FROM THE RECTOR: WHAT WE ARE DOING TODAY
Thomas Cranmer famously complained in the “Preface” of the first Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, “that many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.” I’m a great fan of the regularity and structural simplicity he gave to our tradition, not only for its spiritual benefits, but for the practical realities in the daily worship of the Church.
This Sunday we are going to celebrate what the Prayer Book calls a “Feast of Our Lord,” the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Its celebration on Sunday is optional. The only other “Major Feasts” for which we exercise the option the Prayer Book gives us to observe them on a Sunday are Saint Peter and Saint Paul (June 29), Saint Mary the Virgin (August 15), Holy Cross Day (September 14), and Saint Michael and All Angels (September 29). All of these feasts are observed with an evening Sung Mass when they fall on a weekday (including this week on Friday, June 29, Saint Peter & Saint Paul), except our feast of title, Saint Mary the Virgin. It is always observed with Solemn Mass.
In 1549 when Cranmer cleaned up the calendar of the Church of England, he kept the feast of John’s Nativity (June 24). Cranmer omitted the traditional observance of John’s beheading on August 29 because John was not a Christian martyr. John’s nativity was kept because the story of Jesus’ nativity in Luke is bound up with that of John. (Massey Shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary  242)—for the record, at Saint Mary’s we observe John’s beheading on August 29.
Cranmer gave the day a new lesson. The traditional reading in England, and still for the Roman Church, was Isaiah 49:1-6, which includes the verse, “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” (Isaiah 49:1b). Cranmer chose Isaiah 40:1-11. This passage includes a verse quoted by all of the gospels to identify John the Baptist, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).
The gospel for John’s birth includes the song Luke tells us John’s father Zechariah proclaimed at his son’s birth. The song is generally known by the first word of the text in Latin, Benedictus. It praises God for the promised “mighty savior” and says of the infant John that he is to be “the prophet of the Most High.” The text is used daily at Morning Prayer between the Old and New Testament lessons—John is the bridge, as it were, between the Old and the New, just as the Song of Mary, Magnificat, is used at Evening Prayer as the bridge between the Old and the New Testament lessons.
At Solemn Mass on Sunday we will sing two hymns about John we normally sing in Advent, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry and Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding. We also get to sing one hymn about John that links his birth with Jesus’ nativity in a special way. The Latin text, The great forerunner of the morn, is by the Venerable Bede (673-735), the translation by John Mason Neale (1818-1866). The tune is The Truth from Above, an English melody collected by Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958). It’s called that because of its use with this text, often sung here and elsewhere on Christmas Eve:
This is the truth sent from above, The truth of God, the God of love:
Therefore don’t turn me from your door, But hearken all, both rich and poor.
Bede’s text is the only one in the hymnal that uses this tune. It’s a wonderful joining of the births of John and Jesus. John’s nativity interrupts the regular rhythm of warm summer Sundays and invites us to remember the light that shone above Bethlehem in the dark and cool winter. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Angeline, George, Ben, Anna, Jeanne, Wayne, Barbara, Joseph, Jan, James, Arpene, Gail, Helen, Joyce, Betty, Sharon, Chandra, Dorothy, James, priest, and Harry, priest . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . June 24: 1932 Sarah Carpenter; 1993 William Ray Kirby.
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 . . . Friday, June 29, Saint Peter & Saint Paul, Apostles, Mass 12:10 PM & Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Father Stephen Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, June 23. Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, June 30.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Monday, June 25, is the Father Jim Pace’s anniversary of ordination to the diaconate in 1988 . . . Donations are needed for altar flowers for all the Sundays in July; and for August 5, August 15, and August 19. If you would like to donate flowers on one of those dates, please contact the parish office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 232.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude at Solemn Mass on Sunday is the overture from Georg Friedrich Händel’s (1695-1759) Messiah. Composed in 1741 between August 22 and September 12, this “sacred oratorio” (as Händel termed it) displays tremendous depth of inspiration and powerful musical imagination that render it one of the most enduring choral works of all time. Händel’s text was provided by Charles Jennens (1700-1773), an English landowner and patron of the arts, who drew texts from the Authorised (“King James”) Version of the Bible and the Psalms as presented in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I am the cantor this morning. At the ministration of communion, the first two vocal movements from Messiah: the recitative “Comfort ye my people,” and the aria “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted” will be sung. James Kennerley
SUMMER SCHEDULE ON SUNDAYS . . . June 17–October 6, 2012: Said Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 AM & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Said Evening Prayer 5:00 PM. Sung Matins and Solemn Evensong & Benediction resume on the first Sunday in October.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Monday, August 6, The Transfiguration of Our Lord . . . Wednesday, August 15, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
SAINT MARY’S FACEBOOK PAGE . . . For some time now, there have actually been three or four Saint Mary’s groups and pages on Facebook. Members of the parish staff have not had control of any of those pages, which has caused some confusion. Though we are very grateful to all our friends and members who are interested in the mission and ministry of our parish and have done what they could to give Saint Mary’s a Facebook presence, we have decided that it makes most sense for us to have a page that we can edit and manage on a regular basis from the parish office. Our new Saint Mary’s Facebook page can be accessed at www.facebook.com/stmvnyc. We are grateful to parishioner Susan Martin, who provided us with valuable advice about social media and, especially to Deacon Mary Julia Jett, who has ended the confusion, stilled our fears, created our page, and got us started on this new tool for communication and evangelism. Jay Smith
HOSPITALITY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . If you would like to make a donation to help cover the costs of the reception on August 15, please contact the parish office. We are also happy to receive donations to support our hospitality efforts on Sunday morning!
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please consider making a regular donation to the Food Pantry. Look for the basket in the back of the church or in Saint Joseph’s Hall. You may make a cash donation as well. If you would like more information about how the Food Pantry works or if you would like to volunteer, please contact Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., or Father Jay Smith . . . The LGBT Concerns Committee of the Diocese of New York continues to receive donations to support the Episcopal Church’s presence at the Pride March. Donations may be sent to Paul J. Lane, c/o The Church of Saint Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Checks should be made payable to the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields. Please write “Pride March” in the Memo Line.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . Bill W.: A documentary film about the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, 212.255.2243, www.quadcinema.com.