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