Ascension Lessons and Carols Shows Ecumenical Commitment

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Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara presided at the Solemnity of the Ascension Lessons and Carols for the Cenacle at St. Vincent Ferrer Church on Manhattan’s East Side.

The ecumenical service, offered on the Ascension of the Lord May 10, was sponsored by the Ecumenical Office of the archdiocese.

Also participating were two other prelates: the Rev. Donald McCoid, interim bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who delivered the sermon, and the Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, episcopal bishop of the Diocese of New York.

“It is a joy for us to be here this night as we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension to the Father, but also His challenge to you and to me, ‘to make disciples of all the nations,’” Bishop O’Hara said in the greeting.

All three prelates administered the final blessing.

“I thought it was a lovely evening,” said Bishop Dietsche, who described St. Vincent Ferrer as “a beautiful, beautiful church,” the music offerings “just tremendous” and the liturgy “dignified.”

“The thing that made this such a memorable experience for all of us was the ecumenical component. It’s a Roman Catholic Church, the preacher was Lutheran, I’m the Episcopal bishop,” and there was “an Armenian priest” here, he said, among other clergy. “We’re bringing together the different parts of the Christian family.”

Bishop Dietsche also told CNY that he, Bishop O’Hara and Father Brian McWeeney, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the archdiocese, have for several years spoken about “the importance of building the ecumenical relationship across our churches.”

Those conversations culminated in the Ascension celebration, Bishop Dietsche said. “It’s just the beginning of a continuing growth in our tradition of coming together and being Christians together, and saying our prayers together.”

As explained in the program’s music notes, the service figuratively took place in the Cenacle, the ‘Upper Room’ near the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem in which Mary and the disciples gathered following Jesus’ Ascension as described in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Inside this first Church, Jesus’ followers prayed, awaiting the day of Pentecost. The sequence of Lessons retells the Gospels sung at Mass on Sundays during Eastertide. The carols and hymns and the organ music represented a number of different Christian cultures and confessions, old and new.

Father Walter Wagner, O.P., pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena parish, read the Fourth Lesson, “Christ, the Good Shepherd,” from John 10:11-18. Bishop Dietsche delivered the Seventh Lesson, “The Father Will Send An Advocate,” from John 14:15-21.

The service was sung by the Schola Cantorum of St. Vincent Ferrer, led by James Wetzel, the parish’s director of music and organist, and was accompanied by assistant organist Alexander Pattavina.

Wetzel explained the significance of the selections to CNY after the liturgy. “The scheme was that every major Christian cultural denomination was represented.” Among the offerings: “a piece of Russian chorale music from the Orthodox tradition, a piece from the Anglican Cathedral repertoire, a piece by an American composer who is the organist at St. Bart’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue and then we sang some Renaissance polyphony from Spain and from the Low Countries. To represent the Italian tradition, instead of doing something by Palestrina or Gabrieli, we did an excerpt from an Italian opera that takes place on a Sicilian countryside on Easter Day, ‘Cavalleria Rusticana.’”

Bishop McCoid, in his sermon, said: “May this night be a night when we have heard beautiful music, when we have shared together, prayed together, be also an opportunity to continue to offer our commitment on this Ascension Day, that we may be one so that the world may believe, that we may see that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, and we are united forever, by the one who continues to bring love and life to us.”

Father McWeeney, speaking to CNY, praised St. Vincent’s “wonderful pastor who is ecumenical in his outlook,” and said the service underscored “what I’m doing, I’m not doing alone,” but with a “great number of laity and religious who are equally dedicated to the vision of Christ that there will be one shepherd and one flock.”

Before the service ended, Bishop O’Hara said: “As Pope Francis tells us, Now, we have to take the power of the resurrection out of the sanctuary and into the streets. Let’s meet that challenge.”

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