FROM THE RECTOR: ANOTHER MIDWINTER
This past week has been a terrible one for the families of those murdered in Newtown, Connecticut—and for their wider communities. Every day now there are burials, and as I write, there are more to come. Our political and media establishments are consumed with discussions of gun control, violence in media, and mental healthcare. Some have raised questions about the nature and quality of family life. Religion is very much on a backburner in this dialogue. But, I can’t help wondering what our faith tells us about all this. I will confess that I do not believe that making progress on any, or all, of the issues being discussed will prevent evil acts from being committed in the future. Legal constraints, no matter how rational, no matter how urgently they are needed, are not sufficient. Just knowing right from wrong by itself doesn’t prevent human beings from doing wrong, especially when real evil is at hand.
Before recorded history human beings learned to kill each other. Cain murdering his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) was egregious not only because a life was taken, but because it was a case of brother murdering his brother. The church cannot forget the very young boys of Bethlehem, murdered by soldiers on the orders of their ruler (Matthew 2:16-18). Rachel still weeps for her children (Jeremiah 31:15). Murder is an ancient evil—and I can’t help but wonder whether it was murder, not the apple, that was the original sin that drove men and women to leave the garden God had made for them.
This summer I read Jill Lepore’s New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan (2006). It’s about what happened after a number of fires broke out in the city in 1741. Slaves, almost all African-American, were blamed; the fires were said to be the prelude to a rebellion. Thirteen men, all slaves, were burned at the stake—yes, here in Manhattan, seventeen were hanged, and close to a hundred were sold into the even more cruel forms of slavery to be found in the cane fields of the Caribbean. The historical record reads something like accounts of the Terror in the wake of the French Revolution.
The ministers of Trinity Church, the New Dutch Church, and the Old Dutch Church, the three leading congregations in the city, are never mentioned by name in Lepore’s book, though they and other ministers were said to have preached about the evil of this rebellion—though not against the scapegoating of the enslaved, much less against the institution of slavery and its evils. Prof. Lepore, who teaches at Harvard, does not say that the city’s Christian leaders played any role whatsoever in addressing or reducing the hysteria which gripped the political establishment and the populace at the time. Apparently those leaders did nothing at all to calm the hysteria or to prevent the scapegoating of African-Americans; and, one notes, that when it was all over, the real problem, slavery, would remain unaddressed for over a century. I cannot help believing that evil in all its many forms will be with us until the end of time. This does not mean that we are not called to respond to evil or to do what we can to create safer and more just societies; however, I am not sure that it is in our power to eradicate evil once and for all.
For many years I have made it a practice to listen to Christmas music while I am at the gym during the last week of Advent. A preacher never knows where he or she is going to get sermon material, and over the years I’ve gotten many ideas from phrases in hymns and anthems. Perhaps more important, listening to this music helps me get my own emotional response to Christmas out of the way, as it were. I think this helps me be better prepared to serve at the Christmas Masses. I am a believer—and I am not unmoved by the words we sing and pray, especially this week.
One of the albums I’ve listened to this week is Chanticleer’s Sing We Christmas. One of the pieces, “Glory to the Newborn King,” is an arrangement of four traditional gospel songs, the first of which is “Well, the Savior is born.” The verse that I found myself really listening to was this, “They looked for him for a thousand years to take away all doubt and fears. They found him in a manger in Bethlehem.”
I don’t know if the gospel song is African-American in origin, but it may be. It speaks to the kind of struggle too many people of color have had with racism. Christ’s birth did not take away the sin and evil human beings face in this life, but Christ’s birth changed how we human beings meet it and how we respond to it. Christ was born to help take away our doubt and fears.
On Christmas Eve there will be Masses at 5:00 PM and 11:00 PM—and Christmas music a half hour before both. Our former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold will be celebrant and preacher for the later service. On Christmas Day there will be Mass at 11:00 AM. It will all be glorious and rich. But we will not stray from ordinary truth about life and death, good and evil, suffering and resurrection. I hope it will be easy for us to enter the joy God wants us to have in our time. Stephen Gerth
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. Sung Mass of the Nativity is at 5:00 PM . . . At 10:30 PM there will be Christmas music. Procession & Solemn Pontifical 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” . . . 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 . . . December 27 is the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, and December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. 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, on those days Mass will also be celebrated at 6:20 PM.
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Pat, Donna, Michael, Jeff, Richard, Charles, Sharon, Michael, George, Judy, Philip, Barbara, Cheryl, Jeff, Daniel, Eugene, Eileen, Barbara, Richard, Linda, Arpene, Victor, priest, 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 souls of Tony Ramdeen and Susan Austin . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . December 23: 1905 John Webber; 1959 Helen Partridge; 1964 Christine Cadney.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Susan Austin, the wife of the Reverend Dr. Victor Austin, Theologian-in-Residence at the Church of Saint Thomas, Manhattan, died on December 17. A Choral Requiem Eucharist will be offered at Saint Thomas’s, 1 West 53rd Street, on Saturday, December 22, at 11:00 AM. Please keep Susan, Victor, their family and friends, and all who mourn in your prayers.
THE FRIDAYS OF CHRISTMASTIDE are not observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial. Friday abstinence resumes on January 11, 2013, the first Friday after the Epiphany.
I PUBLISH THE BANNS OF MARRIAGE between Helena Johnson of Washington, D.C. and Jonathan John Peter of Washington, D.C. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the first time of asking. S.G.
2012 DONATIONS . . . All donations, including cash gifts, must be postmarked by December 31, or received in the finance office by noon on December 31, to qualify as a deduction for 2012 tax purposes. Likewise, gifts of stock must be received in the church’s investment account by December 31, 2012. For stock-transfer instructions or other questions, email Aaron Koch or call him at (212) 869-5830, ext. 14.
2013 STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN . . . As of December 17, we have reached 73% of our goal of $450,000.00. This week we mailed 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. 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.
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 on Saturday, December 22, 10:00 AM-2:30 PM, and on Sunday, December 23, 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Please contact Scott Holman for more information.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . On Saturday, December 22, at 3:00 PM, James Kennerley will perform Olivier Messiaen's Christmas masterpiece La Nativité du Seigneur . . . Copies of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Calendar have arrived and may be purchased at Coffee Hour for $5.00. . . . Envelopes for those who requested them when they made a pledge for 2013 are available at the ushers’ table near the 46th Street on Sundays . . . Father Jay Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, December 22. Confessions during Christmastide are heard by appointment . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 258.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . At Solemn Mass on Sunday the setting of the Mass Ordinary is Missa Canonica by Brahms. Composed mainly in 1856 (a new Kyrie was produced in 1857), primarily as a technical exercise in his revised study of counterpoint, the setting was not published for a century afterwards, and was first performed in 1983. At the Ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Virga Jesse floruit by Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) . . . On Sunday afternoon Iris Lan, concert organist and composer, will play a recital at 4:40 PM before Solemn Evensong & Benediction at 5:00 PM . . . On Christmas Eve the professional choir will sing for both services. At the 5 PM Sung Mass, the choir is joined by Saint Mary’s Brass, and David Enlow accompanies the choir on the organ. The Mass setting is the rarely-performed Festal Communion Service in Bb, opus 128, by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924), performed in a version for choir, organ and brass. The motets at communion are Resonet in laudibus by Michael Praetorius (c. 1571–1621) and a new arrangement of the Sussex Carol that I composed for this service. At the 11 PM Solemn Mass, the Mass Ordinary is sung to the sublime setting in G minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958). Composed in 1921, it received its US premiere only days after the first performance at Westminster Cathedral, London. The prelude music, starting at 4:30 PM and 10:30 PM respectively, will feature choral works by William Walton, Robert Pearsall, Herbert Howells and Eric Whitacre, as well as organ music and carols for the congregation to sing . . . At Solemn Mass on Christmas Day, the setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa Ave Regina caelorum by Tomas Luis de Victoria (c. 1548–1611), and the communion motet is In the bleak midwinter, set to music by Harold Darke (1888–1976) . . . On Sunday afternoon at 4:40 PM the organ recital will be played by Iris Lan, New York, New York, featuring works of Reger and Hindemith. James Kennerley
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. All are invited; tickets are not required.
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.