FROM FATHER SMITH: REJOICE!
This week I received a Christmas card from a teacher of mine who is an Episcopal priest. Among his kind good wishes there was this sentence, “I hope you will manage the rigors of the season.” I was struck by that word “rigor.” I heard the voice of experience in his use of the word. Rigor: “a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable,” the dictionary tells us; and every priest knows that life can become all those things at this time of year, when there is never enough time and there is so much to do. But you don’t have to be a priest to experience the rigors of the season, that’s for sure. The days before Christmas are, for many of us, filled with challenges and difficulties. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that the ubiquitous and relentlessly sweet Christmas music at Macy’s, the mall, and the Rite Aid, annoys us so: we are anxious, distracted, and harried, and yet the canned music urges us to have feelings that we are not able to feel.
Rigor. It’s actually a pretty complex word. It began as a Latin word, and then became a French word, before it ended up in our lexicon. Some of its other meanings, both in Latin and in English, are these: “stiffness, rigidity, coldness, hardness, inflexibility, severity . . . the quality of being unyielding…” I doubt that my teacher meant to urge me to avoid that sort of “rigor.” But, still, words are rich and complex things. I’ve enjoyed thinking about the overtones of the word “rigor” these past few days, because I certainly don’t want the challenges of the season to make me “rigid, inflexible, or unfeeling.” (I assume that my colleagues and my parishioners would prefer that I not become “rigorous” in that way as well!) I don’t want to endure Christmas. I would prefer to live it. I would prefer to let God work on me so that my worries and distractions do not turn into “hardness of heart.”
How do you and I do that? How do we let God do that? There’s the hint of an answer in the first word we hear at Solemn Mass this coming Sunday: Gaudete. Rejoice. It’s a great word and the Latin word gave the third Sunday of Advent its name: Gaudete Sunday. But all on its own the word is not enough, at least not for me. Being told to be joyful seldom makes me joyful. But, on Sunday morning, keep on listening, because the choir has more to tell us than just the word “rejoice.” That’s just the beginning. They will sing Saint Paul’s words of exhortation from the letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:4-6). One thing to remember about those words is that Paul wrote them while he was in prison, awaiting trial. I imagine that he must have had some hard days and nights during that time. He must have experienced worry and anxiety. But I don’t think when he says “rejoice,” that he’s just whistling in the dark. He’s telling the Philippians something that he’s learned, something that he’s experienced, something that he believes in the depths of his heart: the Lord is near. He’s telling his people that they don’t have to be destroyed or defeated by their worries. He’s telling them to turn towards the Lord, or to let the Lord turn them towards him, so they can see that he is coming to them, and that he is already close to them.
It’s hard for some of us to believe it, because we were taught not to believe it, but God is the opposite of “rigorous.” The God who sends his Son to us in order to be near to us is the opposite of “rigid, cold, and hard.” He sends a Son who is Oriens, the Dayspring from on High, the Rising Sun, the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World.
In these days before Christmas, it probably wouldn’t hurt to remember Saint Paul’s words: the Lord is near. We need not be defined by our worries and we don’t have to be controlled by our fears. Our God knows both our weaknesses and our strengths. Our God knows how to welcome our gifts and to forgive us for our failings.
In Psalm 43, we read a good and timely question: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” The psalmist’s answer reminds me of Saint Paul’s words. In his own way the psalmist tells us that the Lord is near. He invites us to approach him. The Lord leads us to himself with “his light and his truth.” He invites us to come close to him. For he is our “keenest joy” (Ps. 43:3-4). James Ross Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Judy, Philip, Barbara, Cheryl, Jeff, Stephanie, Daniel, Rose, Eugene, Eileen, Sharon, Richard, Linda, Arpene, Robert, Emil, religious, Paulette, priest, Rowan, priest, and Carl, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Elizabeth, Nicholas, and Matthew; and for the repose of the soul of June Harris . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . December 16: 1892 John Myer Brannan; 1959 Emily Cooper Campbell; 1996 Viola Douglas.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
2013 STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN . . . As of December 12, we have reached 69% of our goal of $450,000.00. This week we plan to mail a reminder to all those who made a pledge last year, but have not yet returned a pledge card for 2013. As the end of the year approaches, we urge you to renew your commitment to the parish as soon as you are able. We are also hoping to receive a pledge from those who have never pledged before or those who were not able to make a pledge in 2012! If you have questions, or if you would like to receive a pledge card, please contact the parish office, Father Jay Smith or MaryJane Boland. We are very grateful to all those who have made a pledge this year and to all those who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously.
ADVENT QUIET DAY . . . Father Jim Pace will lead a Quiet Day here at the parish on Saturday, December 15, 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM. The theme of the Quiet Day is "You Will Find a Child: Exploring The Infancy Narratives." Father Pace has planned three meditations—The Beginning, The Genealogy, The Canticles. Coffee and tea—and lunch—will be provided. If you’d like to attend, please contact Father Jay Smith so he can make plans for lunch. All are welcome.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Deacons Unite for an Advent Project to Benefit the Victims of Hurricane Sandy: A committee organized by the deacons of the diocese is asking every parish in the diocese to consider collecting $25.00 gift cards to distribute as Christmas gifts to our neighbors who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. The $25.00 gift cards should be purchased from stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Pathmark, Shop Rite, Stop-n-Shop, Sears, Bed Bath & Beyond, J.C. Penney, Macy's and the local pharmacy chain stores. If possible, the gift cards should be brought to church this coming Sunday, December 16. Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins will be collecting the gift cards and delivering them to the committee for distribution.
VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED . . . The friends and members of the parish are invited to join the Flower Guild to decorate the church for Christmas. The Guild is looking for help both on Saturday, December 22, and on Sunday, December 23. Please contact Scott Holman for more information.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Those not planning to attend the Quiet Day on Saturday, December 15, are invited to a Work Day in the Nursery between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. On the agenda: polishing brass in preparation for Christmas. Please let José Vidal know if you are able to attend . . . On Saturday, December 15, at 8:00 PM, the New York Repertory Orchestra will present its Annual Benefit Concert. The program includes music by Delibes, Walton, and Tubin. Admission is $10.00 . . . Sunday, December 16, 10:00 AM, Mother Mary Julia Jett concludes her three-part series on the Ritualist Movement in England and America . . . The “O Antiphons” will be said before and after the Magnificat at Evening Prayer from December 16 until December 23 . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will not meet on December 19. The class will resume after the Christmas break . . . Friday, December 21, Saint Thomas the Apostle, Mass at 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . On Saturday, December 22, at 3:00 PM, James Kennerley will perform Olivier Messiaen's Christmas masterpiece La Nativité du Seigneur. Admission is free, though a freewill donation may be offered . . . Father Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, December 15. Father Jay Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, December 22.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Thank you to all those who gave up a good chunk of their afternoon last Sunday to help organize and process the Christmas Appeal mailing. Your hard work and attention to detail—and your good spirits—are much appreciated . . . Collection envelopes for those who made a pledge for 2013 and requested envelopes can be found on the ushers’ table near the 46th Street entrance to the church beginning on Sunday, December 16 . . . Copies of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Calendar were printed this week and we expect that they will be here soon. We will make an announcement in the newsletter as soon they have arrived . . . Michael Potemra recently posted a review of a new film in National Review Online. The film, called Certainty, is about a young couple preparing to get married in the Roman Catholic Church. Mr. Potemra liked the film, not least because it seemed to him that it was “neither anti-Catholic propaganda nor shameless Catholic salesmanship.” Most interestingly, perhaps, to the readers of this newsletter, Saint Mary’s is featured quite prominently in the review, especially in the first and third paragraphs. The review can be accessed here . . . Flowers are needed for January 20 and for February 10. We also hope to receive donations to help defray the costs of the reception after the Solemn Mass on February 1. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch . . . Father Gerth will be on vacation until Tuesday, December 18. He returns to the office on Wednesday, December 19 . . . Father Smith would like to express his gratitude to all those who wished him well on the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Your good wishes and words of encouragement were, and are, much appreciated . . . Attendance: The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary 187; Last Sunday 243.
CHRISTMAS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Christmas Eve, Monday, December 24: Christmas Music 4:30 PM and Sung Mass 5:00 PM; Christmas Music 10:30 PM and Procession & Solemn Pontifical Mass 11:00 PM, The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, XXV Presiding Bishop & Primate, Celebrant & Preacher . . . Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25: Solemn Mass & Procession to the Crèche 11:00 AM . . . The First Sunday after Christmas, December 30, Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 AM & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Organ Recital 4:40 PM, Christmas Lessons & Carols 5:00 PM.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude at Solemn Mass on Sunday morning is the overture from Messiah by Georg Friedrich Händel (1695–1759). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Plainsong Mass for a Mean by John Sheppard (c. 1515–1559/60). Sheppard, along with such composers as Thomas Tallis and Christopher Tye, was among the English musicians whose careers spanned the Reformation and the resulting changes in liturgical practice. His output of sacred music includes works in both Latin and English. This Mass is relatively simple in style; its name reflects the use of plainsong (Gregorian chant) in alternation with polyphony as well as the low range of the highest voice. In Sheppard’s time the “treble” part in a choral work was the highest (soprano is a rough modern equivalent) and the “mean” part was slightly lower (somewhat equivalent to mezzo-soprano). In this piece the mean is the highest voice. At the administration of Communion the choir sings the motet This is the record of John by Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625). Gibbons was one of the greatest composers of his generation, and this motet is one of his most famous choral works. It is a setting of text from the King James Version of the Bible for soloist, choir and viols (here played by the organ), and, due to its prescribed use of string instruments (which were seldom, if ever, used in music for the church), music historians believe that it may have been written for a secular occasion—a feast at Saint John’s College, Oxford . . . On Sunday afternoon at 4:40 PM the organ recital will be played by David Kevin Lamb, Columbus, Indiana. James Kennerley
CONGRATULATIONS, ANONYMOUS 4 . . . Saint Mary’s parishioner Ruth Cunningham is a member of the well-known vocal ensemble, Anonymous 4. The members of the quartet are justifiably “renowned for their unearthly vocal blend and virtuosic ensemble singing.” Last week Anonymous 4 performed composer David Lang’s love fail, a work written for the ensemble, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Anthony Tommasini, reviewing the performance in the New York Times, had this to say, “[love fail is] Mr. Lang’s distillation, in his own words, of various medieval tellings of the Tristan and Isolde myth. His text is also based on, and crucially enlivened by, contemporary microfiction stories by the writer Lydia Davis. Mr. Lang has removed all specific references to Tristan and Isolde, the better to plumb a deeper theme: while love claims us, it is bound by our mortality and doomed to fail. It was Mr. Lang’s music, and the ethereal, pure-toned singing of Anonymous 4, that claimed me in the first section of the piece, which begins with the line ‘he was a blessed man’”. Ruth is also a member of the Saint Mary’s Choir and we are privileged to hear her sing here at the parish. Congratulations, Ruth, to you and your colleagues.
ADULT EDUCATION ON SUNDAYS . . . On Sunday, December 16, at 10:00 AM, Mother Mary Julia Jett will conclude her series on the history and theology of the so-called Ritualist Movement in England and America during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. The Adult Education class will not meet on Sunday, December 23. The class will resume in January after the Christmas break.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Saturday, January 5, 2013, 10:30 AM, The Celebration of
The Episcopacy of Bishop Mark Sisk at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine . . . Saturday, February 2, 2013, 10:30 AM, The Installation of Bishop Andrew M.L. Dietsche as XVI Bishop of New York.
THEATER AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Puppet Shakespeare, a partner of our resident theater company, the American Globe Theatre, will be performing Puppet Romeo and Juliet, January 9-20, 2013, here at Saint Mary’s. The company has this to say about its upcoming show, “PR&J is a ridiculous romp featuring kung fu, kazoos and hot, hot puppet love.” Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for kids (under 18)/students/seniors/anyone who brings a puppet! To make reservations visit the company website. The company charges securely online via PayPal; tickets may also be purchased at the door, using either cash or credit card.