FROM THE RECTOR: SIGNS OF COMMITMENT
There was an uproar when, in the run up to the present Prayer Book, the Standing Liturgical Commission published Prayer Book Studies 18: On Baptism and Confirmation (1970). It proposed that the Episcopal Church return to a “unified” rite of Christian initiation. The rite would encompass all of the following as normative: a public commitment of faith, washing with water in the names of the Trinity, the laying on of hands, anointing with chrism and the reception of Communion. The bishop would “normally” be the “chief minister” of the service, but in his absence a priest could officiate and say and do all that a bishop would do.
The proposals were made in large part because of the modern study of worship that had taken place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By the 1960s, it was recognized that the rites of Baptism and Eucharist had wandered, as it were, into theological positions, which though widely held and often popular, which were no longer supportable by scholarship. The commission’s proposal was courageous. In the end the Episcopal Church got as close to the proposal as it could. A friend, whose commitment to the church was more cultural than religious liked to remark about the changes, “The Christians have taken over the Episcopal Church.”
Holy Baptism was structured so that a parish which wanted to embrace the unified tradition could do everything except call this action, which followed the ministration of water, “Confirmation”:
Then the Bishop or Priest places a hand on the person’s head, marking on the forehead the sign of the cross [using Chrism if desired] and saying to each one
N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer  (308)).
When adults and older children are baptized here in this way by a bishop, we enter their names into the baptismal register and the confirmation register. (Note that they’ve (1) made a profession of faith in the presence of the bishop and the congregation and (2) received the laying on of hands and anointing by the bishop.) One could argue that we should enter young children’s names in both registers too, but the Episcopal Church is not there yet.
Confirmation survived as a separate sacramental rite for several reasons. Some believed we needed a way for those baptized as children to make a public affirmation of faith when they were of age to speak for themselves. Some wanted to maintain the Roman Catholic view that Confirmation was one of the seven Sacraments of the Church and that, “In this sacrament they receive the Holy Spirit whom the Lord sent upon the apostles on Pentecost” (The Rites of the Catholic Church [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1990] 479). A lot of laypeople and clergy wanted to preserve the particular connection every adult Episcopalian had with his or her bishop in the rite of Confirmation.
A newly published short study by the late Mark Dalby, Admission to Communion: The Approaches of the Late Medievals and the Reformers (2013), is about confirmation and communion. The subject is vast—mostly because, beginning in the Middle Ages, successive generations tried to make theological sense of a rite of confirmation separated from baptism.
With respect, how is “the Holy Spirit whom the Lord sent upon the apostles on Pentecost” different from the Holy Spirit received in baptism? How is the “strengthening” of confirmation different from the spiritual strengthening of the Eucharist? Few Protestant reformers wished do to away with infant baptism, but most of them wanted children baptized as infants to stand before the Sunday congregation and affirm their faith before they were admitted to communion—essentially the argument the Baptist tradition makes that only adults can make a Christian commitment and be baptized.
I continue to wonder what it would be like if your and my ordinary reaction to Baptism was to think of washing, of being made clean for a new way of life, and our ordinary reaction to the Eucharist was to think of it as food that nourishes our faith. Maybe it would be easier for others to believe what we believe, to share with us our faith in the goodness of the Lord. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Leslie, Tyler, Keith,, Emma, Phyllis, Mary, Sean, Casey, Eloise, Sharon, Linda, Diana, Eileen, Arpene, Rebecca, deacon, Paulette, priest, and Thomas, bishop; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Elizabeth and Daniel . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 28: 1922 Charles Goldsborough Stirling; 1962 Anna Stambaugh Marais.
FRIDAY ABSTINENCE . . . 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 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, July 27, by Father Stephen Gerth, and on August 3, by Father Jay Smith
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins continues to recover from her recent illness. Please keep her in your prayers . . . Father Pace’s sermons from Sunday, July 14, and Sunday, July 21, have been posted on the parish website . . . Flowers are needed for summer Sundays. Please call the parish office to donate . . . . Sister Deborah Francis is on vacation. She returns to the parish on Tuesday, August 6 . . . Father Smith returns to the parish from vacation on Tuesday, July 30 . . . Attendance Last Sunday 136.
THIS SUNDAY’S MUSIC . . . One of the leading figures in the world of nineteenth century music was César Franck (1882-1890), a Parisian composer whose renown rests largely on a small number of compositions written in his later years. Franck exerted a significant influence on music in general, but particularly in rejuvenating the French symphonic tradition. With equal effect he helped to renew and reinvigorate French church music in all of its forms (within the Roman Catholic Church). One of his best known shorter works is the motet setting Panis Angelicus, which was originally written for tenor solo with organ and string accompaniment, but has subsequently been arranged for other voices and instrumental combinations. As an organist Franck was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation, and on the basis of merely twelve major organ works, he is considered by many the greatest composer of organ music after Bach. His Cantabile from Three Pieces for Organ, is a hauntingly melodic work that we hear at the Prelude on Sunday, with his Sortie at the Postlude. His works paved the way for the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and Marcel Dupré. At the ministration of Holy Communion we will hear soprano Ruth Cunningham sing one of the beautiful chant works of Hildegard van Bingen, the twelfth century composer and theologian whom Pope Benedict XVI named a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church toward the end of his pontificate. Mark Peterson
SAINT MARY’S AIDS WALK TEAM . . . As we reported last week, the final figures on the AIDS Walk are in, and our team was one of the Top 20! We thank the many Saint Marians and friends of Saint Mary’s who supported us—and we invite you to join us as fundraisers and walkers on Sunday, May 18, 2014. We thought you would like to know that nine team members raised a total of $25,000.50. There were 203 donors from five countries. The United States donors came from twenty-six states. The smallest donation was six dollars, the largest $2,500.00. Included in our total was $1,037 from the offering of the congregation on Maundy Thursday. Again, thank you so much for your support!
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Electronic versions of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger’s Guide to Free Food and Assistance are available here . . . We continue to gather non-perishable food items for Saint Clement’s Pantry. Please contact Sister Deborah Francis for more information about the Pantry’s work . . . The “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk” will take place on Sunday, October 20, in Central Park. For more information about how to participate, please visit the Walk’s website.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Tuesday, August 6, Transfiguration, Mass 12:10 PM and Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Thursday, August 15, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM. The Reverend John Beddingfield, rector, All Souls Memorial Church, Washington, D.C., will preach at the Solemn Mass.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), now through September 15, “AIDS in New York: The First Five Years 1981-1985.”
ABOUT A COMMEMORATION THIS WEEK . . . On July 30 the Episcopal Church commemorates the life and witness of William Wilberforce. He died on July 29, 1833—but church tradition had already assigned July 29 to Mary and Martha of Bethany.
“The life of William Wilberforce refutes the popular notion that a politician cannot be a saintly Christian, dedicated to the service of humanity.
“Wilberforce was born into an affluent family in Hull, Yorkshire, on August 24, 1759, and was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge. In 1780, he was elected to the House of Commons, and he served in it until 1825. He died in London, July 29, 1833, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
“His conversion to an evangelical Christian life occurred in 1784, several years after he entered Parliament. Fortunately, he was induced by his friends not to abandon his political activities after this inward change in his life, but thereafter he steadfastly refused to accept high office or a peerage.
“He gave himself unstintingly to the promotion of overseas missions, popular education, and the reformation of public manners and morals. He also supported parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. Above all, his fame rests upon his persistent, uncompromising, and single-minded crusade for the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade. That sordid traffic was abolished in 1807. He died just one month before Parliament put an end to slavery in the British dominions. One of the last letters written by John Wesley was addressed to Wilberforce. In it Wesley gave him his blessing for his noble enterprise.
“Wilberforce’s eloquence as a speaker, his charm in personal address, and his profound religious spirit, made him a formidable power for good; and his countrymen came to recognize in him a man of heroic greatness.” (Lesser Feasts and Fasts (2006), 326)