Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena

A Parish of the Archdiocese of New York served by the Dominican Friars

December 26, 2015

Gathered – Pastor’s Reflection (December 27, 2015)

I hope this finds you savoring a delicious post-Christmas lull. Because of bulletin deadlines, I write you on December 18, and it is all yet to come. But here is something for me to send forward in time for your reading pleasure. Yesterday, December 17, I was opening Christmas cards, and I looked inside one of them to find the greeting, “Happy Holiday to a great people!” I think this is the first time the whole parish community has gotten a Christmas wish. It gave me joyful pause to think that someone would look upon the whole panorama of us and perceive such a wonderful thing. Somehow the welcome received and the cohesiveness experienced made the Holy Spirit’s gathering work tangible to our well-wisher.

Since the season of gatherings still obtains I pause to think of the ways in which I have been gathered.How marvelous, and maybe frightening, is God’s work of inserting me into circles of people. Around the 2015 Christmas tree I recognize that I am a Catholic, an American, a Wagner, a New Yorker in the Archdiocese of New York, a Dominican Friar, serving in the Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena, and residing with my Brethren at 411 East 68th, and none of these circles has an opt out clause. Each of these gatherings has true roots in God, and represents a truth of me that I must heed. Each of them continues to shape mind and heart, to stretch me, constrain me, to tire me and energize me.

How is it that the series of my associations seems tailored to me? Together they form a context that serves me a constantly evolving cocktail of challenge, consolation, and perplexity. In really clear moments I perceive this as God’s elixir of happiness, and so I stay in the setting until God places me in a new one.

Somehow the secret of family is the realization that I did not choose them. In faith I perceive that God chose them for me and vice versa. God’s choice of me for a group shows me God’s choice of me for myself. By His grace I hold a place in His world and a summons to His eternity.

As Christmas unfolds, consider that God places His Son in a concentric series of relationships. At its heart lies the uniquely privileged bond He has with Mary and Joseph, but the arrival of shepherds and wise men reveal that the Chosen People, and then every people, will come as givers, not options, into His life. They will comprise the reality that Jesus obeys all the way to the Cross.

In this parish we now experience God’s gathering enterprise in surprising and potent ways, and winter does not portend a let-up. Some highlights:

On Sunday, January 3, the Feast of the Epiphany, we will continue our custom of having a festive Parish Coffee around the tree in the Parlors at St. Vincent’s

On the weekend of January 17, the Finance Council of St. Catherine’s will make presentations after all the Masses on the state of the Parish finances.

On the following weekend, January 24, St. Catherine’s will host a Parish Coffee after the Noon Mass. At this we have a kind of listening session in regard to the previous week’s presentation. From then on, we hope to have Parish Coffees at
St. Catherine’s after the noon Mass on the Third Sunday of each month.

That same afternoon, January 24, at 4 pm, at St. Vincent’s, I will begin a series of presentations which I call “The Upper Room.” These talks provide, I hope, an overview of, and deeper acquaintance with, the content of the Faith. We use the church of St. Vincent Ferrer as our text, and try to read deeply into its art. These talks are open to anyone who would like to reconnect to the Faith or delve deeper into its depths. It also serves to prepare adults for the Sacrament of Confirmation. So if you are an adult Catholic who would like to receive the sacrament, I can confirm you at Pentecost of 2016. This will be May 15 at noon, at St. Catherine’s. Sessions last an hour and fifteen minutes so that participants can attend the 5:30 pm Mass if they wish.

In these pages you will soon see a list of events for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which lasts from January 18 – January 25. Also coming, a schedule of Saturday morning retreats for the winter.

St. Catherine’s will help us through the bleak mid-winter by hosting a celebration of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple on February 2. This promises to be a lovely, candle-lit affirmation of faith. On Friday, February 5, we hope to continue the festivities with a Parish Mardi Gras. Details to follow.

Let me close with the hope that you and I both get some quiet days right about now.

Christmas Peace!

Fr. Walter

December 22, 2015

New Year’s Mass Schedule 2016

The Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer

Thursday, December 31, 2016
8:00 AM – Low Mass
12:10 PM – Low Mass
6:00 PM – Sung Mass of the Vigil

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Octave of Christmas)
Friday, January 1, 2016
8:00 AM – Low Mass
12:10 PM – Sung Mass
6:00 PM – Low Mass

The Church of Saint Catherine of Siena

Thursday, December 31, 2015
7:00 AM – Mass of the Day
12:00 Noon – Mass of the Day
5:15 PM – Mass for the Vigil of the Octave

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Octave of Christmas)
Friday, January 1, 2016
9:00 AM – Sung Mass
12:00 Noon – Solemn Mass
(There is no 5:15 PM Mass today)

December 19, 2015

Approval for Christmas – Pastor’s Reflection (December 20, 2015)

On December 22, 1216, Pope Honorius III gave formal “approbation” to the plan of life and mission St. Dominic had established for his Friars. Approval signified more than permission: it conveyed a recognition that the Holy Spirit had wrought a new thing in the midst of the Church. Seven hundred and ninety-nine years later this way of life continues to give life to us who live it. Our capacity to serve you comes from the wherewithal it provides.

The newness of the Order took several forms. St. Dominic founded a religious community with an apostolate of preaching, and its houses sprouted up in urban centers, not desert retreats. The Friars did not gain their sustenance from agriculture, handicraft, or rental income: they were to invest their productive energy in study, and ask people to support their way of life. At the same time, the Friars maintained the structures of intense common life that characterize monasticism. The Friars did not remain in one priory but moved about as needed. Finally, their houses were not autonomous, but were part of a Church-wide Order centered in Rome, and the superiors in the Order were elected from the bottom up. Each element of this plan served to help the Friar have an absorbing life of worship, study, and fraternity, and at the same time, to be free to preach the Gospel effectively to his contemporaries.

The approval given to the Order as a structure also extended to the content of its preaching, which was itself an approbation. Dominic took up the task of affirming for his age the goodness of human reason, and human bodily life. Simply put, he and his companions sought to convince people that their humanity reflected the goodness of the Creator, and that living a full human life, fortified by the sacraments, provided a reliable way to reach eternal intimacy with that same God.

Dominic’s is a Christmas message preached all year long. Christ’s Incarnation affirms the whole work of being human. At Christmas we will see Him making the vulnerability of infancy powerful for us all. The Word took flesh in a wordless child, showing that the human person bears God’s image at a level far deeper than language or discourse. Nevertheless, when Jesus grows up and gives the Sermon on the Mount, He demands that human reason struggle with the radical implications of the Law. He delineates our potential to live in a way far more radical than reason would have devised unaided. Reason would not counsel forgiveness of one’s enemies, or prayer for one’s persecutors, but life in Christ makes these things possible.

Perhaps the humanity of Jesus fails to convince because of its lack of experience. The Gospels present the Lord as a celibate, and yet the first of his signs was worked at a wedding (Cana), and if we follow the Gospels we recognize that the Lord’s regard for our whole race was spousal, with a love unqualified by cost, or by failure. Yes, Jesus walks the earth as a sinless, doubtless man, yet He constantly draws near to those who struggle with sin and perplexity.

God’s treasuring of humanity will climax in the mystery of the Lord’s Passion. On the Cross, Jesus reveals God’s powerful and saving presence to human life at the moment of its disintegration. Further, in this same mystery comes a rebuke for every force in human life, that belittles that life. The Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord reveal God welcoming a human nature that struggles to join the humanity of Jesus within His own, Triune life.

How then to celebrate well! Surely it’s to live fully. Our eating, drinking, and gifting during these days grasps this instinctively. The challenge lies in joining mind to practice. When we do, Christmas becomes a profound and joyous reverence for the humanity of our companions.  The season’s festivities, like the Lord’s presence among us, challenge us through the very kind of love they foster.

The implication of Christmas is giving without manipulation, or pretense.  At this season we celebrate things, and their capacity to express gratitude and love. This will call us away from trivial consumption, from shoddiness and vulgarity, and from ostentation and excess of every sort. Instead, the Incarnation invites us to affirm human craft as something speaks well of us all, in dedication, creativity, and precision.

In these days we will treat each other with God’s good things of the table, and we should. After all, we were made with the bodies and the senses to savor, even luxuriate, in the tastiness of creation, as worked on by human hands. As Jesus lived fully, so we are challenged not to compromise our pleasure through the loss of alertness.

Living this way, we truly celebrate Jesus, by continuing His work of “approbation.” It is not that we confer a seal of approval on others, or ourselves. Rather, we acknowledge that they, and we, are the work of His hands. Around the tree, we can take pleasure that all of us have been made and held in life, and that this life carries us to Him who knows and loves the body and soul of us each.

Finally, let me thank you in advance for the very tangible love you extend to the parish in gifts at Christmas and at the End of the Year. Your support made tangible allows the Community of the Parish to become more itself, and thereby put ever new flesh on Christ in the world.

Merry Christmas Indeed!
Fr. Walter Wagner, O.P., Pastor

P.s. Let me note that I found myself under the weather at letter writing time and had to adapt a letter from two years ago. My first rerun.

December 16, 2015

Christmas Mass Schedule 2015

The Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer

Thursday, December 24, 2015
9:00 AM – Community Mass
(There is no 12:10 Mass today)
6:00 PM – Sung Mass of the Vigil
Church closes at 7:00 PM and reopens at 9:00 PM
9:30 PM – Prelude Music for choir, organ, brass and tympani,
as well as familiar carols for congregation
10:30 PM – Solemn Mass During the Night

Friday, December 25, 2015
8:00 AM – Mass (Christmas Mass)
10:00 AM – Sung Mass (Christmas Mass)
Prelude Music at 11:40 AM
12:00 Noon – Solemn Mass During the Day


The Church of Saint Catherine of Siena

Thursday, December 24, 2015
8:00 AM – Mass of the Day
12:00 Noon – Confessions
(There is no Noon Mass today.)
6:00 PM – Sung Mass of the Vigil of the Nativity
11:15 PM – Prelude Music
12:00 Midnight – Solemn Mass (First Mass of Christmas)
      with Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor
      and motets of Rubbra, Rutter, Warlock, and Willcocks.

Friday, December 25, 2015
9:00 AM – Sung Mass (Second Mass of Christmas)
11:00 AM – Solemn Mass (Third Mass of Christmas)
      with Palestrina’s Missa Hodie

December 12, 2015

The State of Things #2 – Pastor’s Reflection (December 13, 2015)

In my experience, this Gaudete Sunday stands out as one of the happiest moments of our Parish Year. By custom this has been the weekend of the Advent retreat and the celebration of Lessons and Carols. These days offer a time of togetherness and festivity before people take up the more familial pursuits of Christmas itself.

This year we wear the encouraging rose vestments in a time of shared vulnerability in the United States and Europe. For us to sing carols in denial of this might appear to offer a counter-witness to the Gospel of Truth whose fulfillment we await. But our waiting for the Advent of God does not consist in wishful thinking, but rests in the virtue of hope. Because of hope we possess a joy and confidence that people of violence cannot take away from us. For this reason, we proceed with the Gaudete and Christmas festivities, with the longing that the victims of violence may find the healing that God alone can fully give.

On the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception, last Monday, we installed the new image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and on Saturday, her feast day, we blessed it. This new object of beauty and place of prayer comes to us through years of contributions by hope-filled people who have taken this cause to their hearts candle by candle. I trust I speak for the whole Community of the Parish when I express my profound gratitude for the gift, and for the witness of the gift.

The closed doors of the triptych reveal a sixteenth century map of the Americas, with the Holy Spirit hovering over them in the gable. The opened doors yield the image of the encounter between St Juan-Diego and the Blessed Mother upon the hill of Tepeyac. Framing this image are four Dominican Saints of the Americas; Martin de Porres, Rose of Lima, Juan Macias, and Louis Bertrand. They too form part of God’s visitation of this new world. In the gable the Holy Spirit presides over this new annunciation of God’s love, even as He presided over the original mystery bearing that title.

Ahead of us in the new year lie a number of tasks. Since I am running out of space let me simply enumerate them.

  • The gradual formation of a united Parish Council.
  • In view of the merger we have not added new members to the the Parish Council of St. Vincent Ferrer. The members are Lou Zacharilla (Chair), Sr. Mary Elena Rizzo, O.P., Lois Deming, Philip Morace, Ashley Rose and Lane Shea, and David Linnehan.
  • At St. Catherine’s I have asked Helen Cox, Peggy Gale, Peter Marchewka, Fran Warga, and Steve and Kim Quatela to form a Parish Council.
  • Each group is helping me to be aware of the issues facing each congregation as this process goes forward.
  • Each group has also engaged in providing our Province of St. Joseph with a candid assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the Friars’ ministry in each place.
  • The gradual union of Finance Councils. This needs to be handled carefully since St. Vincent’s and St. Catherine’s will be functioning as separate civil corporations for some time yet.
  • At St. Vincent’s, Lauretta Bruno, Lois Deming, Joan Carvo, Peter Handal, Joe Brownell, and Jean-Hugues Monier have helped us analyze our performance for the previous fiscal year and present it to the parish.
  • At St. Catherine’s, the vagaries of transition have slowed the production of the latest reports. However, we now have those figures. It will be a relief to sit down with Tom Warga, Ed Munshower, Stanley Nadel, Rev. John Farren, O.P., and Anthony Pirraglia, to go over our most recent performance and present it to the congregation. Also important to this task will be the Parish Trustee, Peter Marchewka.
  • A process of communal reflection on the name of the new parish so that we can give the Cardinal three alternatives when the time comes.
  • We all need to register for the new parish. In tandem with this, we need to convince more people to take this step of commitment.
  • To pool our resources and develop a comprehensive program of religious education for the new parish. Toward this end, Lisa Harrelson who administers the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. Catherine’s has been completing the coursework necessary to be a Director of Religious Education (DRE) in the archdiocese. Once she possesses this certification, she can provide training to other catechists, so that the whole program can be up to code.
  • Clergy and Laity will need to reflect on the Mass and confession schedule of the new parish. What can we sustain? What does the common good ask of us?
  • The whole new community must be heard on the subject of liturgical music, so that we can frame a program that serves our worship.
  • The Jubilee of the 800th anniversary of the Friars began on November 7. It will be a great work of the merger to develop a parish plan of celebration as we draw near to the anniversary itself on December 22, 2016.
  • It will be Memorial Day in the twinkling of an eye.


Fr. Walter

December 07, 2015

The State of Things #1 – Pastor’s Reflection (December 6, 2015)

Since we have launched Advent and have a while yet before Christmas, I thought I would claim this Sunday and next as chances to update you on affairs in our emerging parish.

The great bulk of energy in recent weeks has gone into securing our administrative practice. Since our staff has taken shape, it has been a pleasure to develop the routines we need to oversee the maintenance of the physical plant, work effectively with vendors, receive income, and pay bills. In all of these matters we are seeking to create a unified and coherent structure. The next intra-office project for us will be creating a unified staff through the practice of regular staff meetings. With the heart of the operation coming into order it becomes possible to take a larger view of present needs and future planning.

Part of that office work has been the development of a single bulletin for the parish. Already, this move has yielded a cost savings. Fr. Innocent and Rachel Miller have lavished great energy on this work of integration, and for this I am most grateful. All of us have appreciated the candid feedback we have received. No doubt the project will get a review in the weeks ahead.

Thankfully, there is focus and energy for the seasonal practices and preaching that give a welcome glimpse of normalcy. The all-night watch on the Feast of Christ the King left me edified by the number of people who spent the whole night, or came for one of its components. So amply reassured, we may attend to special liturgies like those for the Immaculate Conception (December 7-8), Advent Lessons and Carols (December 13), and Misa de Gallo (December 17-24)

The Parish Advent retreat was one of my first initiatives upon coming to St. Vincent Ferrer in 2010. I cannot believe we are offering it for the sixth time, now to the whole new parish. Please join us on Saturday, December 12, to spend this time of reflection and silence in St. Vincent Ferrer Church, in the special context of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This year we will try to make the link between our traditional celebration of the Holy Season and the events challenging our world at this time. The schedule follows:

Countering Violence with Encounter
The Mystery of the Visitation and the habit of  reverence

9 amWelcome
9:45 Conference
10:15 Shared Silence
10:45 Conference
11:30 Sung Mass and Procession with blessing of the new image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

So that we have a sense of numbers, will you please call Rachel Miller at 212.744.2080 to let us know that you are coming. If you forget to do this, come anyway.

The dedication of Our Lady’s shrine celebrates a real achievement of the many people who pray in St. Vincent Ferrer Church. Several years ago we set up a temporary image and invited contributions toward a permanent one. The response has amazed us, and now the image is ready to be installed and blessed. More on the image itself in letters to follow!

The Christmas schedule of Masses will remain as it was last year at St. Vincent’s and St. Catherine’s, with the exception that at St. Vincent Ferrer, the afternoon vigil Mass will move from 5:30 pm to 6 pm.

In the New Year we would like to have a service of Epiphany Lessons and Carols at St. Catherine’s. Please look for details on this as they emerge. We are also planning events for the Week of Christian Unity in January, and a series of Saturday retreats for the ministers of the Parish.

The social life of the parish continues to thrive. If you come to Parish Coffee after the Noon Mass at St. Vincent’s on December 6, you will see that a benefactor has given us a new coffee maker. We are most grateful for a great gift; one we hope will make the work of hospitality easier for those who take it on so graciously. We also hope you will plan to join us for the parish party after Lessons and Carols on December 13.

I plan that next week’s letter will have updates on the development of our Parish and Finance Councils and other topics as room allows.
Advent Peace!

Fr. Walter