Turning to Devotion of the 'Old Times'

Turning to Devotion of the 'Old Times'

Traditional 'smells and bells' liturgies finding new life on campus

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Lex orandi, lex credendi, holds the timeless Church adage: What we believe is reflected in how we pray.

The faith of some at Boston College is expressed amidst incense smoke and the ringing of altar bells, through ancient hymns and sacred music, and pious devotions like Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the saying of the Rosary.


Rev. Michael Moisin of St. Mary's Byzantine Mission of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton celebrates a Byzantine Catholic Mass at St. Mary's Chapel on Feb. 3. (Photo by Justin Knight)
"The Rosary, to me, is a chance to join the Communion of Saints and Mary in a prayer to Jesus," said Kevin Meme, '03, who leads a circle of friends in the ritual prayer each Wednesday at 11 p.m. in his Edmonds Hall suite.

For those given to traditional devotions, to what High Church Anglicans refer to as "smells and bells" worship, liturgical orthodoxy - of both the upper- and lower-case variety - may be found in increasing abundance on the Boston College campus.

Devotees of sacred music will have many opportunities to partake at BC in coming weeks and months, with Byzantine Catholic Masses, an Anglican-Use Catholic Solemn Evensong and Benediction service and the annual Lenten series of sung Masses all taking place at St. Mary's Chapel. Other events being planned range from weekly Orthodox Vespers at Cushing Hall Chapel to an outdoor Mass and procession honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary [see separate story]

"All of this movement corresponds to the revivification of the arts on the BC campus," said Assoc. Prof. Michael J. Connolly (Slavic and Eastern Languages), an archdeacon in the Armenian Catholic rite and talented early-music performer who has been instrumental in bringing Byzantine and other sung liturgies to campus.

He cited the Music at St. Mary's series arranged by Music Department chairman Assoc. Prof. T. Frank Kennedy, SJ, which regularly brings chamber performances of classical and sacred music to the chapel in the Jesuit residence, including a concert by the Boston Archdiocese's Black Catholic Choir tonight at 8 p.m.

"Art without religious art makes little sense on a Catholic campus," said Connolly, who performed at many of the Lenten sung Masses over the years with his Faculty Early Music Group.

"Religious devotion presses beyond the weak sobriety of words alone and seeks powerful expression in more highly symbolic modes of representation," he said. "Icons, vestments, incense, chant, architecture, gestures, poetry, sacred vessels, candles and the like give us a taste of our heavenly home, and they do so by engaging all of the senses in various combinations."

In this way, he said, Mozart's homage to the Blessed Sacrament, "Ave Verum Corpus (Hail, True Body)," describes the Eucharist "as a praegustatum, a foretaste.

"In the theology of the Eastern Church fathers - and also not alien to the West - all these things reflect the beauty and holiness of God, as he has given them to us in his creation. One cultivates these things in order to reflect the divine and to approach it."

Anglo-Catholicism is distinguished by resplendent ceremony, and its sublime smoke and bells will grace St. Mary's Chapel on Sunday at 4 p.m., when the Anglican-Use Congregation of St. Athanasius offers Solemn Evensong and the Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The "Anglican Use" provision allows converts to Roman Catholicism from the Anglican Communion to preserve elements of the Anglican prayer book in the celebration of the Mass.

Thus, the Congregation of St. Athanasius, founded under the provision by a group of former Episcopalians, maintains a High Church Anglican splendor in its worship at St. Theresa's Catholic Church in West Roxbury.

Evensong is the medieval English term for Vespers, the prayers sung before nightfall in the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, the regimen of morning, noon and night prayers said in the centuries-old monastic tradition.
Said every day, these prayers represent "the sanctification of time," said the St. Athanasius Congregation's chaplain, Rev. Richard Bradford. "Evensong is an opportunity more precious the longer the day, the more busy and crowded our days are."

At Benediction, worshipers are blessed with the consecrated Host, believed by Catholics to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The lighting of candles and incense and the singing of two traditional hymns of adoration, O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo Sacramentum, accompany the Exposition of the Sacrament.

Such traditional devotions speak to the heart and soul on an elemental level, said Fr. Bradford, a married former Anglican cleric who is now a Roman Catholic priest. "People in the world today are made in the image and likeness of the Almighty God and have something inside them that seeks the eternal," he said.

Rev. Tim Blumentritt, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America who is pursuing a doctorate in theology at Boston College, presides over weekly Orthodox Vespers services in Cushing Chapel.

Vespers is the Orthodox Church's "most simple service," said Fr. Blumentritt, but the half-hour rite is redolent of incense and candles and is sung throughout, with psalms and hymns for the saint of the day.
"Orthodoxy has no 'said' services," the priest explained. "Everything is a choral service. It takes some doing to put it together, even for the simplest service."

He emphasized prayer is an act not only of individual devotion, but of profound import to the universe of souls, and thus, Masses and prayer services - even those with only a handful of worshipers - are central to the Jesuit university's mission of service to others.

"By participating in this service of the Church, there is a connection to the Christian responsibility to pray for the whole world," Fr. Blumentritt said, "whether anyone is there [at the service] or not."

On a recent Sunday morning at St. Mary's Chapel, icons of Christ and the Madonna and Child adorned the sanctuary as a priest of the Romanian Catholic rite, Rev. Michael Moisin, sang the Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom.

The Byzantine Mass on Feb. 4 marked the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee on the Eastern calendar, and the chapel was filled with the sound of the clinking bells on the ornate thurible used by Fr. Moisin and assisting deacon Connolly to cense the altar.

The Mass was celebrated "as in the old times," in Fr. Moisin's description, with priest and worshipers together facing east toward the Risen Lord, and the flowering liturgy included passages in Romanian, Greek and Church Slavonic, as well as English.

A New England Conservatory student from Bulgaria, Maria Alexieva, sang the responses in a soaring, haunting voice. "There's something about the liturgy," Alexieva, interviewed afterward, said of Eastern Christianity, with its highly formalized ritual and appeal to the senses. "The moment you enter the church, it takes your breath away."

The singer, herself an Orthodox Christian, noted the Byzantine liturgy dates to an age when the Church's Eastern and Western portions were united, before the schism of 1,000 years ago. "It goes back to the past when we were all one," she said.

The Byzantine liturgy today celebrated by some 200 million Christians originated in the third century and has been handed down virtually unchanged to the current day, said Fr. Moisin.

"The sense of mystery and holiness - we want to preserve that," he said.

 

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