This past Sunday, in red splendor, we celebrated the Vigil and Day of Pentecost. With the return of “Ordinary Time,” we rush to conclude the business of this singular parish year before the summer diaspora. Let me try to update you and exhort you in this general direction.
The Mass Schedule
We have worked out a new Mass schedule. We aim for more consistent presence of the Parish Priests, especially the Pastor, at all the Masses. We also seek to work in concert with our neighbor, St. John Nepomucene, to maintain comprehensive, non-duplicative Mass and Confession times in our neighborhood. Finally, we seek a schedule manageable by one Music Director. We will begin to implement the new schedule on Saturday, July 2.
The Music Program
We surveyed the People and Friars of the Parish regarding music, and then crafted a job description, previously published in these pages and on the Web. By our deadline, May 9, we received fifty applications. I have conducted initial interviews with five of the candidates. As of this writing, arrangements are in progress for me to have second interviews with three of the candidates. I hasten to add that others have assisted me in the work of interviewing. However, I do not name them because the final decision will not be easy, it will fall to me alone, and I will bear the responsibility alone. I hope to have an announcement for you soon after Memorial Day.
This winter we carried out a registration drive for the new parish. This new parish really will be a new canonical and legal entity. I had to be appointed formally as the new Pastor with a term that began on August 1 of 2015. Your registration has legal significance because it attaches you to us at a level deeper than just showing up for Mass or knowing a particular priest. Suppose there is a new Pastor and you are asked to be a godparent and to prove that you practice the faith. Your name on our register establishes your practice of the faith as a public fact clergy can rely on, even if they do not know you personally.
Registration also makes tangible your spiritual connection to the Community of the Parish.
This summer, we will begin to input the material on the forms received so that we can establish strategic, not pestiferous, email communication with the whole parish. We will also begin to respond to those who expressed interest in particular aspects of parish life.
So, if you have not registered, will you please take a few minutes and complete the form.
The Parish Name
One task we have not addressed yet is the name of the new parish. Since last August it has carried the provisional title, “The Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer-St. Catherine of Siena.” Ultimately it is His Eminence who will give the parish its final name. At some point we will submit three alternatives to him. My understanding is that we do not have to accomplish this task before the date of our civil incorporation in September. I would like to suggest this as a Fall project for the The Friars, Parish Council, and then the whole Community of the Parish.
This transition could not have taken place without the assistance of the women and men who serve us as Parish Councilors, Finance Councilors, and Trustees. A summer’s project will be to put all three bodies into good, combined structural form for the merger. Each needs a clear set of policies for its composition, function, and relationship to the Pastor and the Parish Staff. Details on all of this will be forthcoming.
Going forward, the project at all levels of governance will be to come out of transitional planning and thinking to moving forward as a united community with an evangelical plan.
This summer we will also begin the task of synthesizing a unified Religious Eduction program for the whole parish. Luckily we have a great many resources to work with in this project. Details to Follow.
If you volunteer in the parish in any way. Please reserve the evening of Thursday, June 2nd for our Volunteer Appreciation Party. Details to follow.
Thank you for putting up with the pacing of this year’s endeavors. I have found this whole assignment manageable to the extent that I avoid thinking about everything that must be done. Rather, I have tried to treat it as a series of projects. In general, the approach has kept us clear of crisis mode, and in general, people have really borne with me.
One more week until Memorial Day!
“Like the octave of some great feast”: Perspectives on the musical life of English Catholics under Elizabeth”
Lecture at 5:30 by Samuel Schmitt, Ph.D., with live musical examples provided by Grant and Priscilla Herreid and Charles Weaver
Solemn Mass in the traditional Dominican rite at 7 pm, featuring the Missa Regali of Robert Fayrfax performed by the Schola of St. Hugh under the direction of Charles Weaver.
A festive reception will follow mass.
This event explores the riches of English Catholic musical and religious culture under the Tudors. The lecture by Dr. Samuel Schmitt will describe the musical life of recusant Catholics in the time of Elizabeth, with live examples provided by Grant and Priscilla Herreid and Charles Weaver. The mass which follows, in the traditional Dominican rite, features the Missa Regali of Robert Fayrfax, essentially in its original liturgical context, in the English Gothic Revival setting of the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. The contrast in musical styles will serve to highlight what was lost and what was gained in sacred music in the tumultuous passing from the age of Fayrfax to that of Byrd.
The lecture and Mass are sponsored by the Society of St. Hugh of Cluny.
Each year this great feast presents us with the commotion unleashed by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Virgin Mary. The jumble of languages that erupted out of the Upper Room tells us two key things. First, each heard the Gospel in his or her own language. Second, only the Spirit understood the whole of that scene. It was for God alone to perceive and enjoy the coherence beneath the chaos.
Have things really changed very much in the meantime?
I find that the Spirit communicates the faith to me, and sustains it, using a certain language. Meanwhile, right next to me, I can hear that another receiving the same faith, and thriving in it, via a completely different means of communication. The continuing Babel of Pentecost asserts itself no more raucously than in worship. Consider incense. The fragrant clouds of smoke rising to heaven have always offered me a potent sign of our intimacy with God in Christ. Yet my neighbor perceives that same sign as a noxious irritant. Why is it that I can soar along with the organ as it accompanies the great hymns, meanwhile my good friend longs for the reflectiveness of chant, and still another finds all church music to be in the way of the Divine connection.
By an amazing mystery men and women speaking all the varied languages of worship find themselves gathered in our parish, and in “their” parish they would speak to God in “their” way. This truth makes the organization of Liturgy a profoundly pastoral act.
One of our goals in designing the new Mass schedule, to take effect the first weekend in July, is to give more scope to our own liturgical Pentecost. Last week I wrote at length about the significance of the parochial Solemn Mass (St. Vincent’s at noon). Set in the public square of parish life, this liturgy draws those who worship in the language of song and ceremony. The “High Mass” at St. Catherine’s at 10 am will provide people a similar mode of engaging in a more brief format.
At the opposite end of the spectrum stand the significant number of men and women for whom liturgical music hampers prayer. Theirs is the craving for silence and for unadorned speech. Such are the men and women who seek the quiet focus that comes with “Low Mass.”
Our new Mass schedule for Sundays provides for two Low Masses. At St. Vincent’s the spoken liturgy at 8 am is of longstanding and we can preserve it to our profit. Of late, St. Catherine’s has not had a Low Mass for Sunday, and so we are making one available at 4 pm on Saturday afternoon. We hope this Mass may be of service to families visiting the hospitals, as well as to older residents in the neighborhood who would like to begin their evening earlier.
Another language of worship revealed itself to me a couple of years ago when one of our St. Vincent Ferrer High School students played her violin at the Vigil Mass. She elicited a strong positive reaction from the congregation on this and several subsequent occasions. People sat or stood very still and gave her all their attention. Naturally they were struck by great skill and poise in one so young, but they were also revealing another way in which music serves prayer. Here, music releases the speech of the heart and the receptivity of the soul by calming and soothing. It struck me that the work of the violinist struck a responsive chord in busy and stressed New Yorkers.
The insight of that moment has never left me. So, when it came time to think about the Mass schedule and the music program I wanted to incorporate a pastoral response to the need I perceived. Further, it seemed to me that such a contemplative experience of the Eucharist would most fit the evening hours. What we would like to offer at the two 6 pm Masses at St. Vincent’s and at the 5 pm Mass at St. Catherine’s is a gently played, gently sung experience of the Eucharist. Our hope is that with this format, people would come to mass at the end of the day for an unwinding directed to connection with God, self, and neighbor.
Offering this range of musical alternatives honors the variety of temperaments existing within the unity of the Parish. It also allows people to move freely between liturgies according to the spiritual needs of a given day and time.
In upcoming weeks, I will continue to reflect with you on these impending developments.
As we move to implement the new Mass schedule, and to define the music program that goes with it, I would like to reflect on some of our hopes for this new arrangement. I have written to you already about the financial economy and pastoral presence these arrangements will facilitate.
We also seek to offer the parish a wider palette of worship. In both churches clergy and laity have worked hard in recent years to develop the choral Solemn Mass and to place it at the heart of the parish’s life. This practice accords with the mind of the Church and serves two of her core concerns. Most evidently, at Solemn Mass we give maximal scope to the arts of the organist and the singers. Such a liturgy places virtuosity at the service of prayer. At Solemn Mass, music elevates and focuses the prayer of the individual and unites the prayer of the group. It enables each person to join the song of the whole and so experience vocally the nature of the Church herself. Worshipping this way serves the needs of those who want to place the life of the senses under the governance of the life of the Spirit.
Solemn Mass also reveals the Church. At Pentecost we recognize her as the Holy Spirit’s work of orchestrating human gifts in the harmonious and pleasing service of God. At Mass this truth takes flesh in the profusion of ministries. At Solemn Mass we hope to see the priest, the deacon, the reader, the cantor, the choir, the varied ranks of servers, the sacristans, and the ushers. These are not functionaries putting on a ceremony. Each of these persons fulfills a particular task in God’s presence. What each does can be called a liturgy, or a ministry, or a service. (Here is the origin of calling what happens in church a service – “nice service, Father.”)
It follows that the Solemn Mass takes pride of place in the parish’s round of worship. The initiation (baptism of adults, first communion, confirmation, reception into the Church) of the members takes place in this context, and we use this mode of worship to mark the Lord’s Day, the principal feasts of the year, and essential moments in the life of the parish. It will be fitting then for solemn ordinarily to be celebrated in the parish church, St. Vincent Ferrer, at the high point of the Lord’s Day, Noon on Sunday. At times though we will want to celebrate Solemn Mass at St. Catherine of Siena, as on her feast day, on the processional feasts of the Church, such as Palm Sunday, on feasts related to the health care ministry, such as St. Gianna Bretta Molla. Solemn Mass ought ordinarily to last from sixty to seventy minutes.
As a regular practice Solemn Mass challenges many because of the time it takes. This applies in a particular way to those with children. For this group we need to connect liturgical beauty and active participation with expeditious practice, and accessible repertoire. Such are our hopes for the 10 AM “High Mass” at St. Catherine’s. We would like for those with children, or with time constraints, to have a fine experience of liturgical music, the opportunity to sing God’s praise, connect with other committed people and be out within an hour. We are confident that during the September to May “Parish Year” we can serve this pattern of worship with our time of Bible Stories with Mrs. Getcher (“Miss Dolores”). For those who do not know, Dolores welcomes 4 -6 year olds at the beginning of Mass and keeps them until the offertory, when she and all the children present the gifts. St. Joseph’s Hall at St. Catherine’s will now provide an incomparably warm and well-equipped setting for this service. Dolores says she will be ready to go on September 18.
St. Catherine’s also possesses St. Dominic’s Hall which will enable us to round out Mass in fine style with parish coffees in a light-filled, inviting room, with all the conveniences. Blessed we are to have fine and distinctive spaces that serve the life of the community so very well.
Of course, it is easy to write well of dreams. There will be much to do to make these two Masses a thriving reality. A principal determinant here will be what people decide to do. As we offer choices, we also put people in the position of having to make a choice. It seems that often the discernment of this will demand weighing location against ambience, and vice versa. Perhaps working through this calculus may yield a deeper awareness of Catholic worship, and of one’s capacity to engage it at a particular time in one’s life.
I would like to continue reflections like this over the next few weeks, so that when the Sunday schedule changes on July 3, we can come to that moment with the consideration and charity that have marked our merger to this date.
I hope that this day we will have the chance to be in contact with our mothers and grandmothers and that we will count the precious medium of memory as a real connection.