|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
|2350: St Vincent
Ferrer, New York City
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
St Vincent Ferrer,
New York City.
Roman Catholic. St Vincent Ferrer is a priory church of the
Order of Preachers, commonly known as Dominicans, Province
of St Joseph.
Designed by the noted neo-Gothic ecclesiastical architect Bertrand
Grosvenor Goodhue in the style of 14th century French Gothic
with echoes of Norman Romanesque. The front entrance of the
church is dominated by a stone high relief depiction of the
crucifixion, framed by Saints Francis of Assisi, Vincent Ferrer,
and Dominic, with over 30 other saints, popes, and doctors of
the Church. The interior is dominated by the high altar, the
centerpiece of which is the tabernacle covered in gold and precious
metals. The monks' choir and chapel is to the right of the altar,
and has a gorgeous polished stone floor.
As this is a priory church of the Dominican order, the canonical
hours are sung daily, using Dominican chant. There are four
masses on Sundays, three during the week, and one on Saturdays.
The parish is also quite active in the community, with co-sponsorship
of a soup kitchen, a women's shelter, and free classes in English
as a second language.
St Vincent Ferrer is located on the Upper East Side, which has
been Manhattan's most prestigious residential district for well
over a century. Nearby is the chic boutique scene on Madison
Avenue that has dominated the city's luxury market since at
least the 1940s. According to census data, the neighborhood’s
median family income is more than five times that of the rest
of New York City.
The Revd Austin Dominic Litke, O.P., celebrant. He was assisted
by four acolytes whose names weren't listed in the bulletin.
The Revd James Dominic Brent, O.P. delivered the homily.
The date & time:
Wednesday, March 7, 2012, 6.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Missa Cantata. This was the first celebration of mass
in the Dominican rite on the East Coast in more than 40 years.
How full was the building?
Approaching 300, which was quite good turnout, I thought.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was handed an order of the service by one of the friars,
and directed to a pew.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews have very straight backs, so they are quite resistant
to any sort of slouching.
How would you describe the pre-service
Fairly silent, with folks quietly coming in and others at prayer.
Few, if any, were chatting. It also smelled overwhelmingly like
artichokes cooking, which struck me as odd.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
The introit of the day: In medio ecclesiae aperuit os eius,
et implevit eum Dominus spiritu sapientiae... ("In
the midst of the assembly he opened his mouth, and the Lord
filled him with the spirit of wisdom...")
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Everyone used the very complete service bulletin, which offered
the text of the Latin service and translation into English.
I noticed a few brought their own Latin missals, but I'm not
sure how useful those would have been, since this was a Dominican
Rite mass and not Tridentine. Celebrating the Eucharist
(Classic Edition) was in the pew, but remained unopened.
What musical instruments
None. There was an organ prelude and postlude listed in the
bulletin, but neither was played. Perhaps the organist couldn't
Did anything distract you?
Distractions abounded, but I suppose the biggest was looking
for points where the Dominican rite differs from the Latin rite
that I know. I also noticed the lovely ironwork on the chapels,
with one set off with a decorative grill topped with angels
and candles that must look really pretty when lit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was positively medieval. In the 13th century each Catholic
diocese had their own variant of the liturgy. Because Dominicans
traveled frequently from diocese to diocese, it became increasingly
more difficult to recall the local customs. In 1267 they received
permission to codify their own rite so that all of the Dominican
houses, regardless of location or diocese, would celebrate the
same rite. At tonight's mass, the processional had the cross
facing backwards, away from the altar. The celebrant walked
with his head covered with the amice, which he lowered to his
shoulders as the mass began. The most striking difference between
the two rites is that in the Dominican rite, the priest makes
his chalice immediately upon arrival at the altar, not at the
offertory. The Dominican Confiteor differs somewhat
from the Roman, and other prayers and gestures differ as well.
The chant is somewhat different from what one usually hears.
Mass ended with Salve Regina using the Dominican melody.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 You could tell that Father Brent was an incredibly
well-trained public speaker; it was such a polished presentation.
He had to have been working from notes, but you really wouldn't
have known it, as he rarely looked down. He knew when to pause,
how to pitch his voice to emphasize important points, and definitely
made it all look so easy. It's not for nothing that St Dominic
named his community the Order of Preachers!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Father Brent began by asking how, as the psalm entreats us to
do, we may come humbly before the Lord with gratitude. Aquinas
had argued that humans are by nature religious, which is part
of the natural order, and are searching for the appropriate
sacrifice. Our secular age is abnormal and unnatural because
it is rooted in a forgetfulness that God has ordered all things.
We are secular because we have been told that enlightenment
science answers questions better and progressive education argues
that morality is a myth.
Which part of the service was like being in
Definitely all the chant! Dominican chant is similar to Gregorian
chant, but also has its differences. It was fascinating to hear
how a different chant tradition preserves in different forms
what are essentially the same melodies.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Despite the preacher's expertise, the sermon seemed more than
a little out of touch and approaching anti-intellectual, which
is odd considering what an important figure Aquinas is in the
intellectual history of the Church.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing really. Nobody approached, so we walked around and took
pictures. But on our way out, there were a group of Dominican
fathers waiting and we were invited to a reception in the undercroft.
How would you describe the after-service
Very lively and quite the spread, with wine, cheese, crudités
and gourmet pizzas.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 Not really my neck of the woods, but it is always a treat to visit.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, without a doubt.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hearing a 13th century service in the 21st.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.