Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Light in the Midst of Darkness: Candlemas at Mater Ecclesiae

It seems possible that most readers of this blog by now are familiar with Mater Ecclesiae Mission in Berlin, NJ, which has a very well-documented Solemn High Mass in the Camden cathedral every Assumption. (Mater Ecclesiae celebrates Mass exclusively according to the Missale Romanum of 1962.) What readers may not know, however, is that, while the Assumption is their most solemn Mass of the year, Mater Ecclesiae takes great care to celebrate all of the Church's feasts with fitting grandeur.

The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary ("Candlemas") is no exception to this and is perhaps one of the most favorite feast days of this parish. So, last night, fighting South Jersey traffic on a Friday, in a pouring mess of rain or snow or sleet, we gathered to adorn our King with jewels and give fitting worship to Christ the Light.

Of course, one of the highlights of this august feast is the candlelight procession, which this year was conducted indoors. What a glorious sight to see such a thing, all eighteen priests and the five seminarians who were in attendance, the many altar boys, the Blessed Imelda Society, and the whole congregation assembled in this train which encompassed the whole parish complex! I have mentioned in other articles how fastidiously planned these kinds of liturgies are at Mater Ecclesiae. Surely we can admit that a procession that goes smoothly such as this one did is a rarity these days.

Cantor Nicholas Beck led the musicians in a range of selections that was quite lovely. The musical centerpiece of the evening was Domenico Scarlatti's Missa Quattuor Vocem. Other composers such as Purcell and Buxtehude were also played. It's refreshing to see a church music program that is not afraid of Baroque and Classical repertoire. The whole Ordo Musicae can be found here.

One more word about the music: You haven't heard congregational singing in a Catholic church on this side of the Atlantic until you've heard the people at Mater Ecclesiae chant the Credo and the Salve Regina and sing Hail, Holy Queen. This parish is living the ideal of participatio actuosa.

After the Mass concluded, most of the congregants went into Bishop DiMarzio Hall to have a snack and to see entertainment provided by the boys of St. Gregory's Academy in Scranton, PA. They sang traditional European ballads and did some juggling and other tricks. It was like being at one of those 16th century English festivals, and it says a lot about Mater Ecclesiae that this feast was considered to be an occasion to have a little party.

If most people, even most Catholics, were to be asked what is significant about February 2, most would probably say that it's "Groundhog Day." Surely the Feast of the Purification goes on in obscurity. But not at Mater Ecclesiae. This is appropriate to an extent, since this parish has jealously guarded so many traditions that have been sadly forgotten by many of their Catholic brethren. May God grant that, through His grace, the likes of Mater Ecclesiae may help to bring about a liturgical Renaissance that will revive these customs everywhere. And may this feast cease to suffer from neglect, so that many in the midst of cold, ugly midwinter nights will no longer look to groundhogs but instead to Christ the Light in order to find a new springtime.

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