Friday, May 19, 2017

"Among these dark Satanic mills": St James the Less, Philadelphia

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen! 
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills? 
--William Blake, Jerusalem (1808)

Previously on Modern Medievalism, I toured the church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont: a splendid Gothic church in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Today I bring you some photos and commentary of another Gothic marvel: St James the Less.

An article on St James the Less from ten years ago already references Blake's poem, but I can't help repeating it for the title to my entry because it's so apt. St James is one of those churches you simply can't believe exists anywhere this side of the Atlantic until you step inside. I had, of course, heard about it because the pastor of my Ordinariate parish was rector of St James for some two decades in a previous chapter of his life (as an Episcopal priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition). As an enthusiast of Gothic architecture, I wanted to scope the church out for myself and so reached out to the current chaplain in residence at St James when it would be convenient to get a tour. He welcomed me to meet him immediately after a Sunday evening liturgy. Following Mass at my own parish and a brief rest at home, I made the drive out to a part of the city I had never been to before.


Idyllic as it might appear from the photos, St James is nestled in a neighborhood of Philadelphia which, I was told, has some of the lowest life expectancies in the state. More-or-less the opposite of Good Shepherd's Main Line neighborhood, the community around St James suffers from poverty, substance abuse, gang violence, and absent parents. Cutting through some urban decay, the old Tastykake factory, and the famous Laurel Hill Cemetery on the way, I pulled into streetside parking along a road which divides the church and the schoolhouse. As I walked in, the service was just beginning the Gloria in excelsis to a gospel-style tune, accompanied by both the organ and a bongo drum. The chaplain presided from a forward altar, a small table placed in front of the rood screen. From what I could tell, it seemed more of a "Rite II" order of worship, but my wife was waiting in the car with the children sleeping in their seats (or so I thought), so I decided to get back in and drive around until it was over.


When we got back, most of the (very small) congregation were still there for a community dinner, and the head of the school gave me a quick introduction to the church. In short, St James is not really "Gothic revival"--it's America's first ever church in an entirely authentic Gothic style because it's a replica of a 13th century village parish church near Cambridge (England, not Massachusetts) called St Michael's, Longstanton. The church's first sponsor was one Robert Ralston: a philanthropist who desired to build a house of worship for both the wealthy captains of industry whose mansions overlooked the Schuylkill River and the laborers who toiled in the textile mills nearby. This was a novel idea in the mid-1800's because congregations were typically segregated by class, e.g. the wealthy built a finely appointed church for themselves, and then a modest mission for their hired help further away. But Ralston and his partners were captivated by the ideas on faith and architecture put forth by the Oxford Movement and the Cambridge Camden Society.

A word on the Society: I haven't written about them on my blog before, but the CCS revolutionized Anglican church-building in the few decades they were active. They were a group of fiery Cambridge students; all wide-eyed modern medievalists like yours truly; who were doggedly determined to export the ideals of the Tractarians to every new Anglican church being built, whether in Great Britain, the United States, or anywhere else. It was the CCS that singlehandedly brought the chancel and choir stalls back into fashion at a time when neither Anglican nor Catholic clergy had much of a concept of sitting in-choir anymore.

View from the middle of the chancel, between the choir stalls.
By no means were they mere aesthetes: the Society rated an architect's personal life and theological beliefs as well as his designs "we do protest against the merely business-like spirit of the modern profession, and demand from them a more elevated and directly religious habit of mind". This also took on a sectarian lens: as a result, Augustus Welby Pugin earned low marks for being a Roman Catholic despite being the founding father of the Gothic revival, while William Butterfield (who never took a commission from Catholics) was the Society's golden boy, even if he strayed from CCS orthodoxy from time to time by using brick. More on the CCS can be read here on Victorianweb.

How is this at all relevant to St James the Less? Consider the Society's attitude to rented pews (a ubiquitous feature then): "What is the history of pues, but the history of the intrusion of human pride, selfishness, and indolence, into the worship of God?"  To the CCS, architecture was a tool for converting souls: "We know that Catholick ethics gave rise to Catholick architecture; may we not hope that, by a kind of reversed process, association with Catholick architecture will give rise to Catholick ethics?"

With the plans of a 13th century church in hand, sent to architect John Carver by the CCS, St James was built in 1846, and dedicated by the Episcopal bishop in 1850. Visitors, overwhelmed by the success of the parish's design, spurred a wave of imitations whose effects are seen to this day with the imprint of the Gothic revival everywhere in Protestant America: high or low church. Over the next century, the parish cemetery filled to capacity and urban sprawl engulfed the neighborhood--but next to nothing about the church itself, architecturally or spiritually, changed. At his arrival in the 1980's, my pastor (then rector of St James) picked up the torch of Anglo-Catholic worship via the Anglican Missal on the one hand, and social teaching on the other by operating the school for children, nearly all from broken or disadvantaged families, across the street. From what I can gather, the continuity of worship naturally extended to continuity of doctrine. His rectorship, along with the vestry of St James, wouldn't survive the sweeping changes of the Episcopal Church in regard to women's ordination, practicing homosexual clergy, and, I'm sure, other controversies that I'm not privy to as an outsider.

The second rood screen. The original was made of wood.
While I'm grateful that the school of St James is now back in operation and service to the children of the neighborhood, and that the chaplain very kindly gave me a tour of the church (now back in part-time use after several years of neglect), I must still say as a Roman Catholic that I'm glad my pastor made the choice of entering into full communion with Rome through the Ordinariate... because, speaking merely as a Gothicist, I would have been tempted to find some negotiation with the Episcopal diocese to live out the end of my days in this "green & pleasant Land". But, as I'm sure he would remind me, the Church is the faithful, not the building.

Like the Lady Chapel at Good Shepherd, this altarpiece is the work of Davis d'Ambly. His fingerprint is everywhere in Philadelphia.
This recessed sedilia is, curiously, only for two ministers (there is a seat for one directly across on the Gospel side). But it wasn't an oversight. See below.
This photo is from the model church in England: St Michael's, Longstanton. As you can see, the sedilias are substantially the same.
Like the original church in Cambridge, the western window here is very small. A massive window would probably been well beyond the means of a 13th century village parish's budget.
The confessional. The chaplain admitted to me it's currently used as storage, though he said he would like to teach the schoolchildren about auricular confession as, in his words, "it's a sacrament of the Church".
This is just one part of the sprawling cemetery around the church.
The carillon tower. At the base rests the mausoleum of the Wanamaker family. John Wanamaker was actually a Presbyterian, but his family's legacy looms over Philadelphia like the Waynes of Gotham.
The door to the Wanamaker crypt.


The churchyard is a "who's who" of Victorian Episcopal bishops, famous Civil War generals, architects, and members of prominent Philadelphia families like the Biddles.

Who knew graveyards were so much fun?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Requiem: the album


I've finally gotten around to seeing the promo video for the FSSP's new chant album: "Requiem". It's a stunning clip that deserves to be watched with full attention (fullscreen, 1080p, not on a smartphone). Everything about it exudes the medieval ideal of the liturgical choir... and what I'm striving to attain with my little start-up schola of male, surpliced chanters in the Philadelphia area. See below:




"Requiem" can be purchased directly from the Fraternity's site here. As an aside, I'm pleased to observe that one of the seminarians featured in the video assisted in the role of subdeacon for our nuptial Mass in 2014....



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Non ministrari, sed ministrare: a tour of Good Shepherd, Rosemont


This upcoming Sunday (or, in the old Roman calendar and the BCP, last Sunday) is "Good Shepherd Sunday": the day on which the Gospel is read of Christ telling the Pharisees, "I am the Good Shepherd: and I know mine, and mine know me". It's fitting, then, that I took this week to visit a grand little neo-Gothic gem right along the main thoroughfare of the Main Line west of Philadelphia: the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont.

Good Shepherd belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, but is of massive consequence to Roman Catholics for a few reasons. Unlike S. Clement's church in center city (which was originally built as a "preaching barn" and only later became a famous Anglo-Catholic shrine), Good Shepherd was built from day 1 to import the ideals of the Oxford Movement to these quiet Quaker suburbs. I'm connected to Good Shepherd by proxy in that, when I moved here from Texas a couple years ago, I happened to join the (Roman Catholic) Ordinariate parish here which received a former rector of Good Shepherd along with many members of his old flock. It's no surprise that, in the course of fellowshipping with parishioners, I hear a lot of stories about this place which they called home for decades. I've recently taken an interest in getting more familiar with the history of the Episcopal Church, especially the two parishes to which my fellow-parishioners belonged and their liturgical traditions--and since you can only learn so much by verbal accounts, I decided to introduce myself to the current rector of Good Shepherd by email and ask for a tour of the grounds, which he was very glad to do.


Before I share more pictures and commentary, it behooves me to give (as impartially as I can with my very limited knowledge of the subject), a brief introduction to Good Shepherd's history. The current building was raised during the 1890's as an admirable imitation of the English country churches of the 14th century. It's along the Main Line: the most affluent suburban region of greater Philadelphia. At the turn of the 20th century, Italian and other immigrant laborers who built the railroad out of the city set up Catholic parishes around here which, I'm sure, were packed with back-to-back low Masses around the clock in those days. Their employers, meanwhile, worshipped in more modestly sized congregations within finely appointed Protestant churches of near-invariably Gothic revival designs. The primary benefactor for Good Shepherd's building was Harry Banks French, president of a pharmaceutical company which exists now as the massive GlaxoSmithKline in London.

Good Shepherd was Anglo-Catholic not only liturgically, but socially. In other words, they knew you could have solemn high Mass every Sunday AND serve the poor and sick with no contradiction. Indeed, for them, the one naturally led to the other. In an age where railroad magnates and robber barons were dividing the world's wealth among themselves, it was the Anglo-Catholics--those who worshipped with the most splendid vestments, candlesticks, and other fineries of all--who issued a firm "no" to this culture of exploitation. Good Shepherd made waves for rejecting the system of pew rentals (yes, you were expected to pay for your seat back then) that other Protestant churches commonly used to keep the roof up. Even before the current building was up, Good Shepherd, living up to its name, started what was the only hospital on the Main Line at the time. I quote from a short history written by a fellow-parishioner:
"The Home and Hospital operated for fifty years. It took in children, both boys and girls, who needed extra care and attention and kept them until they were able to be on their own again. It was residential, and most of the children were not confined to their beds or even to the premises; they attended classes at the local public school less than a mile away. The Hospital was run by the Parish, but cooperation and involvement from other parishes were invited, as well as from the community at large."
When you drive by the church, as probably thousands of people do daily, you'll see its motto written out in Latin on a sign in testament to this legacy: non ministrari, sed ministrare ("not to be served, but to serve").

Fr Rutler as 7th rector of Good Shepherd
In the 1970's, massive changes in the Episcopal Church at large came crashing down on Good Shepherd--which, by now, had been upholding the idea of the seven sacraments for a hundred years. Fr George Rutler is now a famous Catholic priest for his appearances on EWTN, writing for Crisis magazine, and celebrating the traditional Latin Mass in New York City... but he got his start in ministry as the 7th rector of Good Shepherd, then the youngest rector in the whole Episcopal Church. Back then, Fr Rutler was one of the loudest voices in opposition to ordaining women. Not long after women's ordination was voted in, Fr Rutler left. He was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in the early '80s.

This pattern of catching the "Roman bug" was maintained by several other Episcopal priests who served at Good Shepherd in successive years. Another former rector, Fr Jeffrey Steenson, is well-known for having become the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter (the predecessor of my current bishop, +Steven Lopes). The rector from 1991-2011, after a protracted legal battle with the Episcopal Diocese which is beyond me to summarize here, eventually entered the Ordinariate as a layman and remains a simple parishioner. One former curate is now pastor of Mount Calvary, Baltimore: one of only a few Ordinariate parishes I know of which successfully managed to transfer their buildings from the Episcopal to the Catholic Church, along with rector and congregation. I also recently discovered that a curate in the early '90s left the Episcopal Church not for Catholicism, but Orthodoxy. He now serves as pastor of a western rite Orthodox parish in Maryland.

The Lady Chapel. The altarpiece was made by local liturgical artist Davis d'Ambly. The altar frontal is fabric from the famous Watts & Co, London.
The current rector is Fr Montgomery: like myself, a total outsider to the controversies surrounding Good Shepherd. Despite my affiliation with the Ordinariate, he was quite willing to get to know me and give a tour of the property. When I arrived, it was just about time for Evening Prayer. It was a simple affair led by Fr M and assisted by a young fellow I met once before at a SCKM event--turns out he works nearby and so heads over to Good Shepherd on weekday afternoons like a dutiful parish clerk to ring the tower bell and assist with the evening Office. (My dream job, if ever I had one.) There was the Phos Hilaron, two psalms, a hymn sung to the tune of Vexilla Regis, the Mag and Nunc with antiphons, and a collect for St Monica. Since I was there, Fr M added a prayer intention for the Ordinariate towards the end.

Whether by coincidence or providence, this window in the chapel to St Monica stood out to me since it was her feast day.

The three of us chatted a bit afterward and walked around so I could get a good feeling of the place. It was immediately apparent to me why anyone with Anglo-Catholic sentiments would have a hard time leaving the place: every stone and glimmering of light from the windows called out to the innermost depths of my English heritage and Sarum-ite, Puginquese spirituality. It's a place that's immortalized as a hymn tune in the 1940 Hymnal. The place made its mark on the Episcopal Church even as recently as the 1990's when it published the Anglican Service Book: an adaptation of the 1979 BCP to restore traditional English and supplement the book with many Catholic additions like the Stations of the Cross, absolutions for the dead at Requiems, and importantly, the Roman Canon. The Anglican Service Book is wedged into the back of every pew at GS. As I made my way out, the rector kindly let me take a copy on an indefinite loan to study. My hope is to take everything I learned from this trip to help my parish preserve the best of their traditions.


The baptistery is in a separate chamber with its own roof. The lid over the font, which can be raised or lowered by a pulley, is exquisite.
A double-desk in the chapel for reading the lessons.
The base has a coat of arms for each person of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
View from the nave. No architect in turn-of-the-century Philadelphia would have been asked to build a Catholic church in an arrangement like this with an elongated chancel and choir stalls.... yet this is the Catholic tradition, inherited from us to the Anglicans, and how it should be once again. 
The rood screen, which divides the nave from the chancel, was added some time after the parish's initial construction. May every Ordinariate parish some day have one of these!
The Epistle-side choir stalls. Each coat of arms is from some Anglican institution or another (one is, I think, from the Royal School of Church Music). The canopy over the rector's stall was a late addition.
The traditional Roman Rite supposes the three ministers of Mass all sit on a bench with no back. But the medieval English tradition was for them to sit in a sedilia, so recessed as to be entirely out of view of the people. It bears mentioning that, far as I know, solemn Mass with three ministers was the every-Sunday norm at Good Shepherd in reality, not just theory, for most of its history.

The high altar. Note the great care given in the English Gothic tradition for covering the altar with a proper frontal, matching the liturgical color of the day. An uncovered altar is a nude altar.

The sacristy table with the opening text of Psalm 42 in large print ("I will go unto the altar of God: even unto the God of my joy and gladness.") I'm happy to say we use these prayers at my parish.
I asked Fr M to show me one of his favorite vestment sets. He pulled out this low Mass set for Requiems. As he put it back, he picked up a maniple that accidentally got on the floor which had a hanging scale embroidered on the base. "Just in case you didn't believe in the Last Judgment", he said.
Old photo, maybe from the 1930's? Good Shepherd maintained a traditional boys' choir until relatively recently.
View facing the front door and the street.
This magnificent window above the portal was, I believe, commissioned in thanksgiving of victory after World War I. The archangels are accompanied by allegorical figures of Victory and Faith.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Easter Vigil video

Dear friends, I edited my previous post on the Easter Vigil to replace the Facebook livestream with this high-quality recording below, which was just posted recently. Be sure to set it to 1080p and share with your friends. 

(For those who care, I begin the first prophecy at the 29:00 mark.)


Thursday, April 27, 2017

O felix culpa! Keeping the Vigil of Easter, pre-1955 style

Chanting the prophecies for the Easter Vigil
The Modern Medievalist wishes all of you as happy an Easter season as I've had so far! You've seen how much fun I had visiting the new Museum of the American Revolution as I described in my last post; now it's time I tell you a bit about my experience at the Easter Vigil. This year, the rector of Mater Ecclesiae Chapel in Berlin, New Jersey, Fr Robert Pasley, invited me to assist the community by chanting several of the 12 Old Testament prophecies as used in the full Easter Vigil as it was known in the Roman Rite prior to the reforms of 1955--as some other communities such as the FSSP's parish of Ss. Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome have lately done. Now, I've generally acknowledged my preference for the pre-1955 forms on paper, having read about the differences in well-written articles like those by Gregory DiPippo on the New Liturgical Movement here. But nothing could have really prepared me for the unbridled splendor of the old forms being played out before my eyes as I sat in choir at Mater Ecclesiae this past Holy Saturday.

Before I begin, I'd want to point out to anyone unfamiliar with Mater Ecclesiae that it's not a sedevacantist chapel or anything of the sort. On the contrary, ME is the only diocesan community in the entire United States that observes the pre-Vatican II rites exclusively. Fr Pasley, like my old pastor, Fr Phillips at Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, is the sort of priest who knows how to build something otherworldly virtually ex nihilo. Not surprisingly, like my old pastor, Fr Pasley is also very musically oriented (he is also chaplain to the CMAA, the Church Music Association of America). Every year, they fill the entire Cathedral-Basilica in Philadelphia for their annual solemn orchestral Mass for the Assumption. Last year, their leading liturgist was instituted as an acolyte by the Bishop of Camden to allow them to have solemn high Mass more frequently. (This has reminded me to add his blog to my list on the right, which I haven't updated in years until now. Please check it out!) Since I had then shared the news with my own bishop afterward, Mr. Rotondi's institution was actually, in large part, the catalyst for Bishop Lopes to create an acolyte institution program throughout the entire Ordinariate, which I wrote about here. In short, Mater Ecclesiae treats the liturgy as paramount, and should serve as a model of  excellence for all of us, whatever rites we follow.


High-quality recording above--be sure to set it to 1080p

Blessing of the Fire

It took about an hour to get there, but I still miraculously arrived in time with the whole family to get situated at a comfortable pace. It was about 5:30pm, with a starting time of 6... the only thing not strictly pre-1955 about the ceremonies, which in the early 20th century would have been Holy Saturday morning (though, in my opinion, a correct choice). I briefly greeted my fellow instituted acolyte as he was giving out last-minute instructions to the altar servers, and then donned cassock, surplice, and biretta at the breast (as the custom at Mater is for acolytes to wear biretta when seated in the sanctuary). I sat beside and soon befriended a young man bound soon for the Carmel in Wyoming (of Mystic Monk coffee fame) who was also assigned to chant some lessons. He kindly retrieved for me a chapel copy of a pre-1955 Liber Usualis so I could follow along. I knew bringing my 1962 edition of the Liber would more likely cause mischief than help, so I left that at home.

The junior servers lined up in the hallway adjoining the sacristy while the ministers vested. They were understandably excited; that another acolyte other than Mr. Rotondi existed out there in the world was novel to them and probably contributed to the chatter; but a sense of reverent quiet assumed as soon as they all knelt to recite their preparatory prayers. I gladly joined in.


The procession to the porch outside the church wasn't planned out in advance, so Fr Pasley had to make an executive decision to ask the congregation to remain in their places for the blessing of the fire, lest chaos break out. So, for the initial rites, only clergy and servers formed up around the Easter fire outside. There's no need for me to get into lengthy descriptions of the differences between pre- and post-1955 ritual here when others have done so much more thoroughly, so I'll only make personal remarks on my strongest impressions. The most obvious is that the Paschal candle is nowhere to be seen here. It's already situated in the sanctuary. Instead, a triple candlestick called the arundo is lit outside and carried into the church by the deacon in procession. Like the Paschal candle, he stops at intervals and intones Lumen Christi ("the light of Christ") at successively higher pitches, the people genuflecting each time.


The Exsultet


As the ministers enter the sanctuary, the deacon places himself before the Paschal candle as though he were about to sing an ode to it and carries out his single most important liturgical duty of the year: the Exsultet. As someone who has discerned a vocation to the diaconate for many years, this ceremony alone is enough to convince me of the superiority of the pre-1955 ritual over the Bugnini revisions. You see, in the pre-1955, there is no blessing of the Paschal candle outside by the priest, nor does he ritually inscribe and insert the grains of incense himself. This is because, traditionally, the act of singing the Exsultet is itself the blessing--indeed, the most solemn blessing the lowly deacon ever imparts.

About halfway through the Exsultet, right before the words:
"In thanksgiving, then, for this night, O holy Father, receive the evening sacrifice of this incense.."
the deacon pauses to insert the five grains of incense into the Paschal candle, just as the text alludes! Then, as the deacon sings:
"And now we know the glories of this column which the flickering fire doth kindle in God’s honor."
He, not the priest, takes light from the arundo and lights the Paschal candle. At last, when the deacon sings:
"Which fire, though it be divided into parts, yet knoweth no diminution of its light. For it is nourished by the fluid wax which the mother bee hath produced for the material of this precious torch."
The lights in the church multiply at this line as the fire is passed to the candles of the congregants.

It seems the architects of the 1955 Holy Week reform thought this ceremony too high an honor for a lowly deacon to bear, so they composed a new blessing for the priest to recite over the Paschal candle in the reformed edition. The ceremonies of inserting the grains and lighting the candle were now to be done by the priest. The deacon was now left only with singing the Exsultet straight through. And now, in our contemporary Church, most deacons probably pass the job of singing the Exsultet entirely on to the priest or a lay cantor, completely oblivious to how central this rite was to the order of deacons across the many centuries of the Roman Rite.


The Prophecies


As a lasting relic from the fervor of the early centuries in keeping all-night vigils, the unreformed Roman Rite has a staggering 12 lessons from the Old Testament, all of which are expected to be sung. One of the oddities of keeping Holy Week strictly according to 1962 is that even the Ordinary Form has concluded that the 1955 reform went too far. A strict 1962 Easter Vigil has only 4 lessons, while the Ordinary Form (and the Ordinariate Missal) allows as many as 7. To be fair, I believe the old Sarum Use of pre-Reformation England only had 4 lessons, so quantity wasn't universally prized throughout the west until 1955. I also suspect that the usual experience for the faithful was a single priest droning on the lessons world without end, without any sense of the spirit of the liturgy.

At Mater, on the other hand, four lectors were assigned to divide the chanting of the prophecies amongst each other. I sang the 1st, 5th, and final lessons. For the 1st, the account of Creation from Genesis 1, I used the hauntingly beautiful "Genesis tone" composed for the FSSP (may be downloaded and printed here, or listened to here). I particularly liked its conclusion for each of the six days: dies unus, dies secundus, and so on.

For the other two, I used the standard Prophecy tone used in the Liber Usualis for Old Testament lessons at the vigil, the ember days, and the like... though, since it was my first time actually using it, I didn't get the conclusion of each lesson quite right. It was nonetheless quite a joy to add my own emphases to the cadences of the account of King Nebuchadnezzar and the worship of the golden statue with the whole host of instruments: tubæ, et fístulæ, et cítharæ, sambúcæ, et psaltérii, et symphóniæ, et univérsi géneris musicórum ("the trumpet, and of the flute, and of the harp, of the sackbut, and of the psaltery, and of the symphony, and of all kind of music").

All readings pre-1955 are done facing the altar, while in the post-55, they're done toward the Paschal candle. At Mater, there was an impressive sequence of commands for each collect after the lessons: Oremus ("let us pray") from the priest at the top step, Flectamus genua ("let us bow the knee") from the deacon at the middle step, and Levate ("arise") from the subdeacon at the foot of the altar. The reform takes the subdeacon's command to the congregation to Levate away from him and gives it to the deacon; perhaps a prefigurement of the subdiaconate's total abolition years later.


The Blessing of Baptismal Water and Litany of Saints

This rite was performed at the baptismal font, well outside the sanctuary (in the post-1955, it's done in the sanctuary with a basin of water that's then carried to the font). Since I remained at my place in choir, I didn't get to observe this part, though it must have been a treat for those in the congregation who happened to be standing nearby. 

The ministers returned to the sanctuary for the Litany of Saints and, instead of kneeling, did a full prostration before the altar as on Good Friday. (Mr. Rotondi remarked to me afterward that whereas the prostration on Good Friday was appropriately rather painful due to the carpet being absent, this time the carpet was in place and the prostration was almost relaxing by contrast.) Every petition was doubled: that is, the schola precentor sang each petition completely by himself, and the whole congregation repeated it. What a delight it was to hear them all (or quite many, at least) sing each in response, rather than stand mute as many other TLM congregations do. Even petitions as long and tongue-twisting as Ut domnum apostólicum et omnes ecclesiásticos órdines in sancta religióne conserváre dignéris, te rogámus, audi nos didn't deter them from responding in full.


The Vesperal Mass


The ministers put away their penitential, violet folded chasubles one last time and donned the golden vestments of jubilation. The Kyrie gave way to the most spectacular Gloria in excelsis (from the Missa Breve by Domenico Scarlatti) I've heard in years. After the priest intoned, the first words, a thunderous organ medley paved the way for the choir to resume with a polyphonic rendition accompanied by.... a harpsichord, perhaps? I sat and followed the cues of the ministers as to when to doff the biretta during the customary words (adoramus te, Jesu Christe, etc.), but my headgear could scarcely keep the contents of my brain from exploding out as I struggled to contain the fullness of the beauty of worship.


The rest of the Mass proceeded more-or-less the same as a post-1955 Vigil. As a sign that this Mass was still an anticipation of the Resurrection rather than the fulfillment, the Agnus Dei and some of the minor Proper chants were omitted. Of course, where the reformed order has Lauds follow the end of Mass, we had an abbreviated form of Vespers instead.. though not so truncated as to possibly contemplate omitting a polyphonic Magnificat, of course.

Over 3 hours later, we recessed into the sacristy, knelt for a final blessing from the celebrant, and adjourned to the social hall for a well-earned reception with the community. I raised my glass to Mr. Rotondi in celebration, port in his hand (if I recall correctly) and Pepsi in mine; I excuse my troglodytism on account that I was breaking my Lenten fast from soft drinks. Madame, meanwhile, caught up with an old classmate from college who now sings in the choir.

By the end, the girls' patience had long since expired. We began the long journey home, but to play a part, however small, in the restoration of ancient liturgical tradition is well worth the trip in my book! I hope to return soon enough to assist with the solemn vigil of Pentecost.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Museum of the American Revolution grand opening

Wife with burly frontiersmen at the Museum's opening
It's been a while, but I like to pick up my theme of the intersecting of medievalism with American history whenever I can. Today just happens to be one of those days, because my family and I were quite privileged to attend the grand opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution here in Philadelphia just yesterday. If you're not sure how this relates at all to my blog's theme, be patient. The story of this Museum begins not with yesterday's grand opening on the anniversary of the "shot heard 'round the world", but oddly, with Robert E. Lee and a Gothic revivalist Episcopal priest with a George Washington obsession.

The jewel of the Museum's collection is the very tent General Washington used for his sleeping quarters throughout the War of Independence, at least from 1778 on (along with his slave valet, William Lee, and close confidantes like Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette). It's hard to overstate how significant it was to the Continental Army that Washington slept among them for virtually the entire seven or eight years of the war. During that whole span, he spent only a few days at his home of Mount Vernon. After Washington famously resigned his commission and went home, the tent was carefully packed away and given to the care of Martha Washington's grandson, George Custis. The tent went on to his daughter Mary's care, and then her husband, Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, Lee's house at Arlington, overlooking the capital city, was seized by the Union Army and converted to a cemetery for soldiers (now Arlington National Cemetery). Mary Lee's enslaved maid, Selina Norris Gray, ensured that the tent and other Washington "relics" were undisturbed by the soldiers who moved into the house. 

The Rev'd C. Herbert Burk

After the war, the Lees sued all the way up to the Supreme Court to get that tent back from the federal government. They eventually did, but their granddaughter, Mary Custis Lee, sold it in 1903 to raise money for widows of Confederate veterans. The buyer was C. Herbert Burk, rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Norristown (which is actually very close to my Ordinariate parish). Aside from his devotion to beauty (All Saints' was the first church in Norristown to have a surpliced choir of men and boys), Burk held a lifelong passion for Revolutionary War history and set upon establishing a mission church on the grounds of Valley Forge, with the dual purpose of becoming a shrine to the memory of the soldiers encamped there in 1777, not to mention a house for his collection of Revolutionary War relics.

The new church was commissioned in the Perpendicular Gothic style of merry ole' England. Not only was the Gothic revival falling out of fashion by the turn of the 20th century, it was considered a highly unusual choice for a site dedicated to Revolutionary War history. Critics attacked Burk for the design, to which he once replied,  "Colonial architecture was Georgian; the men at Valley Forge gave their lives in a struggle against the tyranny of a Georgian King. Why mock their memory by building a Georgian Chapel in their honor?" Today this stands at the Washington Memorial Chapel, one of the most beautiful churches in the entire southeast Pennsylvania region--and where my grandfather-in-law's remains are now buried. More info about it can be read here. But there was still the trouble of displaying the General's tent without it gradually decaying when exposed to the elements. Over the past twenty years, over 500 hours were spent on restoring the tent's fabric, and over $100 million raised to build a museum to house this and other items collected by Rev. Burk. The final fruit of all these labors was unveiled in grand style yesterday.

Burk's pet project realized: the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge
The Chapel from the outside
My family and I arrived around 9:30am, just in time to follow the procession from the front door of Independence Hall in center city Philadelphia to the new Museum, a few blocks away. Each of the thirteen original states sent their own color guard to represent them, starting with Delaware as the first state. Pennsylvania was, of course, represented by our commonwealth's own "household cavalry": the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. The federal government was represented by the 3rd Infantry Regiment from Washington, DC, also known as the Old Guard: the very same who guard the President, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and perform many other ceremonial duties throughout the capital. (When I was in service, I looked into joining the Old Guard a decade ago now, but fell short of the height requirement.)

The procession lined up at Independence Hall
The First City Troop, a National Guard unit in continuous service since 1774, representing Pennsylvania
We didn't plan on attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony because only 100 seats were offered by lottery and I didn't win the drawing; but at the last minute, an attendant offered some leftover seats and waved us in, with the caveat that we would be seated immediately in front of a large screen, thus unable to actually see any of the speakers except digitally. The roster of speakers included many prominent persons like the Mayor, the Governor, and former Vice President Biden--whom, politics aside, is at least somewhat native to the area and is actually an alumnus of the high school affiliated with my workplace. The two most interesting speakers from what I could hear were David McCullough (the author of 1776, the John Adams biography, and other historical works) and Arthur Raymond Halbritter (head of the Oneida Nation). Daughter #2 had a diaper blowout in the middle of McCullough's speech, so we had to be let inside the Museum even before the ribbon-cutting to take care of the situation. When she grows up, she can officially say her bottom was the very first to be changed in the Museum of the American Revolution's family restroom.

Our seating location during the opening ceremonies (pictured above: David McCullough's speech). Now imagine the dystopian feeling of an ex-Vice President talking to you, but only from behind a screen with his enlarged head looming over you. Something straight out of that old movie Equilibrium with Christian Bale, no?
Daughter #1 screamed through nearly the entirety of Biden's speech because I wouldn't let her pet a mounted policeman's horse, so I can't comment much on what he said. Madame says the highlight of the ceremony by far was Sydney James Harcourt (an original cast member and understudy for the role of Aaron Burr in the Hamilton musical) leading students from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in a couple of numbers from the production. "This is probably the closest we'll ever get to attending the show itself", said she. The Philadelphia Boys Choir sang something at the end to wrap things up, the ribbon got cut, and then we hung around center city for several hours to wait our turn to enter.

Not my photo--from the Museum's Facebook page

The Museum itself is very spacious and clean (so far). As can be expected, the cafe and gift shop are overpriced. We unfortunately missed the orientation video on the ground floor by lingering too long in the gift shop, and so immediately went upstairs to the showcase. The highlight of the tour, far and away, is the presentation of Washington's tent. You fill into a theater and are treated with a fantastic short video explaining the tent's significance and post-war history, much as I did in this post. At the end, the screen rolls up and the lights come on just enough for you to see that the tent was before your eyes, behind the movie screen, the entire time! That alone is worth the price of admission, and probably deserves to be a rite of passage for every American schoolchild in the country. Thankfully, daughter #1 was exhausted from the day's events thus far and remained asleep throughout.

Washington's tent, also not my photo. You can't really take your own pictures of it there.
The rest of the collection takes you plaque-by-plaque from the French and Indian War to the generation of Revolutionary War veterans in retirement and death. There are many excellently made wax mannequins to dramatically retell the story of independence in every exhibit. Black, native American, and even loyalist/Tory stories are told in a natural way without feeling shoehorned for political correctness's sake. About 3/4ths of the way through the collection, daughter #1 woke up and I had to make a speed-run through the remainder of the trip.

Altogether, though I've already seen Mount Vernon and many other sites of immense Revolutionary War significance, this little Museum was well worth the trip. Madame and I intend to go back, each on our own to take it all in by reading every plaque. I walked away from its doors with a renewed sense of pride in my eight ancestors who fought in the War of Independence in uniform, not to mention a sense that I was picking up the torch with a real sense of ownership, and a mandate to steer this nation in the right direction.






From the Museum's Facebook page, showing the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps


Some other pieces from the collection:

The royal arms, which apparently once hung in the Connecticut legislature
British swords

General Washington's blue sash

A book of religious poems by Phyllis Wheatley: the first-ever book published by an African-American woman

An intricately detailed powder horn depicting Philadelphia's harbor

A wall full of armaments

A French officer's gorget bearing the royal fleur-de-lis

A combination tobacco pipe/tomahawk

A candlestick made for one of Philadelphia's oldest Catholic churches

Mannequins depicting Tarleton's Raiders. A more villainous version of Colonel Tarleton was dramatized by Jason Isaacs in The Patriot (2002).

Long day!