Let's begin with an assumption: that the criteria for "special occasions," as delineated in the FAQ implementation document disseminated among all priests involved in the parish planning program Making All Things New, means something. Download Most Frequently Asked Questions
A special occasion means that Masses and sacraments will be celebrated at the discretion of the pastor/administrator on specific occasions, such as funerals of long-time parishioners; a significant anniversary of the former parish; the feast day of the former parish; and weddings that were scheduled prior to the date of the canonical decree, November 2, 2014, and to be celebrated prior to August 1, 2016, one full year after the implementation of the merger.
It is understood, first and foremost, that "special occasions" - albeit sacramental bones thrown to parishioners of newly merged and closed churches - are really about property tax benefits. In other words, for the bare minimum of discretionary occasions that the pastor of the newly merged parish agrees to hold, the property won't be taxed, until it is sold or partially used for a non-religious use. To get tax benefits as a house of worship, use it or lose it. (See relevant law here.)
And now we come to the case of Our Lady of Peace, founded as Madonna della Pace, dedicated to Our Lady, the patron of the parish, a.k.a. the Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, and named also for the peace that followed the First World War. Not to mention the many devotions, the chapels to the Madonna di San Marco and the Madonna di Romitello, the parish celebrated every major feast day in the Marian calendar with special healing masses that were attended by thousands of people from the region. Those included, among others, the Nativity of the Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception*, the Solemnity of Mary*, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and of course, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary* on August 15.
For hundreds of years, Catholics observed the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15 — celebrating Mary’s being taken bodily to Heaven after her death — but it was not until 1950 that the Church proclaimed this teaching a dogma of the Church — one of the essential beliefs of the Catholic faith.
August 15 is the day that Catholics have long celebrated what is called the Dormition (falling asleep) or Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Feast of the Assumption celebrates both the happy departure of Mary from this life by her natural death, and her assumption bodily into heaven. Along with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th) the Assumption is a principal feast of the Blessed Virgin and a Holy Day of Obligation — one of the most important feasts of the Church year.
One of the most important feasts of the Church year was not deemed to fit the criteria of a "special occasion," according to the Archdiocese of New York's Parish Planning department, as told to a parishioner who wrote a letter of request to Msgr. Douglas Mathers.
Pastor of the newly merged Saint John the Evangelist-Our Lady of Peace, Msgr. Mathers also told the parishioner that he was new at this, and not familiar with protocol. Yet at one of the first vicariate information sessions on Making All Things New held in January 2011, Msgr. Mathers, who also serves as Vice Chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York, gave a presentation on pastoral planning criteria.
The FAQ clearly states that "special occasions" are held at the discretion of the pastor/administrator. This begs the question: Which feast day of the parish is acceptable, if not the most important one?
It became apparent that it would not be possible to open the church on August 15, or to find a priest to say a Mass, if one would agree to say a Mass. The Upper East Side strong, the faithful of Our Lady of Peace, who have been holding a Perpetual Light Vigil on the steps and saying a 54-Day Rosary Novena on the street since the day after the church was closed, held the Vigil of the Assumption and the Assumption Healing Service as planned - on the sidewalk, in front of the steps, with the media - CBS, ABC, Fox Business, and the New York Post. (Click on links to see available coverage).
Opening the church would have been a good-will gesture at the very least. But the parish faithful at the "church on street" will continue to assemble, pray, and bear witness to those who stop and ask. This is a church that should never have been closed. And the work these people are doing is a powerful lesson in evangelism for all those who participate.
The Vigil of the Assumption begins with day 14 of the 54-Day Rosary Novena.
The Vigil of the Assumption concludes with the lighting of candles at dusk.
Healing service concludes with Lennix Lewis administering the "laying on of hands."
Parishioners singing, "Our Savior is strong..." join hands. (Click on the link to hear them.)
Ilana Gold from CBS interviews a parishioner after the service.
* Holy Days of Obligation