The Asperges Come to Times Square (1933)

The leading article in The Chronicle for last month, which had for its thesis the fact that the Anglo-Catholic movement today is increasingly emphasizing Roman practices and doctrine, has been well borne out by a new practice instituted in the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, in New York, on the first Sunday of October, which was observed as the Feast of the Dedication, and the opening of the Winter schedule of services. Before the High Mass on Sunday the Roman rite of the Asperges is now given each Sunday in this parish. For the benefit of readers of this periodical who are doubtless ignorant of this ceremony, we may continue and explain that the Asperges is the sprinkling of holy water over the priests and acolytes in the sanctuary and then over the faithful in the congregation. The name of the ceremony is taken from a portion of the Psalm which is chanted during the procession as the three sacred ministers, accompanied by the ceremonarius, who bears the holy water bucket, go down and up the aisle, the celebrant of the Mass casting water on either side of him as he passes along: Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor, that is to say, Thou shalt purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, etc. The congregation at St. Mary’s, or, at least that portion of it which follows blindly and avidly all the latest importations from Rome which the Cowley Fathers introduce into this parish, were filled with rather more glee than devotion when they heard that the ceremony was to be instituted. They supposed that they would be “one up” on St. Ignatius’ Church, a rival to St. Mary’s in adding exotic rites. But those at St. Ignatius’ are not as slow as they have sometimes appeared to be to some folk down at St. Mary’s, and on the first Sunday in October St. Ignatius’ congregation were also sprinkled with holy water. However, with a difference. “We don’t do it the same as St. Mary’s,” one of the Ignatian congregation told us in a superior air, the difference being that instead of passing down the aisle, the priests simply stand at the gates of the sanctuary and sprinkle the people from that point. It is more simple and doubtless saves time. We understand that there are two other parishes in the Diocese which indulge in this rite—Corpus Christi, and St. Augustine’s Chapel, of Trinity Parish. Returning to St. Mary’s, as we might return to our mutton were we French, we are informed that the whole program of High Mass has taken on a very Roman tint. There is a great deal of plainsong, the propers and the secrets of the Mass are said as appointed in the Roman Missal, the processional hymn and the usual hymn before the Holy Gospel have been omitted. There is no doubt of the direction in which the Cowley wind is blowing. Before another few years St. Mary’s will be like all the other churches served by the Cowley Fathers—very Roman and very mechanic. This will be a distinct pity in the church life of New York, for although a man may have disagreed with the teachings at St. Mary’s, there has never been any denying the fact that from a musical standpoint it ranked very high. The finest Masses were sung superbly at St. Mary’s, and even the hymns were, in their own way, classics. They were selected not from one hymnal, but from many sources. A large number of them were based on German chorals, and they were not only of a high standard from a musical viewpoint, but they were high in literary quality. But this is all in keeping with the Cowley Fathers’ plan to “popularize” St. Mary’s, and great stress has been laid on what the Roman Church knows is popular, such as the cultus of the Sacred Heart, with Votive Masses on every first Friday, the dedicating of every Saturday to the Gran Madre di Dio, with a Votive Mass, which the calendar calls, “Of St. Mary on Saturday,” and also Votive Masses of St. Therese, who has been the most popular saint in the modern Roman Church, and the incentive for more cash being put in money-boxes than the world dreams. At Corpus Christi Church, in New York, we believe, there is a Guild of St. Therese, which meets to study the life of this recently-canonized saint, and to further her cultus in the Protestant Episcopal Church. All of this is simply by way of substantiating what the leading editorial of last month maintained. Many a movement has died from excesses on the part of some of its rattle-brained followers, and it sometimes appears as if the extreme Anglo-Catholics are going to wreck the whole movement in the Protestant Episcopal Church. We do not expect them to pay any attention to our predictions, but we have conferred seriously with many Anglo-Catholic lay-folk, and if the Anglo-Catholic clergy knew how they are increasingly alienating a large number of their lay-folk, they would perhaps stop awhile and catch their breath. They apparently agree with the Red Queen that it takes all the running they can do to keep in the same place.

—The Chronicle (Poughkeepsie), November, 1933, p. 43.

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