Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels: St. Peter's, Chicago and Full Homely Divinity

This video has last year's full service of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels celebrated at St. Peter's, Chicago (observed in 2011 on October 2).

Here's the blurb at the YouTube page:
For more information, visit our website at St. Peter's celebration of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (transferred from September 29) was truly a feast -- for the senses and for the soul. Hymns included "Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels"; "Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore Him"; "Ye holy angels bright"; "Let all mortal flesh keep silence"; and "Ye watchers and ye holy ones." The choir also performed a fantastic anthem written by our organist and choirmaster, Br. Nathanael Deward Rahm, based on Psalm 96.

St. Peter's welcomed its former rector, the Very Rev. James H. Dunkerley, back to the pulpit to help dedicate some portions of the most recent capital campaign -- Visions, Voices, and Devotion. And the rector, the Very Rev. Sarah K. Fisher, sang the Mozarabic chant for Eucharistic Prayer D, which appropriately enough for the day tells of "countless throngs of angels [who] stand before You to serve You night and day."

A beautiful liturgy by beautiful people, in a beautiful church for a beautiful God.

"Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels" is is the English-translation version of Christe, sanctorum decus Angelorum, the traditional hymn at Lauds for this feast day. As you can see, there are loads of other angel-themed hymns as well, including the wonderful and spooky "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," with its references to "six-winged seraphs" and "cherubim with sleepless eye," sung at Communion. And you don't often get to hear Eucharistic Prayer D chanted Mozarabic-style - but you do hear it on this video (beginning at around 52 minutes). (They also say the Prayer of Humble Access at this parish - nice to hear it.)

And Full Homely Divinity has a new (or revised) version of its posting for this day; don't miss it!   It's got a full rundown on all the orders of angels:  watchers and holy ones, bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones; dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, and angels' choirs. (Plus a bit about the Theotokos, even "higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim!") Here's an excerpt:
We suspect that ... colloquial and figurative uses of the term "angel" are rooted in an uncertainty about and, quite probably, a discomfort with the true nature of angels. In our experience, many people reject the existence of angels out of hand. Their objections often appear to arise from an intellectual objection to the existence of anything that cannot be seen or verified "scientifically," which, we might note, puts God in a somewhat tenuous position, as well. However, we suspect that a deeper objection for many, if not all, has to do with the realization that angels are not merely the Christian version of a fairy godmother who goes around smiling sweetly and doing nice things for people. At some of the principal appearances of angels in the Bible, the first words out of the mouth of the angel are, "Fear not!" It is not necessary to tell people not to be afraid, unless they are afraid, or think they have some reason to be afraid. When we contemplate the story of the appearance of the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem, we hear the words, "Fear not," but it is likely that what we see (in our mind's eye) is a child, perhaps our own daughter, or the child of a friend, dressed in a flowing white gown and aluminum foil wings. The effect on us is to feel warmth and affection. Fear is the last emotion that would occur to us. And then we immediately fast forward to a vision of a sky full of twinkling stars and angels singing "Glory be to God on high!" Beauty and wonder are the things we imagine--but it is very likely that the shepherds were frightened half to death and needed to be calmed and reassured before it was possible for them to hear the truly wonderful news the angels brought. We recall a story told in class by the church historian Jaroslav Pelikan. He told us how one evening his young son was agitated and unable to sleep and came to his father for comfort. The problem, he told his father, was that there was an angel in his room. The famous scholar did not dismiss his son's story as a bad dream, the product of an active imagination, or even a ploy to delay going to bed. Rather, he took the boy seriously, and assured him that the angel had come to protect him, not to harm him. The child's fear was genuine, and understandable. The father's belief was also genuine, and no one in that class of graduate students had any doubt about that.

"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen...." or, as the older translation puts it, "all things visible and invisible." Is the Creed referring merely to those technically "unseen" aspects of creation which are discernible to some of the senses but not to the naked eye, such as the wind, which blows where it will but cannot be seen, or to microscopic matter, whether animate or inanimate, which is so small that it is virtually invisible? Or were the Fathers of Nicaea and Constantinople referencing a realm of creatures of another order, either in heaven or perhaps even existing side by side with us in this world in an unseen, spiritual state? Scripture and the Liturgy leave little doubt about the answer to that question. When it deals with angels at all, popular culture tends to reduce them either to the putti of Renaissance art, adorable pudgy "cherubs" adorned with wings, or else the more stately, but delicate, and almost always feminine, winged adults in flowing robes. This is a far cry from the biblical cherubim, fearsome four-faced creatures who are ever-watchful by the throne of God and who were set at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life when Adam and Eve were cast out. Far, too, from the archangels named in canonical and apocryphal Scripture, who are not characterized by gender and, in any case, are hardly delicate. Jacob Epstein's monumental Michael at the entrance to Coventry Cathedral (above left) is formidable in his triumph over Satan in the apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil. And even the usually playful putti seem distressed by the appearance of Gabriel in El Greco's painting of The Annunciation....

There is another important application of the term "angel" which must not be overlooked here, though it is not our primary subject. There are occasions in Scripture when angels appear on earth who are not actually angels. The most significant instance of this is the visit of the three men to Abraham by the oak of Mamre in Genesis 18. The story is sometimes (intentionally?) vague in its identification of the men. At a point in the story, the Lord himself speaks to Abraham. Is the speaker one of the three men or not? It is not clear, but at the beginning of the next chapter, only two of them travel on towards the doomed city of Sodom and the two are explicitly described as angels. Christian tradition has generally interpreted this appearance in trinitarian terms. No mortal may look directly upon God and survive, but God does occasionally appear in person, taking the form of an angel or, in the case of Abraham's visitors, three angels. Later in Genesis (chapter 32), Abraham's grandson Jacob is confronted in the night by a man with whom he wrestles until daybreak. The man does not prevail and Jacob refuses to let him depart until he has blessed him. The man (or angel as tradition almost always identifies him) not only blesses Jacob but gives him a new name, Israel--"he who strives with God."

Much, much more at the article.  The artwork to the right above is Viktor Vasnetsov's Seraphim, from 1896.  And here's the El Greco Annunciation mentioned in the quote above (I'm not sure of the dates of some of these, but El Greco lived from about 1541 to 1614):

EG didn't stop there, though; he was Annunciation-mad, it would seem.  Here are several more:

See the office hymns for St. Michael and All Angels, and more about the feast day, here. Other posts about St.M & AA are here.

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