Communion Service at the Mother Church
The annual Communion service of the Mother Church was observed on Sunday, June 4, 1899. Next to the Mother's visits, this service was the most important event since the dedication of the Mother Church. The occasion was a most inspiring one, and will prove to be memorable in the annals of Christian Science history. The thousands of visiting Scientists coming from all parts of the country—between Maine and California—and a number from England, Australia, and Canada, is strong evidence of the progress being made by the cause of Christian Science in spite of persecution and prosecution.
The most important feature of the service was the Mother's message which is published in full on the first page of the Sentinel. The message was finely read by Mr. John W. Reeder, the First Reader of the branch church at Roxbury, Mass.
The following Boston papers published good accounts of the meetings, and most of them published the Mother's message in full: The Herald, Transcript, Traveler, Globe, Journal, Post, and Advertiser. Space will not permit us to republish the accounts given by all these papers. The following extracts are from the Boston Herald:—
Four great congregations in succession filled the edifice of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, the Mother Church of Christian Science, yesterday. Morning, noon, afternoon, and evening witnessed the gathering of multitudes around this monumental structure. They came from near and far: from Oregon and California, from Maine and Florida, the four corners of the republic, and from almost every state between. They gathered from the Bahamas and from transatlantic countries, and from Australia and India in the antipodes.
From avocations crowded with large responsibilities and decorated with distinctions, and from humble callings wherein the only glory to be won is the sense of duty done, they gathered to this shrine upon which the only relics laid are the tender memories and hallowed associations that cluster around the cradle of a faith, reared out of the loving gifts of many lands to her whom they revere as Founder, Leader, and spiritual Mother.
A simple service, the annual Communion of the Mother Church, drew these thousands from their distant homes.
No gorgeous ritual, no panorama of ecclesiastical pageantry, no splendors of art no enthralling oratory, no magnetism of great personalities, nor even the expectation of spirited debate on questions of moment to their faith, attracted this host to Boston. A few minutes of silent prayer and a few words of exhortation, admonition, and instruction from their Leader alone marked yesterday's exercises different from the ordinary Sunday morning service in a Christian Science temple of worship.
Strangers to the faith looked on with surprise as, early in the morning, the streets around the Mother Church were filled with waiting multitudes, eager to gain admission to the edifice. Nearly three hours before the hour announced for the first service the throng began to gather, and no sooner were the doors opened than every pew and every aisle and every corner of the large auditorium was filled.
And then another throng began to gather in the streets. As the hour for the noon service approached, the crowd extended up Norway Street a block away, and along Falmouth Street almost an equal distance. The first service was finished at 11.45 A.M., and those within the church poured out through the side doors, while the waiting throng were admitted through the main entrance.
Throughout the day this arrangement prevailed, and, despite the great numbers in attendance, there was no confusion, no indecorum, nothing unfitting the sacred place or the occasion.
Within the auditorium the scene was as beautiful as it was unostentatious. The Sabbath morning sunshine drifted in through the stained windows, throwing a mellowed light over chancel, pews, and galleries. A wealth of hydrangeas, lilies, and palms adorned and almost concealed the front of the pulpit platform, while in the centre, beneath the Readers' desks, a large vase of beautiful cut flowers rested. Tall palms half concealed the columns on either side of the platform which support the clusters of electric lights, and a number of splendid ferns relieved the choir balcony above the platform. These flowers constituted the only attempt at decoration, the soft and harmonious colorings of the walls and windows assisting of themselves to lend a simple, refined, and fitting effect to the ensemble.
But perhaps the most pleasing color effect of all was that gathered from the compact congregation in the pews. The bright-hued June toilets of the women dominated the mass, and were aided in their effectiveness by the soberer garments of the men. The circle of humanity in the large gallery, which sweeps around three sides of the auditorium served to prevent the quiet beauty of the upper walls and ceiling from being overpowered by the stronger coloring on the main floor. The bright morning light happily emphasized every pleasing feature of the scene, and it is safe to say, that rarely has a more beautiful spectacle greeted the eye of an occupant of a Boston pulpit than that which was gazed upon from the platform of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, yesterday morning.
The arrangements for seating the congregations were entirely democratic in character. Except a couple of pews in the gallery intended for representatives of the press and a single pew on the main floor, every seat in the house was at the service of whomsoever might first reach it. The reserved pew on the main floor was held for and occupied by the Countess of Dunmore, her son, Lord Fincastle, and her daughter, Lady Mildred Murray, who had come to America especially to be present at this annual communion. The countess and her husband, the Earl of Dunmore, are Christian Scientists, as are also their children. Lord Dunmore did not accompany his family.
Lady Dunmore and her daughter came from England, and Lord Fincastle, who is a gallant young officer in the British army, and who recently received the Victorian Cross in recognition of his services to his country, left his regiment in India to join his mother at this service. He will return to his duties immediately.
The reservation of a pew for the Countess of Dunmore and her family was wholly a matter of international courtesy, and not in any sense a tribute to their rank. It was intended simply as a compliment to the country of which the party were distinguished representatives. It was evidently accepted in this sense, for when the church became crowded, and the aisles were filled, Lord Fincastle and his sister, who is a young woman about nineteen or twenty years of age, arose and surrendered their seats to two older women. They stood in the aisle during the remainder of the service.
At the ten o'clock service, Judge Hanna, the First Reader of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, made the announcement that the Rev. Mary Baker G. Eddy, the Founder of the denomination, would not be present during any of the services. This announcement was scarcely unexpected, as it has been Mrs. Eddy's almost invariable custom to remain away from the great gatherings of the denomination. Even on the occasion of the dedication of the Mother Church, when many of her followers ardently hoped to have her with them, and when the occasion was peculiarly a testimonial of love and reverence for her, she remained at her home in Concord, N. H.
It was then explained that she wished to discourage personal adulation as much as possible, and to direct the thoughts of those who accept her teachings to the faith rather than to the Founder of the denomination. Familiarity with this constant purpose on Mrs. Eddy's part prepared those present yesterday for the announcement that she would not be present at the services.
There was very little in the order of exercises yesterday to indicate the exceptional character of the occasion. Even the great size of the congregations is no unusual feature at The First Church, for every Sunday the services are attended by a throng which exhausts the capacity of the church. The main point of difference was the scene upon the streets outside the edifice and in the vestibules and corridors, which, before each service, were as crowded as the sidewalks.
Some of those who came to attend the exercises were prepared for the possibility of not being able to obtain admission to the morning services, and brought luncheon with them. After the noon service quite a number of these thoughtful worshipers could be seen seated on the church steps and at other points of vantage, quietly refreshing themselves with sandwiches and cake, preparatory to the opening of the doors for the afternoon service.
Each of the four services was exactly like the others. Perhaps, to a stranger, the least conspicuous feature was that which gave the occasion its name—the annual Communion. It consisted only of a brief period of silence, followed by the repetition of the Lord's Prayer.
No material elements lay upon the altar, no bread nor wine passed from hand to hand and lip to lip. With bowed head and bended knee, and in a silence so profound that it seemed itself to proclaim the resolving of substance into spirit, the multitude which had made this pilgrimage from distant states and countries to their mother shrine received the spiritual sacrament for which they had come so far. And high over organ arch and pulpit and the heads of the worshipers, the painted words of the beloved apostle reflected back the Sabbath light upon the congregation, laden with the message, "God is Love."
The dominant note of the Christian Communion service is Love. The word pervades all that the church teaches concerning the feast. There are no material elements present. The idea is communion with a living Christ, and not a memorial of Christ dead. Prior to extending the invitation to commune, Judge Hanna read the following exposition of the nature of baptism and the eucharist from the text-book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:"—
"Our baptism is a purification from all error. Our church is built on the divine Principle of Christian Science. We can unite with this church only as we are new born of Spirit, as we reach the Life which is Truth and the Truth which is Life, by bringing forth the fruits of Love,—cast casting out error and healing the sick. Our eucharist is spiritual communion with the one God. Our bread, 'which cometh down from heaven,' is Truth. Our cup is the cross, our wine the inspiration of Love,—the draught our Master drank, and commended to his followers."
The noon service may be taken for purposes of detailed description, as representative of all the others. After the congregation at the first service had departed, and the second congregation had been seated, the exercises began with an organ voluntary, followed by the singing of the 163d hymn of the Christian Science hymnal, the words of which were written by Mrs. Eddy.
In the pulpit were seated Judge Septimus J. Hanna, First Reader of the Mother Church; Mrs. Eldora O. Gragg, the Second Reader, and Mr. John W. Reeder, the First Reader of the Roxbury Church of Christ, Scientist, who had been selected to read the message of Mrs. Eddy to each of the four congregations.
In the choir gallery were the precentor, Mr. J. Melville Horner, and the soloist, Miss Marcia Craft, while Mr. Charles Albion Clark presided at the organ.
After the singing of the hymn, Judge Hanna read the Scripture lessons. They were Psalm 91 : 1-6; Isaiah, 54 : 11—17, and Revelation, 12 : 12—17. Then came silent prayer, after which the Lord's Prayer was recited, with interpolations giving the Christian Science interpretation from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," the text-book of the denomination.
At this prayer the congregation does not kneel, but participates with bowed heads. Hymn 36 from the hymnal, "The lifted eye and bended knee," was then sung.
At the annual Communication it is customary to admit new members to the Mother Church. There is no ceremony attending this feature. Not even the names are read out. Yesterday Judge Hanna simply announced that upward of twenty-four hundred and fifty new members had been received. This makes the membership of the church at the present time about 14,843.
The tenets of the Mother Church were next read, and also a rule, recently adopted.
At the offertory which followed the reading of this rule Miss Marcia Craft sang with much feeling and expression the beautiful communion hymn of the denomination, "Saw ye my Saviour," etc., the words of which were written by Mrs. Eddy.
At this point in the services Judge Hanna said:—
"Our Mother and Leader is not physically present with us to-day. This fact, however, her thoughtful and loving kindness has compensated for by the message she has sent us; a helpful and strong message—strong in the strength God supplies through his appointed one."
Judge Hanna then presented to the congregation Mr. John W. Reeder, who, he explained, had been invited and was glad for the privilege of reading, the "Mother's message" at the services.
The reading of the message was listened to by the congregation with the closest attention throughout.
Hymn 166, "Here, oh my Lord, I'd see thee face to face," etc., was sung by the congregation at the close of the reading, and then came the communion service proper. Judge Hanna gave a brief and simple invitation. He said:
"I now invite all present, whether members of this church or not, and communicants of other members if there be any present, to enter with us into the inner sanctuary of Soul, for a brief moment, into the Holy of Holies, into the secret place of the Most High and the most nigh, for there is nothing so near as infinite Love. Let us now kneel in silent, peaceful, joyous communion with our Father and Mother God."
The great congregation, which had not knelt at the earlier prayer of the service, with one accord arose and assumed the attitude of supplication. Only a few persons in the church remained seated, indicating the fact that there was a comparatively small number of persons present who had been drawn to the service through mere curiosity.
During the period of silent prayer the breathing of the congregation could almost be heard. At its close, the congregation still kneeling, and led by Judge Hanna, repeated the Lord's Prayer with great distinctness and solemnity.
The "Scientific Statement of Being," a quotation from the text-book of the denomination, was given, and then the full, round, rich voice of Judge Hanna pronounced the benediction, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all."
And then the service, which had drawn thousands of men and women from regions thousands of miles away, was over.
The afternoon and evening services were attended by throngs almost as great as the earlier ones. Many persons waited in the vicinity of the church for the opening of the doors through the latter half of the afternoon. At the evening service there were numerous strangers present, among them several clergymen of other denominations. It was estimated last night that the aggregate number of attendants at the several services was nearly six thousand.