"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. " The words of Isaiah resonated with the parishioners of Our Lady of Peace, who gathered on the sidewalks of New York City outside the shuttered church on December 20, the last Sunday in Advent before Christmas, to celebrate Follow Mary - A Festival of Lessons & Carols. Accompanied by The Patriot Brass Ensemble, musicians with a mission to serve our nation's Veterans, familiar carols reverberated and carried in the cold afternoon air, drawing passersby from Third Avenue.
More than 50 people encircled the brass quartet, some seated in folding chairs that are used for the daily rosary, some standing on the sidewalk. The theme, "Follow Mary," has a special significance to parishioners. The Jubilee Year of Mercy, inaugurated by Pope Francis, began on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the important holy days of obligation and a dogma in Roman Catholicism. Parishioners sought to have the church opened on that day as a "special occasion," but were denied. On a symbolic level, the lessons follows the story of Mary, her journey to Bethlehem with Joseph, and the birth of Jesus in a manger.
"When you read the lessons drawn from Luke," said rosary captain Jessica Bede, "you will find that you are really following the angels." Download the PROGRAM Follow Mary Festival of Lessons & Carols
The event began with a welcome by Shane Dinneen, President of the Friends of Our Lady of Peace nonprofit organization. The Friends recently launched a capital campaign to raise funds to demonstrate to the Vatican that they can support the operations of the church. Recourse to the Congregation for the Clergy has been extended to February 15, 2016.
Led by cantor Susan Ward, the first hymn was "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The program started at sunset. As the light faded, flashlights and mobile phones were used to follow the program and music.
Janice Dooner Lynch (above) read the "Shepherds and the Angels" from the gospel of Luke. The brass was poised to begin the hymn, "Angels We Have Heard on High."
Jessica Bede read the final lesson, from the gospel of John.
Narrators Shane Dinneen, Tami Ellen McLaughlin, and Melisande Valdes joined in singing "Silent Night." After the hymn, parishioners went to the steps to light candles. Below, parishioner Thomas Lynch places a votive candle on the steps. Since the All-Night Vigil held on July 30, 2015, the evening before the church was locked, parishioners have held a Perpetual Light Vigilon the steps and prayed a continuous rosary. Their story of faith and their example of peaceful resistance has traveled around the world, gaining the sympathy and support of people from many countries and other religions.
The last lesson of the evening was drawn from the gospel of John: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
[Photographs by Steven Moy]