midst of its Annual Appeal for donations. From the Coalition’s website, “On November 1st, 48 million Americans–including 1.8 million New Yorkers–had their SNAP benefits (the new name for food stamps) cut due to federal reductions. A family of three lost $29 per month, equaling about twenty-two fewer meals to fill their grocery carts. This winter, your donation can make the difference for a low-income family between a full cart of groceries and an empty one. Your gift will support our innovative advocacy and direct service programs that are dealing with the root causes of hunger.” Please visit the Coalition’s website for more information or to make a donation.