Thursday, February 05, 2015


So, being in Boston again, it was time to look for a place to go to church on Sunday. Last year's trip to Trinity Copley Square having ruled them out, I then found that Old North only had a said service within my service time constraints. (Tourists seemed to be surprised that church services were held there.) The nautilus in the pediment at the cathedral is, um, off-putting; Greek revival isn't my thing anyway. So next, I looked into Emmanuel's website, but the statement that "Believing is not a condition of beloving or belonging here" told me that wouldn't be welcome.

It was thus that I turned to Church of the Advent on the edge of Beacon Hill. Advent had been recommended to be after my recounting of my experience last year at Trinity, but as AC is not my churchmanship (I'm sky-high) it hadn't been at the top of my list. Their schedule, however, listed "Sung Mass (Rite II)" at 9, which sounded promising enough.

Trinity out-decorates Advent, but only because it's bigger and because John Hubbard Sturgis did not paint every square inch of the brick and stonework. Instead, he built one of the few American essays in "muscular Gothic", with its massive structural elements and elaborate patterning. It is emblematic of the style's overmuchmess that Sturgis put a hammerbeam ceiling in an not-all-that-large room more or less because he could, and perhaps because nobody else up to that point had done such a thing in America. Various lily-gilding through the years includes Ralph Adams Cram's rood, and the elegant but very French and not at all muscular aumbry whose golden tower can be seen to the left of the altar in the picture.

It is an intense space, and at 9 o'clock it was populated, not terribly densely, by a mixture of grey heads and parents with very small kids. One gathers that the main action is the "high mass (Rite I)" at eleven. But what we got at nine was, with a few quirks, the perfect image of a high church Eucharist of about 1986 (which date being dictated by the delivery of the 1982 hymnal, which actually came out in '85). The words of the BCP were said exactly as written, with no messing about with God's gender or lack thereof. The lessons were according to the original lectionary and were read from the RSV; indeed, each hymnal rack also held a volume of lectionary readings, copyright 1978. The service music was by Dom Gregory Murray and was unfamiliar to me, but it was quite singable and very much of the period. There were a very few deviations: the sursum corda was lined differently from that of the hymnal, and the tone used to chant the Lord's prayer was also unfamiliar, and quite difficult to sing without music. I also found their adherence to the dictate of the BCP that there should be a definite pause at the asterisk in the psalms, to be exaggerated to the point of posing an impediment to common recital. The two insertions in communion (the prayer of humble access and the non sum dignus) were not typical of the period.

And yet. THIS was the direction that prayer book revision took, before the loss of nerve in the face of the happy-clappy set and the political purists made decently-and-in-order services out of the BCP increasingly rare. And it is something that could be recovered, if people are willing to take church seriously and solemnly again. It is something that could be regained, if people could admit that, for most of the population, the contrived speech patterns of leftist academia are off-putting where they are not outright rejected. It could be revived, if the stupid progessivist doctrine that we "can't turn back the clock" (meaning that we cannot ever say that some supposed accommodation to the culture was a bad idea and should be discarded) were once and for all rejected.

Sure, 1979 is (as everyone admits while looking at a certain sentence in Prayer C) hardly perfect. But the way it was originally done, by serious-minded Episcopal parishes, is much better than the way I find it done in so many supposedly progressive places today. The "celebrating the community" ethic does not work. It produces worship of the community and of our identity as righteous members of the same. It's time to repent of it and go back to celebrating the Godhead instead.

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