Monday, August 27, 2012

In Search of a Better Liturgy

Well, I never thought it would happen, but it has.  About a month ago, the wife and I were subjected to a semi-heretical homily in which the priest, while not denying the miracle outright, suggested that what was truly miraculous about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was not the feeding of the 5,000, but that the people had been moved by the example of the young boy with the five loaves and two fish to share with one another, as he had shared with Jesus.

Needless to say, I was more than a little upset with the good father.  I had been looking for an excuse to attend mass at a different parish anyway, one of a more ritualistically old-school frame of mind.  Sadly, as beautiful as St. Alphonsus Ligouri in Baltimore is, they have no parking lot, and I wasn’t too eager to just leave my car in the middle of downtown Baltimore for an hour and a half.  Having to dash out after Mass to rescue my car before the meter ended also meant that it would be difficult making friends at this church.

In the wake of Anglicanorum Coetibus, however, the banks of the Tiber have begun to flow a little wider here in Maryland.  Taking advantage of the Holy Father’s offer to come home while keeping their liturgical traditions intact, three Anglican parishes have entered into the fullness of the Catholic faith in Maryland: St. Luke’s in Bladensburg, Christ the King in Towsend, and our soon-to-be parish, Mount Calvary in Baltimore.

Nestled in downtown, Mount Calvary was founded in 1842 by a group of Episcopalians who were greatly inspired by the Oxford Movement then taking place in England.  From the start, the pastors and parishioners at Mount Calvary often got into trouble with the Anglican Diocese of Maryland for their “Romish ways.”  In 1868, Rev. Alfred Curtis, the pastor, sent shockwaves through the Protestant Episcopal Church when he began saying daily Mass at Mount Calvary; it was also around this time that (gasp!) confessionals were installed in the church.  Eventually, Curtis would leave Maryland, and go to England to be received into the Church by Cardinal Newman himself.  He returned to America and served as Bishop of Wilmington (1886-96) and Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore (1896-1908) under Cardinal Gibbons until his death.

In the meanwhile, Curtis’ successor, Rev. Joseph Richey, was disciplined by his bishop for using altar candles, wafer bread, elevating the Host, making the Sign of the Cross, and carrying a crucifix in processions.  In 1899, the Eucharist replaced Choral Matins as the principal Sunday service; in 1910, the word “Mass” replaced “Celebration” in parish correspondence; and in 1916, the Good Friday Mass of the Pre-Sanctified was established to welcome new catechumens into the church.

Like the Anglo-Catholic parishes of London’s East End, Mount Calvary was also known for its charitable works.  It helped open and operate churches for black parishioners (at a time when most Marylanders still strongly believed in segregation), children’s hospitals and soup kitchens.  In 1872, the pastor founded an order of nuns, the All Saints’ Sisters, to operate the parish’s ministries in the city.  Like Mount Calvary, the Sisters were also accepted into the Catholic Church, in 2009.

Oh, and did I mention that in the late 1840s and early 50s, and young officer of the Corps of Engineers named Lieutenant Robert E. Lee attended services here with his family?

It is a beautiful little brick church, simple and yet elegant.  They have never been “wreckovated,” and so the high altar holds pride of place, unmarred by any picnic tables.  I have not heard their choir, which I am told is excellent, but the organ, the first Baroque-inspired organ installed in the United States, provides music of a quality that is sadly lacking in many Roman rite parishes today.  And in such a small parish (only 30 or so people), we were warmly welcomed the first time we attended Mass there. 

The reason we started going, of course, was the liturgy.  The more I attend the Anglican Use, the more I wonder why we had to retranslate the Mass at all.  Descended as it is from the old Sarum Rite, it seems closer to what a true English-language mass should be then the hodge-podge that is the Novus Ordo (a valid hodge-podge, to be sure, but hodge-podge nonetheless).  The chants follow the Gregorian style, so it is not too difficult to follow along for us poor Latin singers.  It is a beautiful liturgy, and I can only hope that more Catholics become acquainted with it in the future.   

In all fairness, I must admit that we did give our old parish another chance this past Sunday, but once again the homily was so wishy-washy, the priest so eager not to give offence that, according to my wife, if you had parsed his sermon, it would have come out as sheer nonsense.  One of the readings was the old “wives, be subordinate” section that has all modern priests shaking in their boots in fear.  Rather than actually explain what it meant for us today, the priest tried to explain it away, accusing St. Paul of being unable to think outside of his cultural upbringing, harping on “equality,” and in effect not saying much of anything substantial.  I have the okay from the wife to send a deregistration letter to this parish, and we will soon be joining the community at Mount Calvary.  Hopefully some of you can join us in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I was surprised to learn that they had translated the Trid into English, and that translation was used for a little while before the Novus Ordo became the "official" rite, but I can't remember what year it was in... I think it would be awesome if we could use that now.