Friday, December 27, 2019

Silent Night - Holy Night?

Silent night, Holy night. 
Shepherds quake at the sight.

Beautifully carved and perfectly polished they are in our homes, offices and gardens.  We call them: Nativity , crèche, or presipio.  

Shepherds and magi alike kneel at the manger in pristine, wrinkle-free, perfectly draped robes.  One can not detect the  
faintest scent of sheep or cow.  Wonderful representations for sure; but not exactly realistic.

I wonder if Joseph Mohr was looking at a Nativity Scene as he penned arguably the most iconic hymn text of all time.

I doubt, however Mohr was thinking about this section of Luke’s gospel:

“The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt. His mother said, “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.”         
Luke 2:46-48

— The Message Catholic/Ecumenical Edition by Eugene Peterson, William Griffin

Sleep in heavenly peace
(Unless you’re the parent of small children)

OK, time for a flash quiz:   
Which of the following are true?

A)  Josef Mohr had 7 children and 26 grandchildren 
B)  Joseph Mohr was a pediatric physician
C)  Joseph Mohr went to live and study in a monastery at age 16 

And the correct answer is.....

Let me put it this way:  a musician and priest who went to live in a Monastery at age 16 knows as much about the realities of child-rearing as a Martian studying farm animals by looking at a Nativity Scene in store window.

As we sit between 3 months of Christmas movies and New Years resolutions let us remember that each of our imperfect families; your’s and mine can be good, loving, Christian, Holy Families.

Perhaps you will be inspired by Joseph Mohr; born to an unmarried embroiderer and a mercenary soldier and deserter, who abandoned his family before the birth of his son.

All Is Calm, all is bright.
Christ, the Savior is born.

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s


Friday, December 20, 2019

O Come O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Welcome to “Liturgical Notes.”

If you are reading this on December 24th or later:  Merry Christmas!
If you are a visitor: Welcome to St. Mary’s!
If you are reading this on the 4th Sunday of Advent: Welcome back!

What follows is the second part of a “Liturgical Note” on the “O” Antiphons. These are the 7 longings contained in the hymn; “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” You can find the hymn at #38 in the purple hymnal located in the pews. 

Part one of this note (found at included the following commentary:

The Roman Church has been singing the "O" Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative "Come!" embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

United States Conference of Bishops (USCB)

Those of you reading this on Christmas might be wondering; “What does a 1300 year old Advent Hymn have to do with Christmas?” 

Press on, and I will state my case. My goal is that by the end you will be convinced “It has EVERYTHING to do with Christmas!”

No matter which Mass you attend, you will hear the words of the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in the first reading. Think of the prophets as divinely inspired commentators who spoke/wrote about the state of the world in which they lived. Their words contained seeds of hope for the future, specifically; the hope for a Messiah. (The definition of “Messiah” includes the words: leader, deliverer and savior).

We as Christians believe the fruit of these seeds, what the USCB calls “Old testament hopes“ to be Jesus; whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

So what about the “present hopes” of which the Bishops speak?

How about a world that is just and fair?

A world where everyone has enough to eat?
A world where all people are respected?
A world free from division, hatred and violence?

Isn’t this the world Isaiah described?

The world that the grown-up Christ-child called the Kingdom of God?
A world you and I would like to wrap up and put under the tree for our children and grand-children to open?

You and I are called to share in the creation of this world.   We as the Church are called to continue the work of the Christ-child - The Messiah in leading, delivering and saving our world.

We pray for this world at every Mass and when we say: “Thy Kingdom come; on earth as it is in heaven.”

Now the work of CHRIST-mas begins!

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
What does this bring to mind?

A song, perhaps?
Can you recall some of the words?  
Maybe a melody?
Does singing the melody help you recall more words?
Try it.

The “Liturgical Notes” for this week and next week center around the “O” Antiphons; the text of the Hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  This week’s note focuses on the text and musical settings. Next week will speak to the place of the “O” Antiphons in the Church’s Advent prayer.

The following definition provides a good starting point:

The Roman Church has been singing the "O" Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative "Come!" embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

                  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The “O” Antiphons are based on the writings of the prophets like Isaiah, whom we hear proclaimed this Advent.  The antiphons ARE the “magnificent theology” which describe the attributes of God the Messiah will embody. The first two reflect God’s Divinity taking on human form:

  • Emmanuel - literally “God with us” or the Divine God in human form
  • Wisdom - an attribute connected to God’s Holy Spirit

As Christians, we believe that the baby born of Mary is the Messiah for whom our Jewish brothers and sisters longed.  For almost 2000 years (since Christ’s Ascension to be exact) Christians have longed for His return. This is the primary preparation of Advent.

The text of the “O” Antiphons permeates our advent prayer and music.

We will sing some of it in the acclamation occuring where the Gloria is normally sung.  (The gloria is omitted during Advent and Lent.). We will sing all of it at offertory using a tune written by Steve Angrisano (Emmanuel #56.)

You will hear and sing the traditional chant melody in the Missa Emmanuel; a mass setting composed by Richard Proulx.  Listen closely as the leader of song intones: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.”

Wishing you a blessed Advent as I am blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; 
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, 
as water covers the sea.
Isaiah 11:9

Have you ever been looking for something...and found something else?  Something you forgot you had? Something you treasured?

Let’s say you were looking for a Christmas cookie recipe you clipped last year.  After searching everywhere you go to that one place you were trying to avoid - the dreaded junk drawer at the end of the kitchen cabinet.  You know, the one where we stuff everything we’re afraid to get rid of. The one we neaten only when it is stuck shut due to the overflow.

You empty about two thirds of the drawer, and there it is!  Not the silly cookie recipe but your grandmother’s chestnut stuffing recipe - the one that you’ve been thinking about for years.  Your heart leaps as you see her beautiful handwriting on a yellowed index card.


A collaboration of St. Anthony and the Holy Spirit?

A few weeks ago I was searching the 21st century version of the dreaded kitchen drawer - the hard drive of my computer.  I typed “advent cycle-a” into the search bar and waited hopefully. What I wanted never showed up. What I received was far better.

It was a copy of this column from the Second Sunday of Advent 2016. The year is significant because today is the first time we hear these readings since then. 

In it, I used the image of God’s holy mountain in today’s first reading and offertory song to introduce the newly-formed Social Concerns Ministry.  Here is part of what I wrote: 

In January St. Mary’s will be forming a social concerns team.  We will be looking for ways that we can actively work toward the building of Christ’s kingdom here in Nutley and beyond. 
As you hear and sing Isaiah’s words in today’s offertory song please consider reaching out to me via e-mail or at the parish center to be part of this social concerns effort.
In three years our list of volunteers has swelled to just under 100 people.   
What began with our participation in the Nutley-Belleville care kitchen has grown to include other on-going and one-time efforts.  
We’ve just completed our first year of the We Are St. Mary’s social gatherings on the first Sunday of each month and are considering expanding in the coming year. 
We’ve attracted a coordinator, Bruce Segall, who helps St. Mary’s stay at the forefront of the Church’s efforts to be a Community of Salt and Light.
So what about you?  Will the words of Isaiah move you to be a part of our efforts?
All it takes to start is a phone call (973) 235-1100 or an Email

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,


Sunday, December 1, 2019

“The Advent mystery…
 Is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.”
                                   Thomas Merton

I have been planning the advent season since early October.

Isaiah’s image of God’s holy mountain never fails to inspire. The melodies written in the somber yet hopeful tones of the minor mode move me.  Song ideas and their places in the liturgy come easily.  

But then I am confronted by today’s gospel.    

Two men out in the field. Two women grinding at the mill.  In each case, one accompanied Jesus to the Kingdom. The other was left behind.   I can’t help but extrapolate two church musicians playing at Mass......

Why?  Is this the advent mystery to which Thomas Merton refers?

The answer seems to be contained in Jesus’ command to stay awake.

Stay awake.  What does this mean?  I’ve been thinking about this for the past week. 

Maybe the people in today’s gospel were so busy doing they failed to hear Jesus calling.

This might mean that the whole idea of preparation is not a verb but an adjective. 

Not about what I am doing but my state of being.  

Maybe Advent is about being mindful of the presence of Christ around me and being open to his call. 

One of the acclamations I’ve included this year is “Prepare ye, the way of the Lord.” The cantor will sing the first part and all will respond with the second part. I’m sure you will know the tune.

I’ve purposely planned periods of quiet instrumental music around the singing to allow for a time of being within this time of doing.

Blessed to begin this Advent season with you at St. Mary’s,


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Who Shot JR?

Who Shot J.R.?

The title of this article may remind baby boomers of a time when a family’s mid-week activities were scheduled around their favorite t.v. drama. If you are gen-x or gen-y, allow me to explain:  (cue Star Wars thee and roll text)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away......
There was no Netflix
No binge-watching
No “Let’s watch one more episode and sleep  late tomorrow.”

Today, the one thing people of all ages have in common is that when the current season ends everyone must wait for the next one to be released.  

Producers and writers have come up with the perfect device to tease us during this time of waiting.  It is called the cliff-hanger.

So what does this have to do with the Solemnity of Christ the King?   

Consider that the producers of the lectionary have taken us through an entire church-year.  The writers of the Gospels have presented episodes including:

  •  Prepare ye the way of the Lord
  •  A child is born for us today
  •  If you love me, you will keep my commandments
  •  I am leaving but will send you the Advocate; the Holy Spirit
  •  The kingdom of heaven is like…..

On this last Sunday of the church year we arrive at what may be the greatest of all cliff-hangers.  

Jesus is literally hanging on the cross accompanied by two thieves who also on a cross and at a “cross-road.”  

The cliff-hanger is presented by the opposing alternatives presented by each thief.  One is fueled by failure and doubt, the other inspired by hope and faith.  

We sing the resolution to the cliff-hanger in today’s processional hymn “Crown Him With Many Crowns” (#732).  I hope you will follow and pray the text whether you choose to sing or not.

Blessed to have spent another year in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,


Friday, November 15, 2019

Previously on This is Us

One day this past summer my daughter called saying she had tickets to watch a taping of “Late Night” with Seth Meyers. The big guest of the evening would be Milo Vetimiglia, the star of “This is Us”. 

We arrived at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, tickets in hand before 3:30, While the taping did not begin for 2 hours, we were told that if we didn’t arrive by this time our spots would be given to someone with “standby tickets.”

Being on time wasn’t the only rule. We had to be dressed appropriately (we might get on camera). We were also told (multiple times) that once we got inside the studio, we could not leave until the taping was over. If we did, we could not re-enter.

Finally, we were taken as groups on elevators and assigned numbers to enter the theater in a prescribed order.  The rule was to file in and take the next seat at the direction of the NBC page standing at the end of the row. There would be no switching seats or sitting on the end and forcing people to climb over us.

At each stop we were entertained by professional comedians whose job it was to pump us up.  We were repeatedly reminded that “the success of the show would be directly related to our energy.”

I can tell you that Alessandra and I followed all the rules and were rewarded by hearing Milo Ventimiglia talk about his new movie and his experience on This Is Us.


Consider how you would feel if the previous “rules” were requirements for coming to mass today. 

Now take a few minutes to reread this article and see what you’d accept and what you would not if it was required for you to attend Mass. (Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)

Now I’m certainly not advocating adding rules for admission to or participation in mass.  But out of curiosity, did you follow my instructions in the last paragraph? If not, why? If so, were you put off by these rules?

I’m sure you would agree that hearing Milo Ventimiglia pitch a movie that lasted about two weeks in theaters is nowhere near as important as meeting Christ in the Eucharist. So why would people (including myself) follow multiple rules to view a taping of a talk show yet bristle if asked to come outside our comfort zone at Mass?  

I conclude with a quote from the church’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy.  (The emphasis is my own.)

The church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ faithful when present at this mystery of faith should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, for a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing with devotion and full collaboration.

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,


Friday, November 8, 2019

This saying is trustworthy: 
If f we have died with him, we shall also live with him.
                               2 Timothy 2:11

It is Monday morning. The deadline for this “Liturgical note” sits at the top of my to-do list.  Sipping my coffee, I take a fresh glance at the readings which will be proclaimed this weekend.

The first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees seems like a dramatic moment in a Netflix miniseries. The torture of the seven brothers and their mother is vividly gruesome.   To make things worse, what we hear proclaimed today is an ABRIDGED VERSION.  

Feeling overwhelmed, I procrastinate by opening my yahoo news feed.   Before I write more about what Ii find this let me go back to today’s scripture reading.

The Maccabees were a group of Jewish people who preserved the faith during a time of intense  persecution. Their valor and success are integral to the Jewish celebration of Hanukah.

You may ask why this book is part of our (Catholic) bible? More importantly, you may wonder why the  crafters of the lectionary decided to include it on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary time. I would suggest two reasons:

  1.  It is a story of fidelity (i.e faithfulness) to the law.
  2.  It tells of God’s promise that those who are faithful will have a future beyond death. *  
* hence the quote from Paul’s letter to Timothy at the top of this page.

This brings me to the headline on my yahoo feed that continues to be part of my prayer and reflection:

“At the age of 95, Jimmy Carter says he’s “completely at ease with death”.

Despite living what many would consider to be an extraordinary life, the former president continues to call himself “a simple peanut farmer”. He lives in the same modest home that he lived in before he became president. At 95 he finds the time to teach Sunday School and the energy to participate in building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

President Carter may not be a hero like the seven brothers and their mother who refused to renounce their faith when faced with torture and death. He is, however what gerontologists call a super-senior. More importantly he is an example of what it is to live a life of fidelity and trust in Christ’s promise of eternal life.

I have selected Stand By Me (#633) as our offertory hymn as it highlights God’s faithfulness during times of trial.  

We will also sing Tis A Gift to be Simple (#518) as a reminder that faithful living need not be dramatic or headline catching.  It can be as simple as reconsidering how we spend our time and moving service higher up our to-do lists.

Last, but not least; we will conclude our liturgies by honoring our veterans in the closing blessing and by singing Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory (#577)

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.

Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.
                                                                        Preface for Christian Death

I wake up early, open my computer but go no further. The view through the window has taken hold of my attention.  It’s not yet 7 a.m. but it is still dark. The rain shimmers as it passes between me and the streetlights. I walk to the window for a better look. When did all these leaves fall?   I open the window. It is warmer than I expected. It is as if I am standing on the cusp of summer and fall.

The church is also on the cusp of two seasons:  ordinary time (the end of the current liturgical year) and advent (the beginning of a new year).  Today is the first of 3 Sundays which precede this transition - The Solemnity of Christ the King.

The gospel for Christ the King reminds me of this dark morning.  Jesus hangs on the cross and and is taunted by the authorities as well as a criminal hanging next to him. They see him as just another dying leaf hanging from a tree limb - ready to fall and be swept away.  

Those with eyes of faith see something different.   

I am  the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower.  (John 15:1)

During November the church directs our attention to those who have lived, died and returned to the vine-grower.

Among these are the saints whose names are known by many like Saint Luke, the recorder of today’s gospel and the newly canonized Saint John Henry Newman.  

There are also those whose names are less known but precious to each of us.  They are our spouses, parents, grandparents, children, mentors and friends who have died.  As we receive the Eucharist we are communion with them through Jesus..

During communion we will pray the Litany of the Saints (#721).  The response “pray for us” in an invocation to the saints for us as well as those souls who await entrance into the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Blessed to be in ministry at St. Mary’s and honored to be part of the funeral liturgies for your loved ones over these past years.


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