Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reflections on the National Cathedral celebration

Now That’s a Service

Today, I had the pleasure of attending the Pentecost service at the National Cathedral. It was also Mother’s Day and the crescendo of the structure’s 100th anniversary celebration. Needless to say, they pulled out all the stops—and seem to have special ordered extra stops just to be able to pull them out as well.

Here is the rundown. Before the service, there was a choral concert from an African American choir singing a combination of traditional and modern pieces. By this time, the place was packed. Half an hour before the service, most seats in the nave were taken.

Then came the processional with flags, streamers, banners, and dignitaries. Trumpet fanfare from both the choir loft and up front. Once everyone settled in up front, the service began. One could sorta see the activities on flat screen tvs along the columns but even those were hard to access if you happen to be vertically challenged such as myself. It also got me to thinking about the cathedral space and how, in days before those tvs, your experience of a service, unless you were one of the mucky-mucks up front, was of glimpses of activity way off in the distance—assuming you could even see it at all. In an age before amplification, chances are that you couldn’t hear things, either. No wonder it has been hard getting the congregations to grasp the message! I am now appreciating more the sloped seating and auditorium arrangements of the Calvinist and Evangelical traditions!

Anyway, back to the service. The second reading, the Pentecost story, was acted out on front, complete with song. Then the liturgical dancers came in and a very powerful singer, representing Peter led the congregation with a song about being filled with the spirit. Was hard not to get caught up in things.

The sermon was good and even the dean of the cathedral admitted that he had not quite prepared for the extravaganza taking place around him. After the sermon, Rt. Rev Schori spoke for a short time, amused that the ancestors back in 1907 would have been horrified by a service like this, just as we will be, if things go right, with a service in 2107. Schori led the prayers and consecration for the next 100 years, inviting various people with the congregation and the diocese to receive their call to service. She concluded with having the visitors rise (which was most of the place) and we were told to spread the message of what we had seen and heard as well, hence this post.

The hymn “Send down your fire of Justice” followed. Another spirited piece with the dancers, culminating in the congregation being showered with red, orange, and yellow rose petals cascading down from the clerestory! The explanation was that during the Middle Ages, cathedrals celebrated Pentecost with cascades of rose petals. During the rest of the service, kids and adults alike periodically darted from their seats to collect a few petals as mementos. I doubt the cleaning folks had much to pick up.

Following that, the celebration of the Eucharist commenced. There was something powerful about a whole cathedral of people reciting the Lord’s Prayer together. I was toward the back so was part of the group who went back towards the narthex to receive communion. Sorta strange taking the elements with my back to the altar but the great rose window above was a good experience.
The final blessing ended the service with a great recessional, again with banners, streamers, booming brass, and great fanfare. With the dismissal, people started out and to the tent adjacent for refreshments. By this time, it was after 1:00 and many people darted off, no doubt heading to Mother’s day reservations. The dean of the cathedral was right—it was a service few would forget.


Danifesto said...

Sounds amazing! I wonder how much it cost to put on such a production?

Dr History said...

I do know that they mentioned how the Swiss embassy funded a lot of the light show part at least.