During my recent trip to New York City, I attended Mass at The Church of Our Savior on Park Avenue. The Pastor is Fr. George Rutler who will probably be familiar to many because of his frequent appearances on EWTN.
The interior of The Church of Our Savior was truly remarkable. I had never seen a Roman Catholic Church with such a plethora of Eastern icons. The central apse is crowned with a large icon of Christ the Teacher. Surrounding the apse are smaller icons of various Saints. Following on this theme of Eastern liturgical architecture: instead of one sanctuary lamp, there are several lamps hanging from the baldacchino over the main altar. However what was truly remarkable, the Church interior does not just slavishly imitate the past; with all great art: pays homage to history, but with a slight twist. On closer examination, I noticed that the icons were of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Kateri Tekakwitha, John Neumann and others.
Once the liturgy started I felt completely transported. But this was not an incident relaying on the so-called “smells and bells” experience associated with more traditional liturgies. As our great Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly stressed the new “liturgical movement” should strive to incorporate what is great in both the Tridentine Rite and the new Novus Ordo. Fr. Rutler uses the vernacular for the readings and the Gospel, but also incorpated more of the Latin in the Ordinary. The mixture of hearing The Lord’s words in our own language and the beauty of the Latin was exquisite.
Finally what seemed to bring everything together were the incredible choir and organist. The choir sung both hymns in Latin and English that truly complemented and connected to the readings for that day. A small detail but an important one was the fact that the choir is located in the choir stall at the back of the church. Here in California I am used to choirs being in the front of the church (where they tend to be more a distraction.) The Mass should always be Christ centered, not a performance.Here is a quotation from Pope Benedict concerning the reformation of the Liturgy:
“A renewal of liturgical awareness, a liturgical reconciliation that again recognises the unity of the history of the liturgy and that understands Vatican II, not as a breach, but as a stage of development: these things are urgently needed for the life of the Church. I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the world-wide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless. And, because the ecclesial community cannot have its origin from itself but emerges as a unity only from the Lord, through faith, such circumstances will inexorably result in a disintegration into sectarian parties of all kinds - partisan opposition within a Church tearing herself apart. This is why we need a new Liturgical Movement, which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council.”
I recommend reading: “The Spirit of the Liturgy” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI.)