FROM THE RECTOR: MICHAELMAS
I was in seminary when Peter Brown published The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (1981), but I didn’t read the book until 2011—and I’m sorry it didn’t come up on my radar, as it were, long before then. I think my understanding of how Christianity developed would be greater, and my prayer life would be different.
Brown’s book reminded me, as much as anything I’d read in years, that the world into which Jesus was born was very different in its understanding of the created order from that of the last few centuries. The first centuries of the Christian Era were a world that largely believed in the reality of unseen beings—“invisible friends” is a phrase Brown uses. For Christians in the age of persecution, the glory and power of God were alive not only with the Risen Jesus, but also in those who were martyred, who died for their faith in Jesus. The roots of this devotion turn out to be even richer.
Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson in their book The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity (2012), citing research by Cyrille Vogel (1919–1982), write, “up until the middle of the second century ancient burial inscriptions reveal that Christians prayed both for and to deceased Christians, whether they were martyrs or not” (179–80). There was something more; there was Mary, who in Luke’s gospel is greeted by Elizabeth as, “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). As far as angels go, they are part of the understanding of the world of the New Testament.
The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, September 29, commonly called “Michaelmas” (MIK-uhl-mus), dates back to the dedication of a basilica near Rome on the Via Salaria in the fifth century. The basilica is gone, but the festival survived the Protestant Reformation among us Anglicans. Massy Shepherd wrote that this feast was “especially popular in medieval England” (The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary  251).
Michaelmas was understood to have an important scriptural foundation. The traditional gospel was Jesus’ response in Matthew to the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus’ answer was to put a child in front of the crowd. He concluded with these words, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:1–10). The present gospel is from the beginning of John, the passage in which Jesus tells Nathanael, “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:47–51).
Before the present Prayer Book was adopted, when September 29 and other holy days fell on a Sunday, they were observed on Sunday. When I became an Episcopalian, the hymns associated with the day were so powerful that whatever questions I had about angels were subsumed by my faith in God’s presence and God’s power over all things God had created. I also know there are unexplained moments when we human beings seem aware that we have been kept safe—and how or by whom we do not know.
We are going to sing two of the great angel hymns at the Sung Mass on Monday night: “Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels” and “Angels and ministers, spirits of grace”—with the tunes that are as great as the texts.
For reasons I do not understand, the theological editors of The Hymnal 1982 did not include this second hymn. Percy Dearmer (1867–1936) wrote this text for this feast in 1931. It was included in The Hymnal 1940 and was very popular—especially because it was set to the tune Slane. We had it reset a number of years ago so that we could put it in our bulletins using current production methods (computers and copiers). This is the first verse:
Angels and ministers, spirits of grace,
Friends of the children, beholding God’s face,
Moving like thought to us through the beyond,
Molded in beauty, and free from our bond.
(I confess I’m tempted every year to have “Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels” also reset. In The Hymnal 1940, Christ is called “maker of all men”; now he is “maker of all things.” I’m not insensitive to inclusive language, but this is a distortion of the Latin original. The Latin is rector humani generis et auctor, literally, “ruler and maker of human beings.” “Things” is just wrong. Maybe, “maker of mortals”? In other words, can we get humanity back in? I’m open to suggestions. End of rant.)
I hope it may be possible for many to be with us for one of the Eucharists on Monday. To the members of the wider community, whose parishes will not be able to offer the regular services of the Prayer Book on Michaelmas, please know that you really are part of our prayers here.—Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Thomas, Robert, Barbara, Jay, Pauline, Suzanne, Rebecca, John, McNeil, Takeem, Sylvia, Rick, Jack, Linda, Arpene, Scott, Phillip, Paulette, priest, and Harry, priest; for the repose of the soul of Ulysses S. Lester; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 28: 1873 Isabella B. France; 1891 Amanda Haight; 1920 Emily Patten Dickinson; 1939 Madeleine Becca Thompson; 1943 Edith Maud Delleger; 1944 Evelyn Blanche Mary Kind.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Ulysses S. Lester, the father of parishioner Darrell Lester, died on Wednesday, September 24, after a long illness. Please keep him, Darrell, their family, 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 29, Saint Michael & All Angels, Mass 12:10 PM and Sung Mass 6:0 PM . . . Saturday, October 4, 2:00 PM, Holy Matrimony: Blair Burroughs & Renée Pecquex . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, September 27, by Father Jim Pace, and on Saturday, October 4, by Father Stephen Gerth.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . If you would like to be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church this year, or if you or somebody you know is thinking about being baptized, please speak to Father Gerth or Father Smith . . . Many thanks to Father Paul Burrows for taking the 9:00 AM Mass last Sunday while Father Pace and the rector were away . . . We hope to receive donations for flowers for October 19 and 26; the Eve of All Saints’ Day (Friday, October 31); and November 9, 16 & 23. We also hope to receive donations to help defray the costs of the reception following the Solemn Mass on October 31. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the finance office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 196.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . Darius Milhaud (1892–1974) was a French composer of the especially for his development of polytonal music (simultaneous use of different keys). Born into a Provençal Jewish family, he studied at the Paris Conservatory. He was grouped by the critic Henri Collet with the young composers who were popularly known as Les Six (Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Louis Durey, and Germaine Tailleferre). In 1940 he became a music professor at Mills College in Oakland, California, but returned to France in 1947 to teach at the Paris Conservatory. In his later years he suffered from crippling arthritis, but continued to compose and conduct. Milhaud’s bold, individual style of composition is especially exemplified in his ballets and the six operas he composed. From about 1913, Milhaud’s music is characterized by his use of bitonality and polychords. Although dissonant, his music retains a lyrical quality. A prolific composer, Milhaud wrote roughly 440 works, including radio and motion-picture scores, a setting of the Jewish Sabbath Morning Service (1947), thirteen symphonies, and choral works, including a Mass. He also composed the large-scale Pacem in terris (1963), based on an encyclical by Pope John XXIII. He is perhaps best known for the two-piano suite Scaramouche (1936) and his beguiling chamber music. For the organ he wrote a daunting three-movement sonata, several incidental pieces, and a set of nine preludes, one of which we hear as the postlude at Solemn Mass on Sunday. His autobiography, My Happy Life (1995, trans. by Donald Evans) is still in print. At the ministration of Communion soprano Sharon Harms will sing Priez pour paix by Francis Poulenc (1899–1963), another member of Les Six.—Mark Peterson
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Sunday, October 5, 2014: Regular Sunday Schedule Begins! The schedule between October and the feast of Corpus Christi, June 7, 2015, is as follows: Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Church School 9:45 AM (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd), Adult Forum 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Organ Recital 4:40 PM (except during Lent), Solemn Evensong & Benediction 5:00 PM . . . Monday, October 13, Columbus Day, Federal Holiday Schedule: the church opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM, only the noonday services are offered, and the parish offices are closed . . . Saturday, October 18, Saint Luke, Mass 12:10 PM . . . October 23, Saint James, Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . Friday, October 31, Eve of All Saints’ Day, Organ Recital 5:30 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM . . . Sunday, November 2, 2:00 AM, Daylight Saving Time ends.
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION & SPIRITUALITY . . . Sunday, October 5, 1:00 PM: A Tour of Saint Mary’s and Its Art & Decoration, led by Dr. Dennis Raverty, with the assistance of parish archivist, Dick Leitsch . . . Sunday, October 12, 19 & 26, 10:00 AM, Mission House, 2nd Floor: “For All the Saints”—The Origins & History of the Veneration of the Saints. On October 12 and 26, the class will be led by Father Jay Smith, and on October 12 the class will be led by Grace Bruni . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class resumes on October 15 at 6:30 PM. The class, which is led by Father Jay Smith, is normally held in Saint Joseph’s Hall, 145 West 46th Street. We will be reading the Book of Isaiah this year.—J.R.S.
CONCERTS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . October 18, 2014, New York Repertory Orchestra (Annual Benefit Concert). Tickets are required ($10 at door). Program: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante (with Sheryl Staples, acting concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, violin, and Cynthia Phelps, principal viola of the New York Philharmonic, viola); and Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . Tuesday, September 30, 6:30 PM, Fordham University Church, Rose Hill Campus, Bronx, New York: Orthodoxy in America Lecture and Honorary Degree Ceremony, honoring the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, one-hundred-and-fourth Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. Archbishop Williams will deliver a lecture entitled “Liturgical Humanism: Orthodoxy and the Transformation of Culture.” Reservations may be made online . . .At the New York Solo Theater Festival, “Saint Mark’s Gospel: The Inspiration Begins,” solo theater piece performed by Tom Bair and directed by Kathleen Conry, on Saturday, November 15, at 4:00 PM, at the United Solo Theatre Festival at Theatre Row, 410 West Forty-second Street. Call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400 for reservations and tickets. Tom Bair, the husband of Bishop Geralyn Wolf, is a good friend of Saint Mary’s and worships with us frequently.
OUTREACH . . . The spread of the Ebola virus in Liberia and in other parts of West Africa has been rapid in recent months, and, according to recent news reports, the numbers of those affected continues to mount. We have received requests from Liberian clergy working in our diocese to publicize ways that New York Episcopalians can help. You may visit the website of the Liberian Episcopal Community USA (LECUSA) to obtain more information . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please place your donations in the basket near the ushers’ table on Sunday mornings. You may also make cash donations. We are also happy to receive donations of new white socks and underwear, protein bars, hand cleanser, small bottles of shampoo and other toiletries, for distribution to the homeless and others who are in need. This will become increasingly important as the weather grows colder.