Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mass at Our Savior

Amy was kind enough to post a bleg, asking her readers which church they'd recommend for Mass in NYC. The most props were for the Church of Our Savior (and as many for its pastor, the Rev. George Rutler). So, I hopped onto the F train, and ended up on the East Side at 38th and Park.

It's a beautiful church (nope, didn't have the camera with me), very baroque, but a more than Byzantine touch with the vast mural of the Pantokrator behind the altar, and the icons of saints and archangels to the left and right of the chancel. The Mass was prayed reverently and beautifully. An entrance hymn followed by the Introit in Latin. the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo chanted (in Latin. Well, not the Kyrie of course), the Gradual (psalm) as well, and the Communion antiphon too, if I recall. The church was not packed, but certainly pretty full with a diverse congregation of various ages and races.

I can also see why so many are fans of Fr. Ruttler -- the preaching was outstanding and erudite, yet not inaccessible.

Somewhat unusually, during the Liturgy of the Word at, the celebrant was either sitting in the chair, or, when at the altar, he stood ad orientem. It was a bit startling at first, but you know, it's not bad at all. It really does focus one away from the priest! The Eucharistic Prayer, however, was prayed versus populum (I'd have expected the reverse. But it wasn't a huge deal). The one thing that I really did miss (I never get why "traditional liturgy" = "not acknowledging one's neighbor in the pew" and it translates, perhaps unfairly as simply, "being frigid") was the Sign of Peace. I love that part of the Mass. It's what I look forward to tremendously each week at home. And even when I travel. Especially. Now I've been in congregations where it, quite literally, stretches for 10 minutes or more. That might be excessive. But why eliminate it?

Beautiful, prayerful, uplifting. Which is why I hesitate pointing out something that seemed off. I can't really pinpoint it. I guess I'm thinking back to my experience at the Malankara liturgy a few weeks back. The congregational participation, the ferver of the singing, was truly breathtaking. Here was beautiful liturgy, almost entirely chanted, other-worldly, transcendent, uplifting, with full-throated singing by the people. This morning the singing by the congregation was, well, not that. Perhaps that's not the Western way? We've gotten so used to someone else -- the priest, a schola, a choir -- doing the heavy lifting that we can get by with muttering? Is the Latin an issue? Does "traditional liturgy" just mean the people keep quiet? I dunno. Just some stray thoughts, hardly coherent. And I'm no expert at all. (And the other question: would a Martian looking at this liturgy, and say, a folk Mass, even recognize these as being the same thing? Is this a bad thing? After all the different Rites are hugely different. Is it a good thing? What does unity in worship mean?)

Of course, most importantly, Our Lord was present, body and blood, soul and divinity. That wondrous miracle that really ought to bowl us over, as we, like Peter, collapse to our knees and stammer out, "Lord, depart from me, a sinful man."

2 comments:

Jason nSJ said...

"Gashwin,"

I went to a Maronite liturgy about a week-and-a-half ago. It was chanted-through, but with much participation of the assembly, including parts in Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic (in addition to parts in Greek and English!). There were lots of smells and bells and beautiful vestments. It was certainly more complicated than the Roman Rite, but much was recognizable.

While I recognize and appreciate that the Roman Rite is marked with "noble simplicity," I think many of us have seen the Mass celebrated with both reverent solemnity and appropriate participation of the assembly together.

Mac said...

Well, the western way. Time was, you know, when the special appeal of Anglicanism for me and many others was its incorporation of evangelical fervour (at least in respect of enthusiastically performing the congregational parts of the service) into a liturgical context. The organist of the RC cathedral used to pop over to the Anglican cathedral where I was the organist to marvel at the fact that I could suddenly stop playing during a verse of the hymn in order instead to bring in decorative flourishes on reed stops -- and the congregation would go right on singing. Alas, alas, I think those days are long gone. Haven't seen a full house in an Anglican church other than on a major feast day in a long long time.