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Proleptic Joy: Easter at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, Chicago (AEH 92-1)

1 Mar 2023 12:00 AM | HSEC Director of Operations (Administrator)

Download ArticleThe feast of the Resurrection proves an especially delightful time to attend worship at the University of Chicagos spiritual center, the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. The chapel has appeared in these pages before,1 but that was during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, with its shut- down of in-person activities. This review attempts to capture a view of face-to-face worship in this formidable setting. The chapel sits in the middle of a stately series of gothic-style stone buildings, along the north side of the Midway Plaisance, a green space similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Visitors arriving for this Easter Day broadly Christian liturgy2 are welcomed in the narthex by a smiling security guard wearing a mask. She informs them that masks are optional, and gestures toward the nave behind her. They take their seats among perhaps a dozen gathered, and hear a childrens choir rehearsing. The crowd will swell to well over six hundred, more than this chapel has seen in some time but still far less than its capacity of more than fteen hundred. At 10:45 a.m., the organist begins his preludial music: Tocata by Giambattista Martini (17061784), Echo by Samuel Scheidt (15871654), Franc¸aise of Jean Langalais (1907 1991), and Moderato from the Water Music of George Frederic Handel (16851759). While these pieces exhibit some of the mastery of the organist, they do not reveal the fullness of riches that the E. M. Skinner instrument has to offer.

A peal from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon follows. This is located up some 271 steps atop the tower at the crossing. This peal is neither tunes (these will come later) nor the sort of change ringing one hears primarily in England but a lengthy and somewhat cacophonous and somehow also joyful call to worship for the university community.

The Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago.
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago.
(Photograph by the author).

Next, the organist plays Processional by William Mathias (19341992). As this employs the trumpet en chamade from the rear gallery, one begins to hear more of what this organ can do.

The chapel dean then emerges from a side aisle to greet the congregation gathered, making a special note that small children are very welcome, and parents need not be fussed about any noise they might make.

Disruption is an Easter noise, he quips. The organ now accompanied by brass and timpani introduces the rst hymn, Jesus Christ is risen today (Easter Hymn) as the choir of thirty undergraduates rushes breathlessly down the aisle. The choir members wear red academic robes with white chevrons. The dean a priest of the Episcopal Church comes last, wearing an alb with white chasuble and stole. He alone reverences the rather diminutive altar table.

The twenty-page service bulletin is one of the more elegant this reviewer has seen, and it contains all of the texts for todays service as well as helpful rubrical notes. The dean begins with the Easter Acclamation, which is followed by the Gloria in excelsis, sung rather unsuccessfully in a setting by John Weaver. (In their position at the farthest end of the chancel from the congregation, the choir can barely be heard in the nave.) The Collect of the Day follows, and all are seated as the children take their places on the chancel steps. Accompanied by piano, they sing Clap Your Hands! (<Pueblos todos, aplaudan!), with somewhat surprising vigor and clarity. The congregation responds with enthusiastic applause.

A faculty member then reads Isaiah 65:1725, and the choir moves to the chancel steps to sing an anthem of Edward Bairstow (18741946), Sing Ye, to the Lord. The faculty member then reads Acts 10:3443, after which all stand to sing The strife is oer, the battle done (Victory). All remain standing to hear the dean proclaim the gospel from the pulpit (Luke 24:112).

The deans sermon follows. It includes an amusing anecdote about his previous service at the Chicago of the West, when a diligent crew had trimmed palm trees for a grand celebration of Palm Sunday but another more diligent crew had discarded them. “‘Next year in Jerusalem, we said at the time, hinting of a more lavish feast to come and not just at Stanford, but for all humanity in the resurrection. Easter joy is a proleptic joy, he says, igniting much curiosity among the faithful and conversation after the service.

After a pause for reection, all stand as the dean leads the Prayers of the People. These follow Form VI of the Book of Common Prayer, with a welcome added petition: For this university community; for all who teach and learn. An exchange of the Peace follows, with most nodding, waving, or smiling but a few shaking hands or hugging.

The organist then improvises on O lii et llae as an offertory, as three young men pass baskets among the pews. This is followed by the hymn The day of resurrection (sung to Lancashire, a somewhat strange marriage of tune and text to these ears). Next comes Eucharistic Prayer B,

with a masterfully sung preface. The choral Sanctus and Benedictus come from the Mass for the Quiet Hour of George Oldroyd (18861951). The Lords Prayer is sung (Elizabethan language, in the familiar plainsong set- ting from The Hymnal 1982, adapted by Charles Winfred Douglas). The dean breaks the bread, and the resonant young voices of the choir sing a plainsong fraction anthem.

All are welcome to receive Holy Communion in keeping with your own conscience and custom, the service bulletin tells us, and most of the more than two hundred worshipers come forward to receive the bread. The dean alone distributes communion (his assistant has yet to be hired); while this takes some considerable time, it does allow him personal pastoral contact with each communicant. During communion, the choir sings Rise up, My Love, My Fair One of Healey Willan (18801968), and the organist plays Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 625 of Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750). Only four of the choir come forward for communion. The organist improvises briey, employing the organs zimbelstern (note: this organ has two, one in the chancel and one at the rear of the nave).

The post-communion prayer is taken from Common Worship of the Church of England. This is followed by the Easter blessing from the Book of Occasional Services and a sung dismissal with alleluias. The closing hymn is Good Christians all, rejoice and sing! (Gelobt sei Gott) in a version from the Pilgrim Hymnal of 1958. During the hymn, the choir has rushed out, causing the dean to cantor up the aisle.

The rst postlude is Gelobt set Gott of Healey Willan, which is followed by a carillon recital lasting nearly half an hour. This includes six Easter hymns and two pieces to mark the arrival of spring. The vernal season, incidentally, seems to have arrived during the service: what had been an overcast, windy, and cold day beforehand is now sunny, still, and warm as the dean greets his ock outside.

Except fora few minor exceptions such as the lack of a proclamation of the Nicene Creed this liturgy could easily be replicated in many an Episcopal Church today. Texts came from the prayer book, the shape of the liturgy followed the Episcopal rite (and ecumenical consensus), and emendations echoed those approved by General Convention. The only quibbles this reviewer notes are the size of the communion table (far too small for such a grand space) and the speed of the processions (which would be mitigated by the return to having them led by a crucifer or at least a verger).

The dean says that the tradition in this chapel is for worship to con- form mostly to the denomination of the incumbent dean. After the

service, he shows these visitors his desk space just off the chancel. One could not reasonably call this either an ofce or a sacristy as the only windows are well above eye level and the only closet is sufcient for hanging a Geneva gown but hardly suitable for a full set of chasubles and stoles. The room does, however, have many bookshelves.

If proleptic joy refers to our current delight anticipatory to heavenly bliss, this service helped foster such expectant hope. It also served as anamnesis, not simply a passive remembering but efcacious participation in the paschal mystery: recalling not only Jesus resurrection but also the sort of in-person worship one remembers from the pre-pandemic era. In this, the congregation at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel showed forth some of the fullness of Gods glory, being of diverse age, color, size, shape, and liturgical ability.

J. Barrington Bates                                           Harbor Springs, Michigan

1 J. Barrington Bates, Built for Something Better: A Podcast for Coronatide,” Anglican and Episcopal History 90:2 (June 2021).
2 From the service bulletin of the day.

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