This past week I have been fortunate to visit a quite extraordinary parish in South Carolina. Prince of Peace in Taylors, just outside the city of Greenville, is led by Fr Christopher Smith who blogs at Chant Café and whom I met at the Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome this past summer.
Prince of Peace is a phenomenally liturgical parish. What do I mean by that? It is a place where the liturgy of the Church is very much at the heart of the life of the community, tangibly present as the fons et culmen of all that goes on – from the parish school to the social life of the faithful. A great deal of effort is put into the Sunday celebrations, with the music, vestments – everything down to the choice of incense – all culminating to achieve in a remarkable way the hopes of Pope Saint Pius X for a participatio actuosa in the Sacred Liturgy.
The usual pattern of daily Mass in the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is currently on hold as the parish awaits a second priest, but the Sunday routine has remained unchanged. A Saturday evening Mass of anticipation is the only Mass now celebrated versus populum, and this uses the chants of the 2002 Missale Romanum provided in English by ICEL, together with a newly introduced setting of the Ordinary of the Mass by Peter Latona. Sunday morning sees a said Mass (OF) at 8am, followed by a Solemn Mass in the Ordinary Form (English with chant and the Latona setting, ad orientem, with an elite squad of servers!), and a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form (c. 200 in attendance) that becomes a Missa Cantata for most of the year, and a High Mass whenever possible. The music at these two principal celebrations is usually augmented by a schola of local students, performing music from across the Catholic repertoire, with a particular emphasis on Latin polyphony of the renaissance. In the evening, the final Mass of the day is a replica of the Saturday evening Mass, but celebrated ad orientem. During my visit, this Sunday evening celebration was concluded by a candlelit outdoor procession of Our Lady of Fatima, attended by well over 200 of the faithful from the parish, of all ages.
This timetable is impressive, but flowing from it are a number of apostolic groups that ensure that such a rigorous liturgical life extends out into the life of the faithful from Sunday to Sunday. The young girls in the parish have formed the Guild of Our Lady and Saint Gianna, which not only takes care of the altar of Our Lady but also leads prayers of thanksgiving after Mass. The young boys serve at the altar – an impressively competent and large number at every Mass – with the older lads taking on the role of Master of Ceremonies with serious skill and attention to detail. The whole parish also keeps watch before the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel of perpetual adoration, ensuring that all of this work is enfolded in the Lord’s heart, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without break.
A daily hour is set aside for the sacrament of confession, and even from the short time I was there it was edifying to see the particular care of those in the local hospitals. More than once we were diverted to the bedside of an ailing parishioner to anoint them. More than once, too, young men – at various stages of discernment, some maybe not even aware of a nascent vocation – came to speak about the priesthood, or more generally about the Christian life, which is lived so vividly and confidently around them.
At one level, what goes on at Prince of Peace is far from exceptional. It is a parish where the faith is lived from the heart of the Church, and where the celebration of the liturgy is faithful to the rubrics and texts, whilst still exhibiting a dose of good sense, both in the ars celebranda and in the choices made within the legitimate options found in the rites. This, though – as readers will understand – does make it exceptional. What is telling, and encouraging, is that such faithfulness to the beauty and splendour of the Christian liturgy evidently bears rich fruit in the lives of the people of God who gather there for prayer. And this is surely the intended fruit of all liturgical endeavour: that through the right worship of God, those united to him through baptism and incorporation into the Church, are brought into a deeper and more profound relationship with him. Such an encounter not only steers the believer into a more faithful life lived here in earth, but presents them with the vision of heaven, which is found uniquely on earth in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
This guiding – this pastoring – is what truly pastoral liturgy is and must be: not the pastoring of the sacred into the realm of the profane, but the gentle and convinced guidance of the temporal into the eternal, of the sinful into redemption, of the dead into new life, and of the exiled people of God into their rightful heavenly home. Prince of Peace embodies this; may God continue to bless his people in that place, and may he continue to inspire his priests and faithful to bring this reality to life in many more places.