Wednesday, June 17, 2009

'Gospel' and 'Anglican Use' Masses Exist Side-by-Side at Kansas City Parish

The Kansas City Star Sunday Magazine ran an extensive feature on one of Kansas City's most interesting parishes this week.

St. Therese Little Flower lies in a now largely African-American neighborhood in Kansas City. It has long had what most would consider a regular Sunday Mass, as well as a Gospel themed Mass.

What is so unusual, is that since December, the parish has also been home to the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph's first Anglican Use Mass and community.

The administrator of St. Therese, Fr. Ernie Davis, is a former Episcopal priest who's married with children. Some time ago, an Anglican congregation in Kansas City approached Fr. Davis about joining the Catholic Church.

Bishop Robert Finn received the group into the Church and allowed for the provision of Anglican Use liturgy at St. Therese.

Fr. Davis is the eager celebrant at both the Gospel and Anglican Use Masses. Here's a bit of the flavor of the Gospel Mass as reported by the Star:
At the gospel Mass, every choir member sways and claps in unison — without any discussion or noticeable urging from director Caron Williams.

From the microphone, Sharon Hardy of Cameron belts, “I knew the Lord would bring me out … ”

A guitar, trombone and drums back her soprano solo as the crescendo of surrounding voices grows louder for the chorus.

From the pews, Burdick claps to the beat.

“Thank you, Jesus!” she shouts.

Its iridescent cover gleaming, the red and green Ethiopian-style Book of Gospels is walked to the lectern. The entire congregation joins the choir’s “Alleluia.” Arms are raised for the second verse, and cymbal clangs punctuate the gentle melody.

Art Winter walks to the lectern for a reading from the letter of St. John.

“Let us love one another,” he reads, “ … Whoever is without love does not know God, because God is love.”

From her spot at the piano, Williams, who is African Methodist Episcopal Zion and not a member, begins “Alleluia.”

The call and response style is part of the black tradition, B.J. Atkinson says, and it emerged as St. Therese’s dominant style as the neighborhood demographics changed throughout the second half of the 20th century.

And a bit about the Anglican Use liturgy:
Shortly before 11:15 a.m., women in one family each pull a mantilla, a small cap made of netting, out of a plastic bag. The wooden board at the front pew had been blank minutes earlier, but placard numbers now indicate the five songs for the day. Scattered throughout the pews with hymnals open, the 30 or so white worshippers rise as the priest and deacons march forward with incense and staffs in hand.

From the organ, Bruce Prince-Joseph, 84, a veteran New York Philharmonic organist who collaborated with Leonard Bernstein, indicates with raised hands when the congregation is to join the cantor.

Because it moves more slowly and is full of chanting, one might be inclined to describe the Mass as “somber,” but Davis makes a distinction.

Whereas the earlier Masses work from the standpoint of Christ as immanent in the community, he says the Anglican Use — its mood, music and liturgy — is more intimate, reflecting individual contemplation.

Polite smiles and handshakes make up the sign of peace, and no amens are heard during the readings. These and other differences, including kneeling to receive the Eucharist and the use of incense, satisfy what Davis describes as a yearning on the part of some parishioners for the dignity, formality and transcendence of the Catholic Church.

So what unites the very different Masses?
There is one constant among the Masses, though: Davis preaches the same homily to each of the groups. He often gesticulates more at the early Masses and is more likely to inject personal experiences. But neither the inspirational Scripture nor the message changes throughout the day.

Davis says his ideal Mass is one that challenges, regardless of the way that challenge is presented.

“The gospel Mass challenges people to get up, clap their hands, talk to their neighbors and find God in the people there with them,” he says. “The Anglican Use challenges people to find a God who is just beyond our ability to see him, a God who is majestic and worthy of praise.”

Do read the whole thing. There is much more in there about this remarkable parish beyond liturgy styles.

Another new addition to the parish not mentioned - It's now the parish home of Kansas City's 'A Simple House'. This incredible ministry of friendship and service with the poor began in Washington, DC. The Washington Post did a fantastic profile on them there, and The Catholic Key had a story on their expansion to Kansas City.

(Photos by Rich Sugg)