Some thoughts on Holy Innocents, Manhattan

Let me tell you a little about Holy Innocents Church in Manhattan.

I have written about the place many times but usually from the point of view of their upcoming Masses and events.  It has also been my honor to be celebrant there sometimes.

On this trip, however, I had the occasion to wait for a friend for a while. I sat myself in the back of the church.  I resolved my office, said some prayers, and then watched.

There were about a dozen people in the church at any given moment.  Some were kneeling, some coming, some going.  They were of every race and, judging from their clothing, every economic level.  One homeless guy caught forty winks in a dark niche. Most people parked in a pew to pray for a while in the relative quiet.  Quite a few would then rise and seek out one of the many statues or shrines of saints or our Lord or Lady in the church.

One frequented point for pious prayer is a statue of Our Lord, dead, after being deposed from the Cross.

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There was a steady stream to this image, placed at about hip level.

Person after person went over to Him and stood and gazed at His Body.   Sometimes they reached out to touch His wounds.

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I saw one particularly tough looking hombre, whom life was clearly riding pretty hard, go over to the shrine and stand and gaze.

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He then reached out and stroked the Lord’s head, as if smoothing His hair.   He put his hand on His hand.

He bent down and kissed His feet.

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There was a constant stream of people in and out of the church, one after another, each with their private cares and prayers.

They just sit.  They pray.  They light candles.  They visit the statues and images.  They kneel at the altar rail close to the Blessed Sacrament.  They go on their way, with their shopping bags or brief cases or back packs.

In my reading about Pope Francis, Papa Bergoglio, I learned that he has an interest in a theology which stems from the popular devotion that people have without straying into the dangerous morass of Marxism, which infects Liberation theology.  I wonder if what I was watching in Holy Innocents didn’t have something to do with that theological line.  I shall have to drill into this more in the future.  But I digress.

This church is in a great location for many people who pass through midtown Manhattan. It is close to subway stops, in the Garment District.  There are Masses at convenient times.  Every day of the week there are TLM’s, often Sung Masses.  I am told that there are on average three or four Sung Masses a week!  There are, as a matter of fact, often Solemn Masses (with deacon and subdeacon). The quality of the music is amazing.  The Masses are often polyphonic as well as in Gregorian chant.   There is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during the afternoon and Benediction before the evening Mass.   On Sunday there are Rosary, Vespers in Gregorian chant, and Benediction.

Also, since Fr. George Rutler has taken charge of the place, one of the old confessionals that had been used as a storage closet has been reclaimed as a confessional!  Confessions are being heard there even more often now, before Masses and sometimes during (as is recommended by the Congregation for Divine Worship HERE).

If you are ever in Manhattan, I recommend that you plan a stop, especially for Mass.

This parish is an example of how the use of the older form, the Extraordinary Form, and the hard, sometimes backbreaking work, the very-much thankless work, of a dedicated core group of lay people, transfused life and activity back into a tired church where demographics shifts had all but euthanized its life.

This, friends, is the New Evangelization.  All the fancy talk about this committee or that program or this or that poster isn’t going to get it done on its own.

The devotion and piety of the people coming and going was a powerful witness to what we need to reclaim.  Churches have to be places where people can go to “be devout”, to feel themselves in the company of the saints and angels, to be with the Lord in private moments.  The images and statues are important.  They can’t be too abstract or heady or intellectualized.  They have to be accessible.  So too with the architecture.

It’s not rocket science.  There are a lot of parishes out there, especially inner city parishes, which are in trouble.  These parishes often have beautiful churches that, for various reasons, are languishing.

Why not try something different with these parishes?  Why not try something new/old?   Why not implement the older, traditional form of sacred worship in these places?  What is there to lose?  A place such as St. John Cantius in Chicago revived by emphasizing its ethnic origins and implementing excellent liturgical worship in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form.  Holy Innocents is making a go of it.

 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Hard-Identity Catholicism, I'm just askin'..., Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Some thoughts on Holy Innocents, Manhattan

  1. brushmore says:

    My family found the Holy Innocents Church in Manhattan just by accident on a trip to the city. It is definitely my favorite place to visit when I am in town.

  2. Elizabeth D says:

    How beautiful. I would like the old Mass to be able to have a good effect at the church in my neighborhood.

  3. acardnal says:

    Beautiful post, Fr. Z.

  4. Robbie says:

    Great story. I wish its story was the norm rather than the exception.

  5. KB says:

    This would be wonderful. Where I live, not only are the churches spread many towns apart, but if there is one you migrate to or stumble upon, the doors are never open except on Saturdays starting at about confession time (if you are lucky…my actual church does not open on Saturdays because it is not the main church that my priest is pastor of, bless his heart), or Sundays. It’s a slap to the soul when you are yearning to be inside, but the church doors are locked.

  6. jameeka says:

    Lovely photos, Father Z

  7. Jack says:

    Quite a few years ago, I was detailed to NYC on a fairly regular basis. As usual when I get to an unknown area, I conducted a little “recon” and was blessed to discover Holy Innocents. I have been fortunate to attend quite a few Masses there, and spend some time in quiet prayer, although have never made one in the EF.

    Although I have not been down to the city in quite some time, I still consider Holy Innocents to be my “home” when in town. Thanks for the updates Father, it is an oasis for the soul.

  8. pannw says:

    I wish you’d posted this a month ago! Of course, since we were barred from our planned visit to the Statue of Liberty and West Point, we’ll need to make another trip, and I will remember this.

    I am a member of an inner city parish, though I live a half hour drive away, because of the beauty of the Mass and the church itself in the statues and paintings, glorious pipe organ, and scent of incense that has permeated the walls after more than 150 years, etc, which can not be found in the suburban parishes nearer to our home. It would be so nice to be able to just drop in and stay a few minutes throughout the week, but that would require living or working in the city and I hate the city, otherwise. How I wish I could lift up the parish and move it. That kind of beauty and serenity just calls to you, even more so I would guess in the hustle and bustle and greyness of the city.

    This is a really beautiful post, Fr. Z. Thank you.

  9. benedetta says:

    Beautiful Fr. Z. Those photos brought back memories. Holy Innocents has long been an oasis in the city and it sounds as though the Catholic outreach is ever expanding and growing. I always appreciated the strong presences it has always made in the city for prolife. Enjoy your trip.

  10. James C says:

    I stop at Holy Innocents every time I’m in NY. What a lovely place. It was old-school before, and I bet it’s even more gloriously old-school now that the great Fr. Rutler is administrator.

    One of my greatest Mass memories was a solemn midnight Christmas mass at Holy Innocents in 2010, sung beautifully by none other than Fr. John Zuhlsdorf.

    Now that Fr. Rutler has left the Church of Our Saviour, you can’t do any better in Manhattan than Holy Innocents. It’s the miracle on 37th Street!

  11. irish-italian mom says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Father. It brings back memories of growing up in NYC where I was unknowingly evangelized in Holy Innocents Church. There, and in many other beautiful churches like it, I vicariously learned one very important lesson in my Catholic Faith which I never forgot.

    Many times, from among all of my siblings, I would be chosen to tag along with my dad to an audition for one of his many artistic endeavours in Manhattan (he was a playwright, poet, author, actor, and violinist). Occasionally we would catch a taxi to The Village to find an otherwise unfindable item in a quaint little shoppe there. I would even accompany him to work at his regular job (he was a sightseeing guide in the city) before that was a popular practice among parents and children. During these excursions, we would invariably stop at every Church we came to along the way. Holy Innocents was often on the list of stops.

    We would be walking along and Pop would stop and say, “Would you like to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament?” Not really knowing what he meant, I would nevertheless nod an enthusiastic yes and we would enter the cold, dark church. It was there that I first learned about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle – not in a theological way because I was just a little child. But I would learn this in an experiential way because as Dad’s eyes were riveted on the tabernacle, my eyes were riveted on him.

    I would search my father’s face and I could see that he was having a conversation with Someone – a real Person. I would notice a change come over him – his expression would shift; his mood would lift; and his spirit would revive. After about 10 minutes, he would sigh deeply and then after reverently genuflecting we would quietly leave.

    Dad usually didn’t speak for quite a while afterwards. And somehow I knew in my childhood
    innocence that whatever just happened in there, it was real.

  12. LA says:

    Father Z.,
    When you travel to NY for Mass and events at Holy Innocents, do you also hear confessions there? Just wondering about how you handle the confession jurisdiction issue when invited to offer Masses or give conferences at various places. I think I recall you saying that you are incardinated in an Italian diocese, but then you mention MN as your home, too.

  13. rhetor says:

    Another place of hope in the city: St. Agnes on East 43rd (just half a block from Grand Central). Although the original building burned down in 1992, the rebuilt church (once Fr. Rutler’s parish, and, earlier, Fulton Sheen’s) remains a devotional refuge for faithful Catholics who work in midtown. The TLM is celebrated on Sundays. And the church serves urban workers in at least four more extremely important ways: it offers frequent daily masses; the priests hear confessions twice a day; the church provides statuary that promotes and focuses devotion; and, most importantly, the church remains open all day.

  14. Traductora says:

    I’m from NYC and I had the privilege to grow up at a time when all the (Catholic) churches were open all the time and people used to make a visit any time they could and men even tipped their hats or blessed themselves (as did women) when walking by a church or even passing in the bus. And the mark of a Catholic Church was that it would be filled with the rich and the poor, the native and the foreigner, the sane and the not so sane, at all times, passing through to visit their favorite saint, kiss the feet of a crucifix, or even lie prostrate in the aisle.

    Personally, I think this is exactly what Pope Francis wants to bring back. Thanks to the shallow, politicized vision of Vatican II and its concern for “the poor,” who clearly are not us in the pews and are some other entity out there that we have to get the government to provide with state social services, many Catholics have lost touch with this.

    The only thing I can say is that the truly poor, unlike many of the rest of us, will not go away. Even in my prosperous church here in a prosperous Southern tourist town, the poor (in body, mind or simply in spirit) can be found in the church at any time. Some may be sitting quietly with an occasional snore, others come in and address desperate prayers to their favorite saint or image of Our Lady, and others come up and tell you their latest revelation. But to me, that is the mark of a Catholic church.

    The only thing that prevents this is keeping churches closed. Why not make it an apostolate, not only to do adoration, but to get some of the men of the parish to be present in the church during the day? Urban churches are generally more accessible and are usually open, and if they’re not their priests should get the men out there to open them. Suburban churches and small town churches are usually locked up tight, and I think this should change. People want to be as close as they can to Our Lord.

  15. Elizabeth D says:

    “Just wondering about how you handle the confession jurisdiction issue when invited to offer Masses or give conferences at various places. I think I recall you saying that you are incardinated in an Italian diocese, but then you mention MN as your home, too”

    Fr Z currently lives in Madison, WI and has faculties from the bishop here, the Most Reverend Robert Morlino. It is like any priest who is traveling.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    Father Rutler has a weekly newsletter:

    http://www.stmichaelnyc.com/

  17. wolfeken says:

    I remember driving by this church dozens of times to get to the tunnel, long before Summorum Pontificum. What a pleasure it was to hear a Missa Cantata there recently. This is such a beautiful parish with a dedicated volunteer base, from music to servers to supporters. Daily traditional Latin Mass — what a terrific accomplishment!

  18. In addition to the information already stated, the number of people attending and registering as part of the parish has also increased a lot. Attendance at weekday traditional Masses has increased for both Low and Sung Masses, and on Saturdays and Sundays the attendance has also increased greatly.

    The number of Altar servers has also increased, and about half of them are of Hispanic origin. Several of the servers are very dedicated and show up almost everyday, even when they are not needed to serve because it is a Low Mass.

    Many Spanish-speaking people attend the traditional Mass as well, which is why a Latin-Spanish program is created every Sunday (along with an Latin-English program) for those who do not own a hand-missal, and for special occasions, some of the Priests are asked to say a few words in Spanish during the sermon for the benefit of those who have a limited knowledge of English.

    Furthermore, the number of volunteers in the choir has also increased (the choir on Wednesdays and Fridays is composed of volunteers only).

    Moreover, a very dedicated group of parishioners has formed an “Altar Society” with the aim to keep the church clean, fresh, and comfortable.

    Finally (and, in a way, more importantly) there are also new (younger) Priests who are helping Holy Innocents by saying Mass there on a regular basis. Most of the Priests who help at Holy Innocents are diocesan Priests (not only FSSP or ICK) and they always seem eager to come back, as it is the only place in NYC where there is a daily traditional Mass.

    And, although it is not the most important thing (but in some cases the first thing some people look at), I guess that I should mention that the traditional Mass brings more money (collections) than any of the other Masses during the week and on weekends.

    P.S. Holy Innocents has an all-night Vigil on the first Saturday of every month (for devotion to the Sacred Heart/Immaculate Heart) from 6pm on Friday (Solemn Mass) through 6am on Saturday (Low or Sung Mass). At first, the number of people throughout the entire night was 25. Now, it is over 55 — ALL NIGHT. This past first Friday, there were 60 people for the 5am Mass. Getting 60 people for Mass at 5am — that’s something!

  19. No More Tambourines says:

    I love Holy Innocents and go there every Sunday. It’s nice to see a church that wasn’t wreckovated in the ’70s.

  20. I love Holy Innocents and go there every Sunday. It’s nice to see a church that wasn’t wreckovated in the ’70s.

    In fact Holy Innocents was renovated in the mid-twentieth century and a lovely altar rail of metal and stone was removed. The present wooden one is a replacement. Side altars dedicated to Joseph and Mary were also removed. Some pews were also removed at one point, but thankfully were not thrown out and have since been restored. There were once four confessionals. Until recently, there was only one. Now there are two again.

    Someday, they’ll hopefully be able to afford more restoration work! Send them a check (128 West 37th Street, New York, NY 10018) or donate via PayPal!

  21. carl b says:

    This is a very heartening post. I work a couple blocks from a parish, and like to stop by over my lunch break for a quick visit to the Sacrament. It’s pretty hit n miss whether the church is open, and I’m always thankful when it is.

  22. I used to attend the 8 AM daily Mass on a semi-regular basis (maybe once or twice a month), but sadly will be unable to visit there much any more on account of the recently reduced schedule that left 7:30 AM as the only morning Mass, which is too early for a commuter from Long Island, especially in the winter. I will miss Holy Innocents, even though I’ll still have occasion to grab a bulletin now and again when I am in the area. On the positive side, I am happy that a confessional has been restored; now it needs a priest. It might also be time to remove the piano. I would also love to see the balconies again filled with worshippers some day.

  23. patergary says:

    I will be spending this coming Thanksgiving weekend in NYC and I will definitely visit and attend Mass at Holy Innocents.

  24. Gail F says:

    This is a beautiful post and I found the photos especially moving.

  25. JonPatrick says:

    To think all the times I was hanging around Penn Station waiting for a train, and I could have gone to this church only 3 blocks away!

    I will have to keep it in mind in the unlikely event I find myself in NYC in the near future.

  26. Marc M says:

    One of the perks of traveling on the road for work has been finding oases. The Carmelite monastery on Clayton in St. Louis has a very nice chapel. Also the chapel at Marytown in Libertyville, IL, which is the national shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe.