The Washington Post,
Metro Local News.
Monday, March 24, 1975, p. C-1.
Circus Troupe Performs for Palm Sunday
By Marjorie Hyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
A young woman in pink and gold spangled tights balanced herself on a weaving pole 20 feet above the high altar of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Georgetown yesterday.
A cheeky clown shouted encouragement to the priest; a sequined showgirl piled her cape of fluffy turquoise marabou on the altar as her part of the offertory.
While worshipers throughout Christendom celebrated Palm Sunday yesterday with more traditional commemorations of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Rev. James English of Holy Trinity enlisted the talent of nine circus performers to drive home a gospel lesson.
"Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." said Father English, paraphrasing the text from the Gospel according to Matthew.
In his brief homily that launched the parish's regular 9:30 a.m. family mass, Father English offered three reasons for enlisting performers from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus to help launch Holy Week, the most sacred season on the Christian calendar.
First, he said, "circus people always remind us that we should never get too impressed with ourselves."
Second,, he pointed out, just us Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing that his triumphal entry would be followed by his death, "circus people know that life is both hard and easy. Circus people know that all through life you are going to have to fall down and then get up again."
Third, he said, "this world doesn't really like the little child that lives in all of us and so we are forced to suppress and sometimes forget that child ...
"But whenever we go to the circus, that child grows and stretches and we remember that the Kingdom of God belongs only to children."
A congregation of more than 800, of whom at least a third were children, packed into the greystone church that bears on its front a proud bronze plaque marking it as a regular place of worship of the late John F. Kennedy.
Youngsters, charged with anticipation, squirmed impatiently in the pews and whined at their parents that they wouldn't be able to see when what they deemed the main event took place.
After Father English finished his homily, recorded music heralded the first act -- clowns in baggy pants, fright wigs and all.
Ron Seberini milked five minutes of laughs and applause out of the simple act of assembling a portable music stand.
His wife, Sandy, also a clown, brought equal expressions of delight with a comic juggling routine.
The 33-inch clown midget, Prince Paul, distinguishable from the children only by his white-face clown makeup, worked before delighted crowds in the side aisle.
Then it was time for the Knop troupe and its balance pole act. Almost casually, Kristina Knop climbed to the top of the l8-foot steel stem and balanced there as her three male cohorts on the ground passed it back and forth among them.
Her toes seemed almost to puncture the stained glass skylight above the altar as she did a headstand while the bottom of the pole was passed from forehead to shoulder to one upraised hand. She kept her quivering perch as the polebearers walked precariously up a ladder and as the ends of the ladder were hoisted to shoulder height.
Even the most restless of the children sat silent as Kristina balanced her body across the handlebar-like device at the top of the pole, her outstretched arms frozen in a swan dive pose.
The church rocked with applause as the Knop troupe took its bows, first to the congregation and then turning, they mice a deep obeisance toward the altar.
The performers retired to the back-of the church as Father English thanked them calling them "nine of the most wonderful people in the world."
"I'll go along with that!" called out Prince Paul to the delight of priest and parishioners.
The entire troupe returned as part of the offertory procession and at Father English's invitation joined ;him behind the altar.
After communion, Father English presented on behalf the congregation wooden crosses to each of the performers -- including Prince Paul who is Jewish
After mass the dazzled congregation gathered to meet the performers who flanked Father English on the church steps.
Asked if he had received any criticism of the unorthodox Palm Sunday service, Father English replied in the negative. "They loved it," he said.
The Washington Post,
Letters to the Editor.
Sunday, March 30, 1975, p. A-7.
Circus or Mass?
After reading your article 'on the Palm Sunday Service at the Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, I am compelled to write in an attempt to -clear up a rather disgusting and distorted view of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It occurred to me that "at least a third" of the congregation came to the 9:30 Mass, not to praise and offer sacrifice to God, but to preview a circus act: While these performers are talented, it is an unfitting and a sacrilegious offense for God to be deprived of the attention and worship that is meant solely for Him.
Your article says that it is an unorthodox change and implies that this is part of the new and improved Catholic Church. It seems to me that it is a return to the Renaissance, a time when meaningless services were held in opulent cathedrals with such dazzle and schmaltz that would put Ziegfeld to shame. Indeed, these are regressive changes.
I hope that this 'adverse publicity which you have afforded the Catholic Church, was not meant to be a slap in the face to this religion . . .
As for Fr. English, I think he would be more useful to God and His Church ' if he spent his time "tending his flock," rather than recruiting clowns to supplement his sermons.
Michael J. Dollard. Rockville.-
Regarding the Palm Sunday fiasco at Holy Trinity Church, never in my wildest ecumenical dreams did I ever envision that a high-wire act would replace the noble Latin liturgy of the Tridentine Mass.
Theodore L. Humes. Silver Spring.
The Washington Post,
Letters to the Editor.
Monday, April 7, 1975, p. A-21.
The 'Circus Mass'
Two of your correspondents have expressed shock and indignation over the "circus Mass" at Holy Trinity (Letters: March 30). There is no indication that either writer was actually present. My family was.
Although I find myself in the somewhat paradoxical position of sharing Mr. Humes' high regard for the Latin Tridentine Mass, I must strenuously' dispute the validity of the criticisms both he and Mr. Dollard level. The truth of the matter is that the Palm Sunday message of Fr. English bears far greater fidelity to the good news of the Scriptures than the the humanistic platitudes that tend to dominate so many contemporary liturgies.
One example will suffice. Last year, we all attended an Easter-season Mass at which the children brought to the altar, as symbols of new cycles of life, paper butterflies they had-made. Such symbols, while appropriate to the old pagan rites of spring, distort the Christian understanding of the Resurrection event. Yet these superficial, and essentially secular, simplifications seem to draw not a whisper of complaint.
The skillful way in which Fr. English used a circus act to explicate St Matthew's very difficult exhortation to become again as children, while innovative, is orthodox in the fullest sense of the word. Had the Messrs. Dollard and Humes more carefully read The Post's very accurate account of this story, including Fr: English's rational for the presence of a circus troupe at Mass, perhaps they would not have felt the need to condemn this truly Christian celebration. :
William R. David. Reston.