Jamey Brown | 11-28-AD2013
Normally I would never give it a second thought but this time of year they are gearing up for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My eyes flash on Victoria’s Secret Store across the street. It dawns on me a few Sundays later that this is the very store where a 17-year old mother of two was arrested October 17th for shoplifting a pair of skinny jeans. One of her two children, a dead newborn was found in her bag. Officials are awaiting autopsy reports to see if she will be charged with murder. I would think about this in the weeks to come, but today I am trying to find a new church.
I make my way past hundreds of people on the sidewalk. It is easy to tell the tourists from the natives. The New Yorkers usually have that 1000-yard stare, that dead look in the eye that sees, but does not see. The tourists have that wonder still in their eyes, open. That’s why I like picking up the tourists in my cab. They are not so jaded. They still like to talk.
Most people today on the sidewalk are wearing blue jeans and sneakers, but some have green hair or orange hair or purple hair. Some have tattoos and nose piercings or lip piercings or eyebrow piercings. Some look bizarre with spiked hair or Mohican haircuts. And then it dawns on me that I am the freak here: the only one in suit and tie and carrying a red Adoremus Hymnal. So be it.
I walk up Broadway to 37th Street. I look both ways down the street searching, but I don’t see a church. Then I make out a white cross but that can’t be it. It looks like one of those old Protestant crosses that are in front of their small and sometimes storefront churches. In desperation I walk closer and make out the words in red: Holy Innocents Catholic Church.
The building is not at first impressive, obscured by the huge glass and steel office buildings around it. I kneel and make the sign of the cross and enter. Inside is a glorious Catholic Church. The Sanctuary is all in pristine white. Beautiful sculptures of angels all in white: St. Michael with his sword and St. Gabriel who would say the words that would change the course of human history. Innocence is unmistakably proclaimed here. I notice most of the parishioners are dressed up—many of the women wearing Mantillas, the Chapel Veils, and many men in suits or dress clothes. For the first time today I don’t feel out of place.
I look up to the vaulted ceiling and the choir starts. A Gregorian chant, and my legs wobble as the six torch bearers, the thurible carriers and the Priest and Deacons enter. At the Kyrie Eleison I sob for the first time—it is so breathtakingly beautiful. The choir is world class. My thoughts are that they are professionals from the Theatre or show business. Some of the hymns are thePolyphony of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina with the bass, altos, tenors and sopranos singing different parts. The soprano is the best voice I have ever heard. Her voice soars up to the vaulted ceiling along with the curling wisps of incense, trilling the r’s as she hits the high notes.
We sing the Gloria, the Credo, and the Our Father in Latin to those sacred Latin melodies. I cry for the second, third, and fourth time. The Priest and Deacons are facing the High Altar and genuflecting or bowing to it while incensing it often. The Priest is saying the prayers for us and I’m fine with that. I don’t need to be saying the prayers along with him to feel I am participating. I amparticipating by being here. He is our shepherd and he prays for us. That’s the way our elder brothers the Hebrews did it for 2,000 years before Christ, and that’s mostly how the Holy Roman Catholic Church has done it for most of the last 2,000 years up until post Vatican II.
At one point in the Mass the Priests sprinkles the parishioners with Holy Water and the altar servers incense them. I get lost and don’t know what is happening a few times, but I am fine with that. I am lost in Christ’s Church and that is one good place to be lost. I tried to prepare by reading my Adoremus Hymnal beforehand but my memory is really bad this last decade or so and I just can’t retain things. I better learn by the time I get to heaven though, if the Lord in his bountiful mercy grants that divine grace to me that my whole life is aimed at receiving. I better learn it because the heavenly banquet is going on all the time there. I find afterwards that there was a pamphlet with everything listed, all the readings and translations on a table that I didn’t see. Well, next time.
Father John Zuhlsdorf was the celebrant and in his homily he said that the Mass is a foretaste of heaven. Well this Mass was a big gulp of heaven, and a vision and a sound and a smell of heaven.
The climax of the Mass is the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.1324). I see the Altar Rails. I am stunned and grateful that they are still here and haven’t been taken out and made into S.U.V.s. I fall to my knees before it sobbing for the final time. I receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and I get up wobbly, dizzy. I walk very slowly back to the pew and fall to my knees.
Still somewhat shell-shocked, I stay afterwards for the Litany of the Saints. Ora pro nobis just like I saw on EWTN from the Vatican many times these past six years since my conversion, first with Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and now with Pope Francis. I walked out of the Church thinking why, oh why, can’t we have this heavenly rite and this music, which I think is the most beautiful ever composed by man, in more of our churches?
I realize the Latin would be difficult and it would mean our choirs would have to learn new hymns, but the reward for parishioners and the choir members themselves would be great, and for our unconverted brethren as well. Father George Rutler Administrator of The Church of the Holy Innocents Church, and the Pastor of The Church of St. Michael has been an advocate for holy Liturgy. He says in his book “Crisis of Saints:”
It is immensely saddening to see so many elements of the Church, in her capacity as Mother of Western Culture, compliant in the promotion of ugliness. There may be no deterrent more formidable to countless potential converts than the low estate of the Church’s liturgical life, for the liturgy is the Church’s prime means of evangelization. Gone as into a primeval mist are the days not long ago when apologists regularly had to warn against being distracted by, or superficially attracted to, the beauty of the Church’s rites. And the plodding and static nature of the revised rites could not have been more ill-timed for a media culture so attuned to color and form and action. Edification is no substitute for inspiration.
As I walk outside after the Mass I am almost dazed. I slowly walk up Broadway to 35th Street. I pause and look around for a few moments.Macys is right across the street. The Empire State Building to my left juts into the sky. It must be my head that is still wobbling, for today the building seems to be swaggering. I look behind me up Broadway. I can see Times Square. Within a few blocks are the New York Times, the corporate offices of the media giants, the Theatre District, the Fashion District, Madison Square Garden, Grand Central Station and the United Nations where 50,000 runners will pass by in the New York City Marathon in two days.
Three and one half miles south down Broadway sits the Financial District. Dozens upon dozens of yellow cabs frantically speed past. The medallions, the aluminum shields bolted to their hoods, are now worth $800,000 each. The drivers all have that glazed look from “eating blacktop” for too many miles, too many hours, too many days. They are all on autopilot. I thank God I don’t have to drive one today. Many might conjecture that I am at the center of the Capital of the World; but none of these things mean anything to me.
To me the Capital of the World is that Church on 37th Street, seemingly obscured by the power and might of these constructions of modern man. I feel the same whether I am coming from a regular Mass or a Traditional Latin Mass–for inside that Church of the Holy Innocents is my Lord, the Creator of all that I see and of things beyond my wildest imaginings. He is always there, but today I saw Him vividly everywhere inside, pulsating, dynamic, singing in glory.
(Note the reflection of Victoria’s Secret in upper left corner).
After this week’s Mass it dawned on me that the poor dead baby was found right here. Macy’s holiday windows are newly revealed. Snowy landscapes with crystalline trees and animals were depicted. One had bunnies—the Christmas bunny? That’s a new one for me, but at Macys I suppose all things are possible? A little boy in red flannels eagerly awaits his Christmas gifts. One of their slogans is “A Million Reasons to Believe.”
“I didn’t realize they had that many items in their store?” I joked to someone.
Not one of their beliefs were about God, or Christ, or the miraculous birth, or life, certainly not the Blessed Mother the role model for all mothers. These beliefs in the Gospel of materialism might be what led that poor soul in Victoria’s Secret to value a pair of skinny jeans more than her own baby. These values of the Culture of Death are leading millions of poor souls the wrong way. To paraphrase Pope Francis: We should always resist this culture in word and deed and to never be afraid to add the Christian alternative to these erroneous ideas.
Dude, It’s the Holy Mass! Get Your Hands Out of Your Pockets!
The Mass: A Model for Personal Prayer
Suffering Through Mass
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