Our Faith Worship Tradition
From her earliest days, St. Mary's has enjoyed the full Anglo-Catholic heritage of worship and belief. Employing the Book of Common Prayer for the daily and occasional offices and the Anglican Missal for the celebration of the Mass, Fr. Neal Dodd, our first rector, set the tone for our worship which remains today.
To some, that heritage means "smells and bells"—incense, beautiful vestments, and intricate ceremonial gestures and movements. At High Mass or Solemn Evensong, we do cloud the church with incense. The vestments of the clergy and, in fact, all things connected with our worship, are as beautiful as our skills and pocketbooks allow. The ceremony that embodies our worship and the music which accompanies it are rich and old. It has the scent of eternity. That's what we believe worship should be.
Worship isn't about us. It's not meant to make us feel good about ourselves, or even to feel good about God. Its purpose isn't to make us "feel" anything. Worship is directed not toward us, but towards God. Catholic worship is what the Church of God does to show her love for her Lord. Whether we enjoy it or not is immaterial, whether we want to do it or not, whether we feel like it or not: these are irrelevant issues. We worship God because that's what Christians do. In Holy Scripture there are relatively few pictures or descriptions of Heaven. What few there are, though, all show a single, heavenly activity. That activity is worship.
"Smells and Bells"
Yes, St. Mary's uses "smells and bells," the best we can find, to express our loving adoration of our Lord, but if that's all worship is, it fails. The "smells and bells" are the outward sign of an inward devotion. We find in a ceremony repeated week after week (virtually unchanged for all these centuries and, at its core, the very thing the Lord Jesus commanded us to do "on the night in which He was betrayed") that we can be free from a focus on ourselves. Catholic worship is not merely an external form, but a corresponding internal devotion, driven not by feeling, but love (which is not the same thing).
Devotion, if it's real, must express itself, and for St. Mary's parish, our devotion is expressed in the regular, daily offering of praise to God in Morning and Evening Prayer and the Sacrifice of the Mass. Every day Morning and Evening Prayer are recited in the church and the Mass is offered at least once daily (and at least three times on Sundays and major feast days).
Our devotion to God takes on living form in worship. Our worship, our offering to God, in turn breathes fresh life in to us. God the Holy Ghost Himself breathes in these 2000-year-old traditions and makes us new. Through them, we encounter Him. That's what worship is supposed to do, and for that reason it is essential to our life at St. Mary's.
High Mass or Low Mass?
What's the difference between High Mass and Low Mass? The Mass, in its essentials, is the same in both. The distinction is found in the ceremonial employed in the service.
A Solemn High Mass is a celebration of the Eucharist wherein the Mass is chanted, the celebrating priest is assisted by a deacon and subdeacon, and incense is used. A sermon is almost always preached at High Mass. Solemn High Masses are usually celebrated as the principal service on Sundays and major holy days.
By contrast, a Low Mass is celebrated by one priest, usually assisted by an acolyte. The words of the liturgy are spoken, not sung, incense is not used, and sermons are rarely included.