Because of the Fourth of July holiday, you read words from June 29. Further, this essay hails from
Louisville, where I was gathered with my family to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday.
He rates organizing such celebrations as one of life’s happiest tasks, and he tackled this one with the vim of a much younger person. Dad hosted a pre-birthday dinner for out of town guests. Then, on the day itself we celebrated Mass in Louisville’s Cathedral of the Assumption, where he is a parishioner. We concluded with an al fresco party for 90. Dad drew all his worlds together. He had children,
grandchildren, and long-time friends from each chapter of his life, all the way back to Notre Dame in the 50’s. But he also had the people of his present, those who work with him in business, his doctors and physical therapists.
Such a roster of guests gives a panorama of life we do not see on any given day. Surveying the yard, I perceived that one vibrant life touches many people, and draws on those encounters to reach out yet more widely. My dad’s has been a transactional life. People have met him as buyers and sellers, owners and tenants, employees and providers of services, and they have stayed on for decades as friends. There they were sharing the happy twilight with him and with each other. They were tucking into biscuits packed with Country Ham (the prosciutto of the Bluegrass) and washed down by “Walt’s Old
Fashioneds.” This was summer happiness purveyed by one in whom such happiness abides all year long.
The scene showed me the gulf between my father’s life and mine. My dad’s celebration showcased the fruits of constancy in life, building a business, improving a home, fostering a parish and widening a circle of friends. His is a rooted life, lived in place and relationships attach themselves to it like ornaments on a Christmas tree. By my choice, and through the nature of my vocation, I have reached my mid-fifties as an unestablished person and wanderer through life. At the stroke of a pen I could be in a different city, with a different assignment.
But for all the differences, his life shaped mine. As reveler after reveler recounted the story of “knowing Walt,” I realized that without any lesson plan I had learned from Dad how to live the
transactional life that is ministry. I enter people’s lives as the purveyor of an event. They come to me
looking for a baptism, a wedding, or a house blessing, and sometimes the encounter ends with a
handshake and a “Thank you, Father.” At other times it becomes the first of many chapters in an ongoing relationship. All as God disposes! Such a training leads one to take each encounter seriously by meeting its demands and respecting its limits.
As I look back I see the practice of civility giving backbone to my parents’ way of life and providing a seed ground for the enduring relationships that anchor them to this day. Civility lies at the core of their traditio, that which they received and handed on. Though I have no lasting dwelling, and will bequeath neither money nor monument, I nevertheless carry around with me a real rootedness, and that I operate out of all the time, often without realizing it. How many times have I entered a stranger’s living room, or welcomed a couple into my parlor, or entered the melee of a crowded ballroom and not realized that I was prepared for this by my Dad’s gift of knowing no stranger and my mother’s understanding that friendliness is an obligation, not a favor.
I am mindful that we are about to enter upon July, the month of St. Anne and St. Joachim, the
parents of Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus. What a great time to recognize the living tradition that has stealthily equipped us for life, so that we navigate life’s ways without a map. To ponder one’s
ancestry is to survey a procession of gifted and challenged people, and to discover oneself as the bearer of an inner heritage that enables and limits invisibly. What a blessing to reflect on this patrimony in the light of faith and to realize that both its gifts and its deficits provide ways to God. In a culture that is unsettled it becomes helpful to realize that we are grounded relationships of nature, and in that amazing relationship imparted by grace.
A life among the Preaching Brothers offers the constant marvel of a Friar taking the pulpit.
Even initial forays in the seminary reveal that a Brother enters that precinct not so much to give a talk or to make a presentation, although he does talk, and he does present. He probably wants to tell you about a scripture, a doctrine, or a saint, but not in a way you could google. Rather, the ambo serves as a place of distillation for you and for him. Here he gives voice to intensity that would overwhelm an encounter in the vestibule after Mass, or a moment in the kitchen over coffee. Here observations about the Prophet Jeremiah, or the Immaculate Conception, or St. Jerome, serve to manifest the inner life of a man who has been summoned to a place of loving solitude by His God.
Each Friar seems to find this solitary place as God reveals it to him and he speaks out of it as the Lord graces his personality, his interests, and his methods. He may use a text, or not: he may employ humor, or not, but in the end he will preach as himself, out of a life he otherwise may not speak of. This is why habitués of our churches will have noticed that our preaching has no unified style, but the bottom line might be remarkably consistent.
Chris Johnson was a preacher’s preacher because he showed us Friars the truth of ourselves in high definition. He lived to a singular degree the Dominican paradox of being a private person in public, a hermit on stage. Chris used the language and technique of theatre as he crafted the text and delivery of each preaching with exquisite care. But he never hid behind his art; he was never an actor playing a role. Rather, his sculpted words enabled him to share the fruits of his intimacy with God without compromising the profound exclusiveness of that intimacy. The result was that Chris’s preaching and pastoral care possessed evident power to help you even as he protected himself. Most of the time we think of love and distance as opposites. For Chris distance was a way of loving. From a step back he preserved the clarity of insight he shared with you and maintained an eagle’s eye view of you, your gifts, your foibles, and your challenges.
Chris can teach all of us, preacher and congregant alike, how to befriend our solitude and to find in it the one intimacy that orders all the others. He is the one who heard Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me more than these,” and joined in the latter’s “yes” as we read in John 21, this exclusive love nourishes all the sheep.
As he struggled in his last years with the devastating ravages of cancer and diabetes, this core remained intact so that even his struggles gave a witness that strengthened others. In these times Chris grew from a preaching of words to a preaching of the whole of life. The weakening of his body laid bare the strength of soul God’s grace had crafted with his ongoing assent. He no longer needed to present himself through the medium of craft, because God’s craft had become so evident.
May he now behold that mystery he preached in power and in weakness.
These thoughts may be familiar to anyone who attended Chris’ funeral Mass on June 21 when on his 85th birthday we entrusted him to his God. Nevertheless, I would like make an essay of them for those who could not be free on that day.
May he rest in peace.
Here we are at the last big celebration of the parish year. By convention we try to lay off at this point and take a programmatic siesta until Holy Cross Day (September 14) bestirs us back into vigorous common life. Parish life gains health from this hiatus. It’s not just that we need a rest: we also need to absorb and integrate nine months of intensity. Such a remove makes for deeper living. I have learned this lesson from my experience and from my self. Standing at the cusp of summer allows me to explore the paradox of introversion that has shaped my life and ministry, for at this time we give people permission to uncage their inner partier, and also their inner hermit.
On Fridays in summer these two kinds of release become palpable to me. I love to walk Midtown at 1 or 2 pm and watch the laughing, luggage-bearing crowds empty office towers and fill cafes and Jitneys. It brings me such joy to observe their happy anticipation of a weekend at the beach: more satisfying yet is the knowledge that they are leaving, and I am not. By Friday evening another lively scene will have absorbed them at journey’s end and I will have my city to myself. The sparkling crowd offers such delight, but its departure even more. Having observed them on Friday, I can think about them on Saturday, and by the time they are sitting in front of me on a Sunday I might have something helpful to offer them. To people-watch is to people-love. To go away and think about them is to love again. To come back to them with a homily offers yet a third love.
On those Fridays, as the river of happiness flows past me down Park Avenue toward Grand Central I gain a fresh perception of my love of people and, at the same time, my need to have some periodic distance from them. Without significant conflict these two stances have been neighbors in my heart since childhood, as they are in many other introverted hearts. Articulating their relationship has provided the real challenge. When I was about 10 or 11 my mother said to me, “Why do you keep your door closed so much? You shut out the people who love you.” I do not remember having any good answer to that question: now I realize that time apart is what gives me the wherewithal to express love. Indeed, I have come to see how introversion offers gifts to those who possess it and to others. One of the mottoes of our Order captures the evangelical fruitfulness of my temperament: “To contemplate, and to share with others, the fruits of one’s contemplation.”
If we unpack this phrase we get the insight that stepping back can be as loving a posture as drawing near. The practice of “cloister” teaches this wisdom. For religious, authentic withdrawal neither stems from fear, nor seeks an escape. Rather, it claims a vantage point for loving. I am a preacher who also goes home to a cloister and so it is imperative for me to understand how profoundly loving and withdrawal complement each other.
In a homily the other day I made an observation about a particular practice of generosity, and one of the hearers responded, “Well, yes, I do this, but I never think about it.” I answered that this was my job. I am the one who stands back, beholds the beauty of your life, and helps you to see it.
Here lies the beautiful relation of love and rumination. I love you enough to go off to my room and think about you. In summer, Central Park will suffice for that room, or Riverside Drive, or perhaps Park Avenue in the evening. Such urban cloisters help the ministry of preaching, but they also can help lots of other people. In an age of instant response don’t we need to recover the space for reflecting before communicating? Perhaps the silence of summer will call more eloquently this year. We have more to ponder than usual, and our times need loving response, even if they have never noticed it.
As we submit this bulletin on Monday, June 12, I am sad to report to you that Fr. Chris Johnson will be leaving St. Vincent Ferrer Priory and will now live at Rosary Hill Home in Westchester County. Many of us have profited from Fr. Chris’ wonderful preaching and compassion in the confessional. Please pray that in this new chapter of life he will come to know even more intimately the God he has proclaimed to many others.
By the time you read these lines we will have celebrated, on June 8, our Volunteer Appreciation Party.This is our attempt to conclude the parish year with the recognition that the parish year only happens because of the donation of time and energy. In the heart of one of the world’s great commercial cities our parish, and many others of course, lives in an economy of gift. Our parish thrives because it continuously receives services it could never pay for.
When people describe their volunteering phrases come to the fore such as “giving back,” “I get back more than I ever give,” and “this fulfills me.” These expressions speak to the aspect of service that, “does for.” Here we can locate giving as an outlet and a growth for the giver. But I perceive that those who volunteer in a community such as ours not only give to us, they also include us profoundly in their lives.
Catholic Christianity has always recognized that people engage with the life of the Church at varying levels of intensity. For some this will mean fulfilling obligations, for others receiving spiritual services, and for others supporting initiatives for good in the world. Those who volunteer receive the grace of an engagement that goes beyond supporting the Church to welcoming her into the heart of their lives. For these folks the cycle of feasts and fasts begins to shape the contours of domestic life, and the people and places of the Church cease to be external and become extensions of self.
I think that those who volunteer must be amazed at how often they become the first preacher. They extend a greeting to all comers across a church bulletin or a cup of coffee and so put a human face something as vast as the Catholic Church. Before anyone ever hears a priest at Mass they hear a lay volunteer interpret the Scriptures so that prophecy, psalm, history, and exhortation come off the page with a real New York inflection. Some people would never enter a Catholic church, but the Catholic Church comes into their homeless shelter with a smile and tangible consolations in a difficult life: volunteers bring not only kindness but the willingness to embrace a completely different pattern of life as part of the
pattern of their own.
It amazes me to see a server run like a commuter to be on time to help with the Liturgy. He has made our concern his own. The very systems of parish life run because volunteers open the realm of their preoccupation to include things like scheduling, budgeting, shopping, and cleaning up.
We never understand the Church until we see the ways in which the ordinary isn’t. The work of volunteers not only establishes a culture of decency and generosity; it gives a sign of the mystery of the life of God we celebrate today. Whenever Jesus describes the love and life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, He speaks in terms of inclusion. The persons of the Trinity never act separately but refer to each other in the creation, and in the re-creation in Christ. Volunteers show us how the way of loving that is within God is reshaping our way of loving, person by person.
This weekend we are honoring Fr. Joseph Allen’s fifty years of priestly ministry. Here we find joy in another instance of trinitarian love. After decades of dedicated service Fr. Allen came among us in September of 2015, and he has included us by making our problems, challenges, and joys his own. With his customary zeal he has included new people from our parish into his longstanding ministry of pilgrimage to Lourdes. He has widened the patterns of his life to include our people, and in so doing he has made it possible for them to enlarge their circle of loving to include the sick and the handicapped.
I wonder how often this kind of love embraces us without our realizing it. Yet when we have been included without strings we discover our own generosity. And so it continues.
In our Dominican Life, we Friars present ourselves to be Spirit-led and Spirit-driven. His response
becomes real in innumerable comings and goings in the life of our communities. Since two Dominican
communities serve this parish you experience our ongoing pentecost in spades. Of late, many changes have come, some permanent and some seasonal. This letter seeks to catch you up.
First, let me ask your prayers of our Brother, Michael Downey. Many will remember Br. Michael from the 8 am Community Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer, and from the old 10 am Sunday Mass there, when he always took up the collection in such cheerful fashion. After a lengthy stay in New York Hospital, he has now moved to Rosary Hill Home in Westchester County. Here he will receive the loving care of our Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne who spend their lives caring for those with cancer.
Last month a new assignment took from us Br. Ignatius Perkins who was living at St. Catherine’s and
serving as Executive Director of the Dominican Friars Healthcare Ministry of New York. Brother is now
directing our Center for Assisted Living at St. Dominic Priory in Washington. We who shared common life with him at St. Catherine’s will miss his resourceful presence.
Fr. Jonah Pollock has taken Brother Ignatius’ place as Executive Director of the healthcare ministry.
Fr. Jonah will continue to be active as a hospital chaplain and his work will include directing our Student Brothers, diocesan seminarians, and other religious in internship programs for hospital ministry. He will be the one to work with the many lay women and men who carry the Eucharist to the patients at Sloan Kettering, New York Presbyterian, and the Hospital for Special Surgery. We are also grateful that he continues to help us with masses and confessions.
Fr. John Devaney will serve as his associate in directing the ministry. He has just completed a new unit of supervised ministry at Columbia and so will bring yet greater qualifications to his work with patients and
At St. Catherine’s we have been joined by Fr. Dominic Bump, who will both serve you in the Parish and assist in the work of the hospital chaplains. He has already been zealous in introducing himself to the
Community of the Parish.
At St. Vincent Ferrer, Fr. Thomas More Garrett has joined the Community to assist with the work of the Dominican Foundation, but he also graciously helps us with Mass and Confessions. Fr. Garrett played a major role in the Mass in honor of Our Lady of Fatima and St. John Paul II held on May 13.
You will also hear a voice already familiar to many. Fr. Bill Holt has returned to St. Vincent Ferrer and is assisting with his accustomed generosity at the altar and in the confessional.
Each summer our ranks swell with Student Brothers from our House of Studies in Washington.
Experience in Priories and Parishes such as ours plays a great part in their formation, for these summers give them the chance to integrate pastoral experience with pastoral and theological study.
This year one of the Brothers will serve his diaconate with us. Br. Isaac Morales will take his proper place as Deacon at the Eucharist and he will preach on Sundays and weekdays. Brother will extend Parish Study into the Summer for the first time, with a four-week Bible Study. You will see details on this elsewhere in these pages. He will also preside at our Wednesday Holy Hour, at which his seven Brothers will preach.
The Brothers receive a variety of ministries during their summer weeks. The years of formation feature a progression of summer experiences leading up to that of the diaconate in which the Brother gives voice as a preacher to what he has absorbed over six years of living and learning as a Dominican.
Brs. Reginald Hoefer and Barnabas McHenry will be working with the Missionaries of Charity, the
Community founded by St. Theresa of Calcutta, in the extraordinary direct service to the poor.
This summer four Brothers, Albert Dempsey, Irenaeus Denlevy, Joseph Graziano, and Ephrem Reese, will work with our hospital chaplains. They will have the experience of direct service to patients, and of shared reflection on that service. Such an experience gives a wonderful foundation for any ministry one may receive.
Br. Daniel Traceski will have an experience of internal ministry as he helps with the work of the
This whole range of new experience comes to our summer dinner table and gives new life to the local
community. We we can offer in return is an open ear, along with encouragement to partake of the many joys of summer in New York.
May your own summer be blessed.
A few months ago, after the 6 pm Mass, one of our parish lectors shared with me that he had been struck by the text of the Communion antiphon that had been sung by the cantor that evening. This was music to my ears – it was delightful to hear how this individual had found new insight into the Gospel through the liturgical texts appointed by the Church for that particular Sunday.
Over the past year, our new music program has placed special emphasis on the “Propers” of the Mass – the antiphons and verses selected by the Church to harmonize with the readings and themes of the liturgical year. In this case, the lector was responding not to a brilliant insight from the preacher or a moving improvisation on the organ – he was responding to the liturgical synthesis offered by the Church herself.
Through the Propers of the Mass, the Church enriches our encounter with Christ and the Word of God by synthesizing themes and texts from through the Scriptures into a harmony of word and melody. Following the principle of using scripture to interpret scripture, the Propers draw principally on the Psalms, revealing the ways in which the mysteries of Christ fulfill the Law and the Prophets. When sung, the Propers extend our meditation on these scriptural texts, enabling us to find further insights into their meaning revealed by the melodic settings.
There are five parts of the liturgy that call for the use of the Propers: the Entrance Rite, the Psalm after the first reading, the Alleluia verse or Verse before the Gospel, the Offertory Rites, and the Communion Rites. Chants are provided for each of these parts in the Graduale, the Church’s book of chants for the Mass, and some of them are also found in alternate versions in the Lectionary, the book of readings used at Mass. Each Sunday and Feast Day of the Liturgical Year has its own chants that have been carefully chosen to provide text and music that enriches these liturgical moments.
In our Parish, we draw on the Propers in a variety of modes: at our Solemn Masses (12 noon at St. Vincent), the Propers are sung in Latin by the Schola (with the Responsorial Psalm in English); at our Sung Masses (6 pm at St. Vincent; 10 am and 5:15 pm at St. Catherine), they are sung in English by the Cantor; at our Low Masses (4 pm at St. Catherine and 8 am at St. Vincent) they are spoken by the Lector. This variety is based on the dual principles that 1) the Propers are privileged texts of the Church 2) that our parishioners have a diversity of responses to the variety of languages and musical styles that make up the our liturgical and musical patrimony.
During the Entrance Rites, the Introit (known in the Dominican tradition as the Officium) antiphon and verse serve to “open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal §47). For instance, the Introit Viri Galilaei (Men of Galilee) of the Ascension draws on the Acts of the Apostles in order to begin the celebration of that feast with the invitation of the angels to look forward to the triumphant return of Christ at the end of time. The Introit of the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Exaudi, Domine (Hear, O Lord) draws on Psalm 26 to capture the longing of the Apostles after the Ascension of Christ: “Hear, O Lord, my voice with which I have cried to You, alleluia. My heart has said to You, ‘I have sought Your face, Your face, O Lord, I will seek; turn not away Your face from me,’ alleluia, alleluia.” Jesus Christ, the Visible Face of the Invisible Father, has departed from their midst, and yet they still joyfully seek to see the Face of God. Next Sunday, for Pentecost, the Introit Spiritus Domini (The Spirit of the Lord) will describe the mystery of the ever-expanding presence of the Spirit, drawing on the Book of Wisdom: “The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole earth, alleluia, and that which contains all things has knowledge of the voice, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
In the case of the Psalm after the first reading, our Parish usually uses the Responsorial Psalm appointed in the Lectionary. These psalms are chosen by the Church to be linked thematically with the readings for the individual day, often constituting a reflection on the passage that has just been proclaimed.
After the second reading, the Alleluia verse (or the Verse before the Gospel during Lent) prepares us for the Gospel. At Low Masses and Sung Masses, we draw this verse from the Lectionary, while at the Solemn Masses we use the version found in the Graduale.
During the Preparation of the Gifts following the Prayer of the Faithful, the Offertory chant provides a further scriptural context for the offering that is being prepared. Compared to the Introit, the Offertory chants tend to be more ornate, giving a meditative exposition of the scriptural text that accompanies the gestures of offering.
During the distribution of Communion, the Communion antiphon gives a further reflection on the theme of the day. Sometimes the Communion antiphon is drawn from the Psalms, but occasionally it is drawn from the Gospel that was proclaimed that day.
In addition to the Propers, which are appointed by the Church in her official liturgical books, we also have other songs and hymns that are chosen by the Director of Music for each individual liturgy. At the Solemn Mass, we often have motets sung by the choir after the Offertory and Communion chants. At the Solemn and Sung Masses, we sing a congregational Post-Communion Hymn (and on occasion an additional hymn after the Offertory chant). These motets and hymns harmonize with the other elements of the liturgy, drawing on the Church’s wonderful patrimony of choral music and hymnody.
The Propers of the Mass are a wonderful treasure provided by the Church for our spiritual enrichment. As we enter into the second year of our new music program, we will begin to encounter anew the same cycle of chants and texts we have been hearing for the past year. I hope that this letter helps you to continue to enter into these parts of the Mass more deeply.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Innocent Smith, op
Today, this letter comes to you from the organist’s bench instead of the pastor’s chair. It seems like a life-time has transpired since my previous letter in September; almost an entire parish season has passed, one that has been marked by exceptional growth in a number of ways. I suspect that most of us who read these letters worship weekly – or even daily – at one or both of our parish’s beautiful, historic churches. In this regular pattern of life, it is difficult for us to accurately gauge, and thus fully appreciate, just how much we have collectively achieved since the establishment of the new parish, since the institution of the new Mass schedule, or even since the birth of the new year!
Music was one of the primary topics of conversation throughout the merger process, and with my appointment a year ago as the parish’s Director of Music, I was charged with helping the parish find a unified musical voice. This was a tall order and continues to be an enjoyable challenge. That being said, in the weeks and months since my arrival, I have received an overwhelming outpouring of welcoming support, encouragement, and love from Fr. Walter, his brother friars, the sisters, my fellow staff members, and of course you, my fellow parishioners. Not a day goes by that I do not give profound thanks to God for the opportunity to work within such a parish family. So, as we race towards the quietude of summer, let us take a moment to musically survey the past year, to reiterate our goals, to contemplate what we have accomplished, and to prime ourselves for future growth.
Fr. Walter, in his bulletin letter last week, made the point that ‘singing at Mass’ and ‘singing the Mass’ are two different things. It is from this observation that my survey germinates. For those of you who attended this spring’s Parish Study in which Fr. Innocent and I gave an overview of the various aspects of the Mass (prayers, readings, chants, gestures, etc.), you may recall that Mother Church sets forth a hierarchy of things to be sung at Mass. That is to say, the prayers and orations (the Collect, the Preface, etc.), the Pater noster, and the Mass Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) enjoy musical pride of place. So for the congregation to ‘find its own voice’, the fitting place to start was with these.
(By way of an advertisement, in next week’s bulletin, Fr. Innocent will write about the Propers of the Mass, those parts primarily given to the role of the cantor or the Schola Cantorum (choir). Choral music, hymnody, and organ music and their roles in the Mass will be reviewed in another letter in the future.)
THE ORDINARY OF THE MASS
Beginning last July, we set forth a plan to use three different congregational Ordinaries that would alternate according to the liturgical season. All three are chant Masses, meaning that there is only one vocal line. (Compare this to most of the hymns we sing, which were conceived harmonically in four parts: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass.) Chant is the musical language of the church and is the bedrock on which all subsequent Western music was built, from Bach to Beyoncé. Its inherent, beautiful simplicity makes it ideal for communal singing. Furthermore, chant eschews the immediacy of emotionalism (being neither overtly dolorous nor triumphant), lending it the timeless, universal quality that is so vital to the ethereal nature of Catholic worship. Think of it as the aural equivalent of incense.
The three specific congregational Masses sung in our parish were chosen because each possesses a character befitting the season during which it is sung, and all are familiar enough to be welcoming to visitors. Also, since you are more likely to encounter one of these three throughout the Catholic world than any others, you are subtly being prepared to be able to fully participate in a Mass on your travels across town or across an ocean.
Mass XVIII: Deus Genitor alme
This simplest setting is sung during the two penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. It therefore does not include a Gloria. If a Catholic is likely to know a Sanctus or Agnus Dei in Latin, this is it!
Roman Missal Mass
This is the musical setting of the Kyrie, Gloria, etc. found in the (English-language) Missal, the book that the priest uses at the altar containing the prayers that are sung (or said) at Mass. This vernacular setting is used during Ordinary Time (from Corpus Christi to Advent and from the Baptism of the Lord in January until Ash Wednesday). We also use this setting for feast days of a lesser rank.
Missa VIII: Missa de angelis
Chant Mass VIII, also known as the Missa de angelis (Mass of the Angels) is undoubtedly one of the most mellifluously beautiful of the approximately two-dozen Latin chant settings. This florid Mass (what a musician would call ‘melismatic’) is sung in our parish during Christmastide and Eastertide, as well as on major feast days, such as Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi. While the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are undeniably difficult to sing at first try, the tunefulness and the repetitive nature of some of the phrases prove memorably after a few attempts.
Beyond the repertoire of congregational Ordinaries, I want to point out the great musical variety that this parish offers: hopefully with something to suit everyone’s preferences. The Church in her wisdom has always balanced universality and individuality, and while everyone worships in ultimately the same Mass, the slight variations thereof recognize the individualism of the human soul.
So for those of you that prefer silence and simplicity, we have Low Masses at which there is no music at all. For those of you who prefer to worship in the richest expression of the Rite, we offer the Solemn Mass on Sundays and feast days, with the Schola Cantorum, incense, and the occasional procession. And for those of you who prefer something in between, we have that too! If you think your porridge is too hot or too cold, I encourage you to try another bowl from our restaurant’s menu.
Even within one form of Mass, there is variety! For example, on a regular Sunday at the Solemn Mass, the congregation sings the Ordinary. (Until my arrival, the choir almost always sang it.) This change of practice enforces the primacy of place given to this music in the congregation’s role. However, on feast days, the Schola sings one of the glorious polyphonic settings handed down to us through the Catholic patrimony of the last five centuries, whether it be Palestrina or Pärt. I hope that this balance is working well.
Vespers, another project introduced last fall, is a splendid addition to our liturgical life! I know of no other parish in the archdiocese that has weekly, sung Sunday Vespers in the Ordinary Form. I would encourage all of you to attend, even if you do not have time to attend the explanatory class that precedes it. Attendance has stayed strong and it is a wonderful way to draw your Sunday to a close.
Speaking of closing, I need to take this opportunity to say how pleased and proud I am with the vocal response from the congregation. Catholic congregations are notorious for being inaudible. And while there is always room for improvement, from my vantage point on the bench, the participation of the congregation has noticeably improved since a year ago. Please keep it up! And with much more to say but no room in which to say it, may I just extend an invitation? As I have remarked before, most parishioners arrive at Mass after my prelude has begun and leave before my postlude has finished, thus affording me little opportunity to get to meet and converse with you. So, please know that my door is always open! If you have any questions about what it is that I do, why it is that we sing what we sing, or if you would simply like to have a chat about nothing in particular, please feel free to drop me a line or meet me in person.
You will be hearing from me again soon as we outline the exciting things on the horizon for the coming year! Until then, may I remain,
Yours in Christ,
James D. Wetzel
I always write these lines on Monday morning and as I craft them I wonder what will transpire before the congregation actually reads them. On the other hand, this means that the events of the previous weekend are fresh in mind. In fact, yesterday, Sunday, is on my mind because I had the 5 pm Mass at St. Catherine’s.
We have seven Masses on our weekend schedule, and this is the one I have least often because I am on the team promoting Vespers, which takes place at nearly the same time. At this Mass, uniquely, the Cantor leads the singing a cappella, that is, without the accompaniment of the organ. This arrangement began as an experiment to see if we could have convenient and complementary Mass times in both churches, and do it with one organist. I for one have never seen an arrangement quite like this.
I came tired to an afternoon Mass on a gray and rainy Sunday, and probably so did many of the 125 people in the congregation. But by the time Josh Simka, that Mass’ regular cantor, had led us all in Kyrie eleison and Gloria in excelsis, I was totally awake and energized as the singing of the assembly filled St. Catherine’s with the beautiful sound of the Mass. Here was a “poster congregation” for the second wave of liturgical development in the wake of Vatican II. If the first concern was to get people to “sing at Mass,” the next is to enable them to “sing the Mass.” This is the vocal movement from “going to church” to mindfully undertaking one’s baptismal part in the Eucharistic worship commissioned by Jesus at the Last Supper.
If in the natural realm common singing provides emotional release and deepened connection, then in the service of God feeling and human connection attach to vocation, the common calling we have to acknowledge God. With all the others, each of us sings the Mass because at our baptism God commissioned us to be a priest of Jesus Christ, and with that, we are called before God to acknowledge the gift of our life with our whole self: body and mind.
The chants Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei (known collectively as the “Ordinary” of the Mass) give each of us a voice in this work and join our voices to others. The singing of the texts makes us aware, at a level beyond conventional speech, of the power of God as the source of amazing, blessings, the answer to constant need, and the dispenser of unimaginable healing. We acknowledge God in song, not because He needs to hear it: being complete in Himself, He is beyond need. Rather, the acknowledgement connects us to the essential truth of ourselves as both gifted and needy, successful and failed, unique and completed by others.
Singing of this kind possesses special beauty because it does not manipulate. It is not calculated to get the congregation to feel triumphant, or joyful, or ashamed, or sad. Rather, singing – and especially chanting – elicits our participation in the common work but also gives us freedom to discover what lies within us at a given time and place. Of all the singing we do at Mass, the responses, the Pater noster, and the Ordinary take pride of place because they pertain most directly to the work God has appointed for us. Put most simply, this music serves not our feelings but our worship.
I note that what is said of singing the Mass could also be said of good preaching. Both decline to exercise emotional coercion. Neither do they settle for the easy trade of giving people a “feel good” experience. Instead, preaching and singing connect each participant to the wider world to the human community and to the inner world of our soul, showing more clearly God at work in both. These evangelical tools pull the worshipper out of himself and deeper into himself. When both “systems are go,” people leave Mass more human, because they are more aware of themselves and their God.
This perspective on worship rebukes Karl Marx’s assertion that religion is the “opiate of the masses.”
The word “liturgy” captures this work of acknowledgement. When we sing the Mass we unite ourselves not only to those who carry out the liturgy in the next pew, but in the next parish, the next state, and the next country. This is why we sing the texts of the Ordinary not only in English, which is essential to our comprehension of them, but also in Latin so that we have a palpable connection to the church in every time and place.
Next week, James Wetzel will follow these comments with more detail and insight into the three Ordinaries of the Mass we now use in the parish.
This weekend I am away from the parish with our Nuns in Buffalo. These are women who spend their whole lives in the work of acknowledgement: for them liturgy and life interpenetrate. Please know that they and I will have all of you in our prayers on this Easter day.
The Sunday of Good Shepherd invites us to believe that the Lord really is present, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to all the particularities of our individual lives, and our common life.
First among these this weekend will be the First Penance and First Communion of our young people. Heartfelt congratulations to:
Lucia Hufnagel Cano
We draw nigh to the completion of our first, fully-merged parish year. Now is a good time to update you on as much as possible before the great dispersal sets in.
All the data on Holy Week and Easter seems well in place. I feel that our whole parish community gave an excellent testimony of faith. Since we sit at a crossroads of the city, part of our mission will be to welcome visitors of all kinds. From Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday 3,674 people worshipped in our churches. Many people, in many ways, made them welcome and that surely counts as a proclamation of the Gospel.
Our new Finance Council met for the first time on April 24. We were able to update them on the first half of the fiscal year and to begin looking at the budgeting process for the new parish. Normally, the Council meets quarterly but we will meet more frequently over the next several months to get the group’s ongoing conversation up and running. The members of our Finance Council are Lois Deming (Chair), Lauretta Bruno (ex-officio as Trustee), Michael Silverstein (ex-officio as Trustee), Daniel Dunay, Charles Earle, Karen Kardos, and Jean-Hughes Monier. Upcoming on the Council’s agenda will be the development of a strategy for managing the holdings of the parish. On behalf of us all I extend my gratitude to these men and women who place their expertise at our service.
As indicated above, Lauretta Bruno and Michael Silverstein have agreed to serve as Trustees of the Parish. They have the task of signing off on our financial report to the Archdiocese for each fiscal year. To do this they need to have a comprehensive perspective on the life of the parish. Therefore, they will attend, ex-officio, the meetings of both the Finance Council and the Pastoral Council.
Expanding upon this statutory role, I have asked them to monitor our compliance with Archdiocesan and state regulations. They will review our practices and documents as these emerge.
There will be more to say next month in these pages about the Pastoral Council and some other committee developments.
I will be absent from the parish from May 10 -18 doing a formal “visitation” of our monastery of nuns in Buffalo.
In the monastic quiet, I hope there will time for me to reflect on the profound experience of this past year, and then the opportunity to put those reflections in some usable order.
As I write these lines on Monday, April 24, we have come to the end of the Easter Octave. For those of us who try to live by the liturgical cycle this marks the first full tilt work day since before Holy Thursday. Clergy are expected to be recovered from their paschal exertions and at their stations, ready to do business. World events conspire with the calendar to keep us vigilant.
Currently, we wonder about a shutdown of the federal government, and we ponder the second round of France’s Armageddon of a presidential election. Everywhere there appear new things to no longer be taken for granted. But if the sinews of the present grow brittle, the eternity operating within us offers a crucial perspective on the fragility of the moment. Answering that question, and delivering that answer, will be the work of preachers. Our own preaching patrons, Catherine of Siena and Vincent Ferrer addressed their times with prophetic authority precisely because they regarded eternity as more real than their immediate crises.
This issue becomes important for us in marking out the middle ground between obsessing about our situation and hiding from it. Our summons to witness demands that we engage with social realities as people for whom eternal life has become tangible already through the sacraments. The principles of this encounter flow from the ancient words we speak in the dark every Easter Vigil. As the celebrant carves the four numerals of the current year into the wax of the Paschal Candle he says. “Christ yesterday and today, the
Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to Him, and all the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age. Amen.”
This establishes the principle that every age of culture, politics, commerce, and science serves God’s plan for the human race. If God uses each age, we must live in each age. Consider that the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, then became an institution of it, and ultimately lived through the trauma of its fall. In the Middle Ages the Church became integrated into the feudal system and in the Renaissance as a major patron of the arts. Christ’s Body has passed through the storms of Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Revolution. In succession Capitalism, Nationalism, Fascism, Communism, and Secularism have each challenged our place in the social fabric. In each of these ages, and from each of these movements, we have learned more about Christ and His Gospel, and about the essential power of the sacramental way of life He bequeathed to us.
At the same time, carrying with us the vocation of prophecy, the Church also offers a critique of her times as to mores, methods, and convictions.
If she had not the promise of the Resurrection we could not fulfill this complicated vocation. As it is, we already carry with us eternal life – the one thing that no age can take from us; and so the Church can be humbly and authoritatively present in each age. When we draw on this tremendous heritage, we learn from every movement but do not allow ourselves to be co-opted by any of them.
The Second Vatican Council offers a sterling example of the Church serenely learning from the times and critiquing them. But think how much has changed since 1965! We will not be done with the work of engagement until days are done.
In this age we, the Church, behold a technological revolution and its ramifications for each aspect of human life. The work place is not the same, nor is politics. The patterns of domestic life have changed, but then so has the way people relate to social institutions, including religious ones. The pace and expanse of communication continues to accelerate. It will be for us to learn from these developments and not just in practical ways like online donation and having a Facebook page. We also have to survey these changes in the light of the Easter Candle. They will give us new insights into Christ as He comes to us in the Scriptures and Sacraments. We will gain new perceptions of what it means to be just, temperate, courageous, and prudent, and new forms of art will serve the presentation of the Gospel. The significance of the human person will become more apparent, not less.
But as the age pushes us back to a rereading of all that has been given to us, our tradition will impel us toward a charitable critique of our times. This work of prophecy is ours from the Font, and we will not worship with integrity if we do not fulfill this commission.
The life flowing from Christ’s Resurrection keeps us serenely in this place of engagement, because we have learned that there will be another age for us to deal with after this one. When no new age comes we will be home.