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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Magnum Mysterium

Last night, at the Church of the Resurrection in New York City, a mass celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated as it would have been in the 14th century, i.e. candlelight only, no organ, no hymns, no sermon and no chalice (except for the priest, of course). Further, it was conducted entirely in Latin and much of that was inaudible, as in the canon. Think that might have made for a long evening? Think again, it was a hugely moving experience.

As the rector Fr. Barry Swaine pointed out in notes, there was little participation by the people during the mass in the Middle Ages, they were expected just to take it all in and meditate on the mystery and beauty of it all. To that end, the Church provided stimuli for all five senses thus candles by the hundreds, vestments, statuary, glass, incense and, of course, the host. Also, there was music: Last night we heard Messe de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut, a stupendous work and the oldest surviving complete polyphonic mass setting by a single composer. With but a single voice per part, this long and difficult setting was done expertly and exquisitely, led from the stalls by Mr. Enlow, the music director.

It may seem trite to say but it was not hard at all to imagine oneself taken back 700 years. And while much has changed in worship since the 14th century, much of it praiseworthy, it still was a godly treat for this writer to experience how the mass was celebrated so long ago. Deo Gratias!

UPDATE: Thanks to Adam for his one-word acclamation in the comments and there is good news to report: The rector announced this morning, owing to the turnout Friday night (the church was filled) and the favorable commentary, he is seriously considering doing it again. Let us hope so, it was an awesome (to use the word properly) event. The congregation was interesting: aside from us laymen there were much clergy present, Anglican, Roman, Eastern and others; many seminarians too. It was heartening and encouraging to see in putatively sophisticated and jaded New York, N.Y. such an eager interest in how our forebears of old worshiped.

1 comment:

Adam said...