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Saint Vincent’s – Uniting the old and the new

April 29, 2011

by Chris Surprenant

The age-old ritual of crowning a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary will feature children from the First Holy Communion class at St. Vincent de Paul’s church Sunday, right after the 8:30 a.m. Mass.  Mary’s Day on May 1 marks the celebration of the mother of God.

In the Catholic Church, Mary has always served as a beacon of hope for oppressed women, and has always been held in very high regard. Yet, in the ever-changing times of the world today, she may not be observed in the same way she once was, said Rev. Christopher DeGiovine.

The reason for this change may be the result of women today finding other ways to make

A 1936 edition of The Arrow, an early publication at The College of Saint Rose, explaining proper procedures for observing Mary’s Day.

their voices heard, at least in contemporary society. However, in countries not as developed as the United States, Mary is still one of the main driving forces for the oppressed, said DeGiovine.

Although the observance of Mary’s Day may not be acknowledged as closely in years past, DeGiovine said it is still important.

Sixty-five  years ago, the Marian feast day involved very specific procedures, many of which are still observed. For instance, observers still attend Mass, receive Communion, wearing Mary’s medal, and perform acts of charity. These guidelines, published 75 years ago in a 1936 edition of The Arrow, are just as relevant in 2011, said DeGiovine.

At  Saint Vincent’s, the role of women has been elevated from those days of oppression. A visitor to the church for the first time may witness one of the more unique aspects of St. Vincent’s. Every few weeks, Joan Horgan, the director of campus ministry at The College of Saint Rose, reads the Gospel. Traditionally, it is a clergyman who conducts this part of the service, not a layperson. Horgan, however, has received special permission from the Diocese to lead this part of the celebration.

Such characteristics would be hard to find 60 years ago. Before the Second Vatican Council, it was virtually unheard of to have anyone but clergymen say the Gospel. The Church itself has undergone many changes since then. Prior to the 1960’s, going to church was mostly an individual experience.

“You didn’t go to church to participate in the ritual,” said DeGiovine.

The interior of the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul. (Chris Surprenant)

Since then, many churches such as St. Vincent’s have removed the kneelers that were in place for one to ask forgiveness for sins. Since their removal, the idea is that Mass should be an outward expression of celebration, rather than inward reflection on sins. This may be part of the appeal of St. Vincent’s for many, in that the celebration is inclusive of everyone in the church.

St. Vincent’s is a shining example of a community involved in the celebration of the Mass. With four services between Saturday and Sunday, each Mass differs in attendance, and tone. Some services include more families, while others may attract a younger group, such as the college Mass on Sunday evenings.

“There are many different ways to celebrate. It fits all of our moods,” said Pat Sears Doherty.

Sears Doherty said that although she and her husband Joe normally attend the 11 a.m. Mass on Sundays, the 6:30 p.m. college Mass is convenient if they cannot make the morning service.

“There’s a lot happening in our lives, so it’s good to be around this kind of energy,” Sears Doherty said of the college service. “Sometimes we just miss our own kids.”

From Sears Doherty’s own experiences, she has found that the 11 o’clock mass includes a lot more families. For her, the college Mass has a different sort of energy than the other services.

According to student Kelsie Seyler, the diversity of St. Vincent’s is appealing. In contrast to her home parish in Slate Hill, New York, Seyler said of the various Masses, “At home, it’s very family-oriented. I like that there are a lot of students here.” She finds that participating with people her own age adds to her experience on the whole.

View of the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul from Madison Avenue. (Chris Surprenant)

Seyler’s feelings reflect a similar sentiment found with DeGiovine. In a time when the Church is undergoing great changes and under turmoil, it is important for today’s youth to be involved.

“We have to engage young adults. The Church is in a difficult time now. We have to figure out what works. We are the Church – we have to figure out how to be involved,” said DeGiovine.

The Church of St. Vincent de Paul constantly reflects the community it serves. While keeping time-honored traditions alive, new ideas often permeate the walls of the church. The congregants change over time, but the parish remains dedicated to embracing both past and future, uniting them both into something that appeals to many. The May 1 crowning is a living, example of this philosophy.

If anything, the diversity found at St. Vincent’s is “an attempt at balance,” said DeGiovine. -30-


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