Dear St. Mary's Family,
Merry Christmas! Despite the fact that Christmas trees tend to come down today, the Nativity of Jesus is so important that the Church bids us to celebrate it for twelve days ending with The Epiphany. The counting and numbering of the days immediately following the Nativity are confusing, so I thought I'd take a moment to try to unpack them. Links are provided should you wish to learn more!
The three feasts that follow the Nativity - December 26 (St. Stephen) , 27 (St. John) , and 28 (Holy Innocents) - are often referred to as a single entity: Comites Christi ("Companions of Christ"). From time immemorial in the Western Church, these feasts were so important that they always occurred on their proper day, even if it happened to fall on the Sunday after Christmas. In 1979, The Episcopal Church published a new prayer book with a new calendar that introduced a new principle: because Sundays are feasts of the Lord, they supersede all other feasts.
This is why we celebrated the First Sunday after Christmas yesterday, not St. Stephen's Day. In the Roman Church, poor Stephen was forgotten entirely, but in our Church, we move the Comites Christi feasts forward by one day (see p. 161 of the BCP). Thus, this year, here's how things shake out (along with Mass times, links, and some fun facts):
To read a comprehensive historical analysis about the liturgical time between Christmas and The Epiphany, click here.
I encourage you to leave your decorations up for the Twelve Days, and perhaps even some of them until Candlemas (February 2) as we do in the church. And I encourage you to make it a point to come to Mass on as many of these holy days as you can!
See you soon in church!
It was midday on day two of a spiritual retreat at an old Benedictine abbey in rural Normandy. I was 23 years old and serving as a Southern Baptist missionary in Paris. I was praying silently in the church, and the sun shone brilliantly through the clear windows of the abbey church. As I finished my prayers, I decided to explore the interior of the church. As I walked toward across the transept toward the north chapel, the sunlight pointed my gaze to a small box on the wall with a clear front. As I got closer, much to my horror, it became clear that there was a human skull on display. Later, one of the monks explained that the skull belonged to Saint Wandrille, the monk who founded the abbey in the seventh century.
The skull was a relic.
The veneration of relics – both the human remains and the personal effects of saints – is deeply rooted in the earliest ages of Christianity, and in fact, predates the formal canonization of the New Testament. The bodies of early Christian martyrs were venerated by the church, including the remains of Ignatius and Polycarp, who were martyred in the second century. The Eucharist was celebrated over the tombs of Christian martyrs in the catacombs of Rome in the fourth century. The Second Council of Nicea in 787 A.D. affirmed the veneration of relics, clarifying that while God alone is worshipped, the saints – including their relics – are venerated. We do not worship the saints, we only honor and revere them. And we honor and revere them because, by their faithful example and their continued prayers, they lead us further into holiness and a closer union with God.
At the time I encountered the skull of St. Wandrille, my Protestant instinct was to brush aside the superstitious notion of venerating the bones of dead people in the same way I brushed aside the Eastern notion of venerating icons. But like many things the Protestant Reformers rejected as a result of medieval abuse and superstition, I began to wonder whether the baby had been thrown out with the bathwater.
The underlying principle behind the veneration of relics is the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. As one commentator puts it,
"In a nutshell, because God Himself was made Man for our sake and was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary to redeem and divinize human nature, and because the glorified human nature of the Risen Lord communicates the Holy Ghost to the members of the redeemed human family, the communion of saints, and thus makes the bodies of the Saints to be temples, dwelling-places of the Holy Spirit, the bodies of those who are acknowledged to have possessed heroic sanctity in this life are honored, venerated as holy possessions of God and dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. A sober, healthy, balanced, sane, biblical theology of the Saints and of their earthly Relics is intensely incarnational and sacramental - the flesh is honored as the vehicle of the Spirit. By honoring the bodies of the Saints, and by honoring their holy Images, we are taught to honor each other and to recognize in the human body, redeemed and sanctified in Christ, the locus of the Spirit of God."
As we quickly approach the mystery of the incarnation of God at Christmas, it is fitting that we bless new reliquaries to house the relics of two saints of the church this Sunday: St. Cecilia and St. Theresa of the Little Flower. St. Cecilia was a third century martyr now regarded as the patroness of music, and St. Teresa of the Little Flower was a late nineteenth-century French nun who lovingly pursued holiness in ordinary life. They will fit in nicely with the image of the nine other female saints on the front panel of the high altar.
Like most first-class relics, there are very small pieces of the saint's bone encased in a small container with glass on one side and removable metal back. When the metal back is removed, there is a wax seal placed by the bishop who attested to the relic’s authenticity. We will display them on the altar during most seasons of the church year.
Relics remind us that our faith is gritty and earthy, and that God chose to enter into the grittiness of this world through human flesh and blood. Our veneration of relics is an outpouring of our belief in the resurrection of the body, and makes tangible the prayer requests we bring to the saints in heaven in the hopes that they pray for us to the Father.
We will bless the reliquaries on Sunday during the 10:00 Mass, and will offer the faithful a moment to venerate the sacred relics of these two holy women after the service has concluded. Saints Cecilia and Theresa, pray for us!
Dear St. Mary’s Family,
As we do every year during the Easter season, we are observing the sprinkling rite at Mass. Despite the mask, you may have noticed the look of joy in my eyes when I earnestly try to douse you as thoroughly as possible with holy water. It’s not just because I want to mess up your hairdo and get your glasses wet, it’s because it is such a joyful experience to remind you tangibly of your baptism. In the waters of baptism, we were buried with Christ into his death so that just as he was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life. This is what the use of holy water is all about.
Holy water is simply water that has been blessed by a priest or bishop. It has been used for religious purposes other than baptism in the Church since the 4th century. Beyond its use at burials, blessings, dedications, and exorcisms, holy water has been kept in “stoups” at the entrances of churches for ceremonial cleansing since at least the 9th century. It is common to see members of the faithful dipping their fingers into the stoup and then making the sign of the cross when entering the church.
Holy water is also available to be used privately in the home. For example, when I say Morning and Evening Prayer at home, I place some holy water on my fingers and make the sign of the cross at the beginning of the service. It can also be used in cooking, and may be used to bless your home, car, or workspace.
I encourage you to use holy water regularly as part of your private devotions at home! Accordingly, this weekend and beyond, you may take a bottle of holy water home with you after Mass. By its use, may be tangibly reminded of your own death and resurrection with Christ in the waters of baptism.
 Romans 6:3-4, NRSV.
 See the articles on “holy water” and “stoups” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingston, Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom, 1997.
Dear St. Mary's Family,
This week, Kansas City issued revised guidelines for restrictions on gatherings as the rates of infection, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 continue to rise steeply. Generally speaking, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, though regularly scheduled church services are exempted from this limit, provided mask and social distancing requirements are followed.
The Vestry met last night, and despite the "exemption," we believe that it is prudent to increase the level of restrictions for attendance for in-person worship effective immediately:
Some churches in the area have chosen to discontinue in-person worship entirely. Why, you may ask, are we continuing to keep our doors open to the public?
As your rector and parish priest, I believe it is essential to provide access to public worship and to the Sacraments of the Church, provided that we can do it safely. We are sacramental Christians, meaning that we believe God uses physical things (e.g. bread and wine) to communicate his grace and love to us. While livestreamed worship is edifying and allows a significant level of participation, there is no way to transport the bread and wine from the altar at St. Mary's into your home. We've had no known instances of transmission during a church service in our parish, or in the wider Diocese of West Missouri, and as an obsessive reader about coronavirus issues as they relate to church services, I've seen no evidence of transmission in churches across the country that are being as conservative as we are with attendance caps, and mask and social distancing requirements.
We all know that saying at home as much as possible is the best way to reduce risk of transmission of the coronavirus. Many of you have decided not to attend in-person, or to attend sporadically, and I respect and affirm your decision. The clergy of St. Mary's are committed to providing the Sacraments to you either one-on-one at church or at your home (inside or outside, rain or shine!). If you wish to schedule such a visit, please email any of us individually, or contact us via this form.
We continue to pray daily for those who are sick with coronavirus, and for those who have died. We are also praying fervently for an end to this pandemic. Please continue to pray for me as I pray for you!
If you wish to register for in-person worship, click here, or call the church office at 816-842-0975. Click here to read our current safety precautions and guidelines.
For further reading and reference
Safer at Home COVID-19 Guidelines for Kansas City 11.16.2020
KCMO COVID-19 FAQs 11.16.2020
Greetings St. Mary’s Family,
I hope you are all well given the worldwide pandemic that has changed so much of our day-to-day existence. For me personally, it has been a trying time. Like many of us, I was thrust into drastically changing the way I do my job, which in my case meant massive changes to my entire course load at William Jewell College with a week’s notice this past March. Over the summer, I spent a great deal of time researching and re-thinking how music is taught, performed, and experienced in preparation for teaching this fall. Through this process, I gained some ideas that I think might work for St. Mary’s as well.
I know I speak for our St. George’s Choristers when I say that we greatly miss the community of the church, the solemnity of our worship, and the beauty of our choral and communal singing. In light of this, I do want to take a moment and publicly thank our St. George’s Scholars for their hard work learning difficult mass settings in ancient chant and solo after solo so that we could continue to have beautiful music in our services throughout the summer and into this fall.
Singing and COVID-19
Many of you may already know most of this information, but it does apply to all of us as we participate in a tradition with a history of communal singing. Early in the pandemic, a church choir from the west coast was identified as causing widespread transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that would lead to the coronavirus disease COVID-19. This put the music community on high alert and, across the country, music organizations closed their doors and canceled their seasons as a precautionary measure. We quickly realized that we would need music-specific studies that would inform us as to what are best practices to mitigate the transmission of the virus and keep our colleagues, friends, and families safe. In light of this need, several major music organizations (ACDA, NAfMe, CBDNA, etc.) banded together and funded a study through the University of Colorado. The second round of preliminary data released on August 6th with more on the way. If you’d like to explore this information, I encourage you to go here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/unprecedented-international-coalition-led-by-performing-arts-organizations-to-commission-covid-19-study/
Basically, what we’ve found out is that the virus is transmitted through the air in tiny particles that are much more present when people are singing and playing instruments due to the speed and intensity of the air necessary for this activity. So, the accepted thought right now is that we can sing in small groups IF we wear well-fitting masks, stay socially distanced (6ft minimum depending on the location), rehearse outside or in a very well-ventilated area, and keep the singing to 30 (preferably fewer) minutes. However, this still increases risk, particularly for those who are immunocompromised or are in other high-risk categories as you’ve undoubtedly seen all over the news and social media. Therefore service the way we used to know it (at least musically) will not be able to happen until we have access to quick and accurate testing or a readily available vaccine.
What does this mean for music at St. Mary’s?
Fr. Charles and I are exploring every option to allow for some singing to occur during our services. We have reached out to local experts and colleagues from churches around the country to get a feel for what is and isn’t working with regards to pandemic-influenced music making. However, we will not make an irresponsible decision that would intentionally endanger anyone. So, there may be some beautiful harmony coming our way at some point this fall, but it won’t be until we have vetted the ideas and made sure we are mitigating as much risk of transmission as possible.
In the meantime, the St. George’s Scholars are attempting an experiment this week and they will be recording our first virtual anthem. I have already met with several of the singers to get started on the project and I think it will be lovely. Many of the St. George’s Choristers have said they would like to participate in future projects once we’ve mastered how to do this! If all works out, we will use this unconventional medium as an opportunity for the St. Mary’s music program to reach people through our YouTube channel and other social media platforms, and perhaps help us grow interest in our services both streaming and in person. So, keep an eye out! We will hopefully have our first offering done by this coming weekend (September 20 or so).
Thank you for your constant support of the music program at St. Mary’s. I love being part of this community and I look forward to the day that we can sing together again.
Dr. Anthony J. Maglione
Director of Music and Choirmaster
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Roman Catholic authorities recently published two new liturgical texts in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The first is a votive Mass "in the time of pandemic", and the second is a an addition to the Solemn Collects of Good Friday.
You can find the votive Mass here, along with the accompanying decree here. The lessons are in Latin on page 3, and the other parts of the liturgy are in English on page 8. According to pages 16 and 17 of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, such a votive Mass may be used daily in the near future, except Principal Feasts, Sundays, Holy Days, weekdays in Holy Week, and the Triduum.
The addition to the Good Friday liturgy can be found here (page 4), and the Vatican's decree is here. Should you wish to use this on Good Friday, I recommend that you ask your bishop for permission.
Because we use Rite I at St. Mary's, I've adapted these resources into traditional language here.
A brief word of commentary:
Despite the fact that the votive Mass was created due to "requests...to be able to celebrate a specific Mass to implore God to bring an end to this pandemic," the liturgical text doesn't contain a direct request to God to intervene to end the pandemic. That is unfortunate in my mind. That said, I'm not comfortable with some of the language in the older "Votive Mass for the Deliverance from Death in Time of Pestilence" - particularly the Collect: "O God, who willest not the death of the sinner but that he should repent: welcome with pardon Thy people’s return to Thee: and so long as they are faithful in Thy service, do Thou in Thy clemency withdraw the scourge of Thy wrath." It will be important to emphasize to the faithful (perhaps in the sermon) that your specific Mass intention is for God to intervene to bring an end to this awful plague.
Dear St. Mary's Family,
Each day, it seems that more and more information that is brought to light about the inhumane conditions that exist for children and other asylum seekers in government custody. Many people who are fleeing violence and danger arrive at our borders looking for relief and a safer life for their families, only to find themselves in overcrowded detention centers that lack basic sanitation, causing more suffering and even death.
Despite being a news junkie, I find it difficult to sort through all of the issues involved with what is clearly a crisis on the southern border of the United States. What is clear is that there is no simple solution. We can and should respectfully debate the country's immigration laws and policies, but beyond calling our representatives in Congress - an important step, no doubt - what can we do to love and care for these people in Jesus's name?
Over the past several weeks, The Episcopal Church has issued a response to the border crisis that includes calls for donations and goods from Episcopal dioceses on the border, prayers for those seeking safety, efforts to engage in advocacy, and pastoral messages from bishops around the Church. You can read the church's response here. A list of resources for education and support is available via the Episcopal Migration Ministries' website here.
This crisis extends far beyond the southern border of our country. Immigrants all over the country - both those here legally and illegally - are subject to appalling treatment (click here for a particularly vile example here in Kansas City). We need to prayerfully discern how St. Mary's is called to respond, not only to immigration-related injustice, but other important needs in our city.
To that end, I've asked St. Mary's parishioner John Simpson to head up our Social Justice Ministry. He has formed an initial ministry team to begin discerning how we might address injustice in Kansas City. Please share any thoughts you may have directly with him at church or via email. Once this new ministry team formulates a plan of action, you'll hear more about how you can get involved.
In the meantime, please join me in praying for immigrants and those who care for them. And please join me and all your brothers and sisters at St. Mary's in treating and serving the foreigners among us as though they are our own citizens, our own neighbors, our own family. (Leviticus 19:33-34).
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19)
St. Mary’s Family,
Have you ever looked around the photos of the former clergy of the parish hanging in the parish hall and thought, “What’s with the hat?” The biretta has been used regularly throughout this parish’s history, and this coming Sunday, you’ll see it in use once again.
The precise origin of this four-sided brimless cap is debated, though it is likely that its roots are in the academic headgear of the high Middle Ages. At the time, the clergy were amongst the few with an academic degree and the biretta ultimately became especially associated with the clergy. It evolved to the form you see today by the early sixteenth century, with regulations defining its ecclesiastical use being written a hundred years later. The biretta has fallen out of disuse in today’s world, a point made rather bluntly on The Episcopal Church’s website: “It is rarely used in The Episcopal Church, except in some parishes with an Anglo-Catholic piety.” St. Mary’s is certainly that!
In the public liturgies of the Church, generally, the biretta is worn by the Sacred Ministers – priest, deacon, and subdeacon – in procession and while seated, while assisting clergy carry it at the breast in procession and wear it while seated. But perhaps the most important part of the use of the biretta is that it is removed anytime the Holy Name of Jesus is mentioned.
The preacher this Sunday (yours truly) will be tempted to say the name of Jesus as many times as possible during the sermon just to enjoy the look on the parishioners’ faces upon seeing the constant bobbing of hats behind him. Or perhaps we will observe the standard custom of doffing the first three times the Holy Name is used and then stop with the madness. Either way, the doffing of the biretta is a powerful, visual reminder for all to bow their heads in humble reverence when hearing that “name that is above every name.”
May its continued use at St. Mary’s lead us all to a closer devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus!
 James-Charles Noonan, Jr., The Church Visible (New York: Sterling Ethos, 2012), 266.
 The minor order of subdeacon has not existed in the Churches of English heritage since the Reformation, but a good number of Anglo-Catholic parishes like ours have maintained the liturgical role of subdeacon. In our parish, the role of the subdeacon is typically served by someone who is aspiring to be ordained.
On Sunday, we will use the Exhortation as the Bidding to Confession at St. Mary's.
The Exhortation has been part of the Anglican liturgy since the first prayer book in 1549. In a world of monthly or even quarterly celebrations of holy communion, it and was intended to be read on the Sunday or holy day prior to remind the faithful to approach the Holy Table worthily after having repented of their sins. Thankfully, in our day, weekly communion has been restored, but that means that we rarely hear these powerful words.
In the Exhortation, the Church invites us to approach the Holy Table worthily. By accident, the Eucharist can become mindless repetition. We mechanically sit, stand, and kneel, and recite the prayers from memory. We approach the altar without even thinking about what we’re doing…without thinking about who we are or who we are about to consume. The Exhortation reminds us that we are sinners called to repent, and that God is holy and stands ready to forgive us.
While the Lord calls us to receive communion worthily, the Eucharist is not a purity test. There are churches that teach that you can’t receive communion unless your soul is in a “state of grace”, meaning free from mortal sin and pleasing to God (as if you are somehow less pleasing to God at other times). That is not the message of the Exhortation! This isn’t about being refused communion because of what the Church or the priest think about your conduct, it’s instead a call to “judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.” We are called to examine our lives by the rule of God’s commandment, reconcile with God and with our neighbor, and then “come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.”
Beyond its occasional use at Mass, it is also a powerful tool for any Christian to use as a way to examine one’s conscience. As Lent quickly comes to an end, let remember the dignity of the most Holy Sacrament, and let us repent and return to the Lord!
An Exhortation – from page 316 of the Book of Common Prayer
This Exhortation may be used, in whole or in part, either during the Liturgy or at other times. In the absence of a deacon or priest, this Exhortation may be read by a lay person. The people stand or sit.
Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another.
Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life.
But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup.
For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.
Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith.
To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace [and humbly confess our sins to Almighty God].
Dear St. Mary's Family,
It is with great joy that I announce to you a very important change in the life of our congregation. As I'm sure you're aware, our parish has been worshiping using music and musical instruments that are woefully out-of-date. Effective next Sunday, we will be improving our Sunday morning worship experience by retiring our antiquated and ineffective music program and taking up more relevant, contemporary music that will be sure to bring in the young people!
In order to bring our parish into the 21st century, we will need a new acoustic guitar, bass guitar, drum set, and sound system, along with a screen that can be lowered from the rood. This important work will be funded by pawning off the organ pipes and hymnals. Our two primary staff musicians, Dr. Maglione and Dr. Wilcken, have happily resigned to make available the funds needed to hire the band and AV technicians.
Out with the Gregorian chant, and in with the strobe lights! By Easter, we will ready to sing "Shine, Jesus Shine" in a way that truly honors our Lord!
Fr. Charles Everson's love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.