Thursday, January 19, 2006

A little bit of heaven in South Carolina. The reform of the reform at one parish church.

I had the great joy to recently watch a video of the first solemn mass of Fr. Christopher Smith, parochial vicar of St. Mary's Church in Greenville, SC, where Fr. Jay Scott Newman, general secretary of the Society for Catholic Liturgy resides as pastor.

Viewing the video, one certainly had a very strong sense of what can be made of the modern Roman liturgy -- even before any potential reform of the missal itself -- when there isn't a shyness toward our Catholic tradition, but rather the wholehearted embracing of it. After watching it, I can only say how deeply moved and impressed I was. From the church to the sanctuary appointments, from the reverence and the care taken in the celebration of the Mass to the sacred music, it was truly inspiring and sublime.

Fr. Smith wore golden Roman vestments in the French style; beside him, two deacons in matching Roman dalmatics. As the liturgy begins, the marvelous processional cross, streams of altar boys in cassock and surplice and fellow clergy are complemented by the vigour of the singing of a traditional piece of English hymnody, oriented not towards the community gathered, but to the worship of the Triune God. After the incensation of the altar and cross, the newly ordained Fr. Smith intones in Gregorian melody, "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti" to which congregation and choir alike chant in response.

As the Mass proceeds, the familiar strains of the Gregorian Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei fill the walls of this beautiful parish church filled likewise to the rafters with the faithful.

During the Holy Gospel, the Deacon comes out amidst the faithful, preceded by cross and acolytes, he incenses the holy book and chants the gospel in English. After the homily, we are led to the climax of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, through the liturgy of the Eucharist. Fr. Smith takes due care to direct his attention to the details of the rubrics. We see no commentator at the altar, nor an "emcee" who feels he must be creative to maintain the attention of the faithful, rather we see a reverent priest acting consciously and deliberately in persona Christi, oriented towards the Lord in offering up the perpetual sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

So then are we led deeper into the mystery of the holy liturgy and to the consecration:

"Hoc est enim Corpus meum..."

"Hic est calix Sanguinis mei..."

(Yes, indeed, the Eucharistic prayer was entirely in the mother tongue of the Church.)

After the distribution of holy communion to the faithful, and after the closing rites are performed, the servers, deacons and priests recess out of the church, having accomplished the sacred mysteries, to the strains of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D.

From beginning, middle to end, we are taken out of this parish church in South Carolina and transported to Heaven. The earthly liturgy of this small parish church plainly connects us with the Heavenly liturgy that surrounds the throne of God. The church, the liturgy and its actions and ministers and the faithful there surrounding the altar become, as it were, and icon of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Isn't that how it ought be everywhere and in every rite of the Church, whether for young and old, rich or poor? Continue to pray.

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