Getting to know the extraordinary form of the Mass can be challenging. To us born after Vatican II, this part of our Catholic heritage feels like a foreign country. Holy Innocents makes our liturgical patrimony feel one of the rich cultural experiences available here in NYC, ready for new explorers to dive right in. At other homes of the EF I’ve felt like an outsider, but at Holy Innocents I’ve only found a warm welcome with humility, not snobbery.
The EF Mass could happen at any parish, but there are two more reasons not to close this gem of a church.
1. Closing Holy Innocents would mean the loss of an important artist’s work. The mural behind the altar is an historic fresco by Constantino Brumidi, the same Italian immigrant who decorated the rotunda of the US Capitol building in the 1860s. Brumidi is so significant, he posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2012. He left Italy because he was on the outs with Pope Gregory XVI, so a painting he did for the Church is an ironic rarity. Much as I love the Apotheosis of Washington, the sacrifice of Calvary is even more valuable. The parish has already invested a good deal of time and money to restore the mural’s original brilliance. The scaffolding currently surrounding St. Patrick’s Cathedral demonstrates the Archdiocese’s commitment to historic preservation, so I know the Church can continue to keep up with the federal government in promotion of great art.
2. On a more practical note, Midtown West is just too crowded for just one parish. The soon-to-open 7 subway line extension and Hudson Yards redevelopment are only going to bring more traffic to the West Side. (My job involves transit news, so I have subway construction on the brain.) If there’s a Duane Reade pharmacy every ten feet in this town, surely one busy neighborhood can handle multiple churches.
For example, on Good Friday my husband and I initially planned to attend the 3 pm liturgy at St. Francis since it was earlier than other nearby offerings. Arriving at 2:45, we found It was already standing room only with packed aisles. So we walked up six blocks to the 3:30 at Holy Innocents, which was also well attended. If St. Francis is that busy now, imagine the crowds with two more parishes’ worth of attendees.
Please, don’t make the same mistake the railroads did with Penn Station. Holy Innocents is cherished now and elevates the lives of many New Yorkers. It may be even more needed in the future.
Sarah Dugganwrites at CatholicHistoryNerd.com.