I Love New York

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I made a day trip into New York City today. Thanks to Deacon Richard Russo, Father Jacob Restrick, O.P. and I were able to visit the magnificent Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste on Lexington Avenue at 76th Street. The Church, completed in 1913, is served by the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, sons of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.

I have long nourished a special devotion to Saint Peter Julian Eymard, an impassioned lover of the Most Holy Eucharist. Today's visit to Saint Jean–Baptiste Church was, in some way, a pilgrimage to Saint Peter Julian.

"Have a great love for Jesus in his divine Sacrament of Love; that is the divine oasis of the desert. It is the heavenly manna of the traveller. It is the Holy Ark. It is the life and Paradise of love on earth." (Saint Peter Julian Eymard to the Children of Mary, November 21, 1851)

The principal splendour of the church is a three–storey altar crowned by an immense golden monstrance for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Curiously, although the monstrance is the architectural focus of the whole church, it is empty. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a modest, much smaller monstrance set directly on the altar where Mass is now celebrated versus populum.

In entering the church the eye is drawn immediately to the empty monstrance enthroned above the high altar; only after a few moments of careful observation does one notice the discrete monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament on the versus populum altar. The current arrangement attests to the all too familiar hermeneutic of discontinuity — or even, of rupture — that, for the past forty years, has so marked the renovation of churches.

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There were three adorers present in the church when we visited. Everything in me wanted to linger in adoration. How extraordinary to find oneself, all of a sudden, before the Eucharistic Face of Christ shining with redeeming love through the veil of the sacred species, before the immolated and glorious Lamb in whose presence one wants only to be silent and adore!

To the left of the sanctuary is a spectacular preaching pulpit adorned with gilt symbols of the Holy Eucharist. Every detail in this church proclaims and celebrates the Blessed Sacrament. We stopped for a moment of prayer at the altar of Saint Peter Julian Eymard. Beneath an exquisite marble statue of the saint holding a monstrance there is a reliquary containing a bone of his. The veneration of holy relics is very much a part of my piety. Caro cardo salutis. The grace of the saving Flesh of Christ suffuses the bodily remains of His saints with a mysterious attraction that compels one to pray. I have experienced this more than once.

The Lady Altar of the church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. She is depicted holding the Christ Child in her arms; He, in turn, holds the Sacred Host, radiating light. The whole effect is one of — what shall I call it? — supernatural enchantment!

"Be the apostle of the divine Eucharist, like a flame which enlightens and warms, like the Angel of his heart who will go to proclaim him to those who don’t know him and will encourage those who love him and are suffering." (Saint Peter Julian Eymard to Mme Antoinette de Grandville, July 4, 1859)

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I consider today's "pilgrimage" an Advent grace. The mystery of Christ's Eucharistic advent, coming between His first advent in the flesh and His final advent in glory, forms one single coherent adorable mystery. One cannot be drawn to one of these without, at the same time, confessing the others.

Hail to Thee! true Body sprung
From the Virgin Mary's womb!
The same that on the cross was hung
And bore for man the bitter doom.
Thou Whose side was pierced and flowed
Both with water and with blood;
Suffer us to taste of Thee
In our life's last agony.
O sweet Jesu!
O loving Jesu!
O Jesu, Son of Mary!

6 Comments

The church had a total renovation around 1997 and for about 5 years they returned to using the large monstrance placed above the main altar....it is only in the recent past few years that they discontinued it for the smaller monstrance on the newer altar in the sanctuary. it seems like such an a loss, it is hard to see why they did it.

did you stop at the domincan church down the street....it is a real gem!

Patrick, I didn't see the Dominican church in question. Would that be Saint Vincent Ferrer?

My difficulty with not using the great monstrance high above the sanctuary is that the architecture of the whole church converges on it. The church was really built to house that immense monstrance. The presence of two monstrances is confusing, to say the least. My thinking is that one should honour the original artistic and theological vision of the architect and not attempt any sort of revisionism. For all of that, the church is magnificent. New York City and the world need such churches: oases of adoration.

Beautiful translation of the Ave Verum, Father! The one I always say goes: "Hail, True Body, born of the Virgin Mary. The Body which truly suffered and was sacrificed for mankind, the Body Whose pierced side poured out true Blood. Be for us the Food of strength for the hour of death. Dear King, sweet Holy Jesus, Son of Mary!" I think this is a translation from an old missal, but I can't really recall.

Yes, Father, St Vincent's is the one i mean, it is only about 10 blocks south of St Jean...it has to be one of the best churches in NYC.

I understand what you mean about not using the large monstrance...especially after they spent so much effort to renovate the interior, it is strange to leave the main focus empty.

i am probably wrong, but when a parish staff does something like that, it makes me think they are still stuck in old polemics and have not moved on...it seems to make more of a "political" statement. with some real vision, the church could be a center of real eucharistic adoration in NYC. IMHO

I love NYC as well - particularly Downtown, Soho, the Village. And I've always wanted to see the presepio at the Met in person! I've not been there for Christmas.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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