On June 1st, Whitsunday, 1884, the Rev. Edward Allen Larrabee became the tenth rector of the Church of the Ascension and third in a succession of Anglo-Catholic leaders.
During the month's interregnum following Fr. Ritchie's departure, regular services were continued as usual by Fr. R. D. Phillips, headmaster of the parochial school. At the Diocesan Convention, which took place during May, the bishop mentioned having confirmed 25 persons from the Ascension at St. Paul's in Hyde Park. The Ascension was reported to have 665 members, 230 Sunday school scholars, 63 parochial school students, and Mass had been said there 505 times during the preceding year.
Fr. Larrabee, who came to the Ascension from the Cathedral of St. Paul in Springfield, was born in Chicago on March 31, 1852. His father, Charles A. Larrabee, had been for many years senior warden and treasurer of St. James parish, and it was there that Fr. Larrabee received his earliest religious instruction. He attended Chicago Public Schools, Racine Grammar School and Racine College (founded and at that time headed by James DeKoven). Later he attended the General Theological Seminary in New York.
In July of 1876 Fr. Larrabee had been ordained a deacon by Bishop McLaren at St. James parish in Chicago. He was placed in charge of St. John's Church, Quincy, Illinois. On May 27, 1877, he was ordained a priest and remained at St. John's until 1879. During this time he was a frequent visitor to the Ascension, was well known to the parish and often assisted Fr. Ritchie by supplying during the rector's vacations.
In 1879 Fr. Larrabee was called by the new bishop of Springfield to assist him at the Cathedral of St. Paul. When the vestry called him to become rector in 1884, Fr. Larrabee's ties were as strong with Chicago as they were with the Church of the Ascension. His family had played an important role in the city's growth. Larrabee Street was named for them. One of his sisters was married into the DeKoven family and lived in the DeKoven Mansion, now Biggs Restaurant, at Elm and Dearborn Streets. Another sister was Mrs. Charles Street, and through her Charles Larrabee Street, later consecrated suffragan bishop of Chicago, was related to Fr. Larrabee.
The Chicago press noted that on Larrabee's first Sunday at the Ascension, the Solemn High Mass at 11 o'clock was unabridged. Those contents of the prayer book liturgy, which Fr. Ritchie had omitted and which had been at the center of the difficulties with the bishop, were included in the Mass. In other respects the ritual was not changed and all the innovations of Fr. Ritchie's rectorate remained.
Fr. Larrabee was warmly received by the parish. In his first sermon he noted the appropriateness of his beginning his rectorate on Whitsunday, the birthday of the Church. By October of 1884 Fr. Larrabee was able, with support of the parish, to reopen the Mission of St. John the Evangelist on Clybourn Avenue, which Fr. Ritchie had abandoned during his troubles with the bishop.
On Easter Monday of 1885, with no particular fanfare, Bishop McLaren returned to the Ascension to confirm 39 persons. At Easter the press had again begun to take note of the Ascension, observing that although Fr. Larrabee was much admired and loved throughout the city, and the parish's relation to the bishop was greatly improved, little had changed at the Ascension. The ornate rituals of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter were particularly noted. The Times observed that although such ritualistic practices were still highly offensive to most Churchmen, "Ascension people like Ascension ways."
At the Easter Monday parish meeting of 1886, the vestry issued an appeal for increased pledges in order to resume work on the main church building. Fr. Larrabee hoped to finish the building in the near future; ironically, a second damaging fire helped facilitate completion of the church.
Late on the evening of Sunday, July 18, 1886, a passerby noticed a light in the chapel of the Ascension parish. A gas jet which had been accidentally left burning after Evensong had caught the woodwork of the organ afire. An alarm was sent out and the fire department arrived quickly. Fr. Larrabee entered the blazing building to save the altar vessels. The chalice and patten, which along with the baptismal font were the only things saved from the Great Chicago Fire, were carried to safety by the rector.
Although it did not take long to extinguish the fire, one fireman was injured and the chapel badly damaged. The organ was completely destroyed as was the entire vestment collection. A good part of the roof had collapsed and all of the windows had been broken in. The loss was estimated between $8,000 and $10,000, but there was sufficient insurance coverage.
Arrangements were made with the president of the North Division Railroad, who owned the LeGrand Roller Rink at Clark and Elm Streets and was a friend of the Ascension, to use the building for services. On Sunday, July 25, Mass was celebrated in the roller rink, which had been quickly converted to function as a church. Fr. Larrabee spoke of the many persons who had come to the aid of the Ascension in the preceding week. Already the parish had received $1,400 in unsolicited gifts toward the rebuilding of the chapel and finishing the main church. It was possible, Fr. Larrabee observed, that the tragic fire could be a blessing in disguise. Circumstances might now force the parish to find the courage to raise the money and assume the loans necessary to complete the church for which ground had been broken nearly five years before.
On August 1 a meeting of the vestry was held to discuss what plan of action should be taken with respect to repairing the chapel and completing the building of the church. Although $3,400 had already been contributed toward the work, it was estimated that more than $20,000 would be needed.
At a parish meeting on September 13 at the LeGrand Roller Rink, a resolution was proposed to take a $15,000 mortgage on the church property in order to repair the chapel and complete the main church. A prominent member of the parish, Mr. Newton Lull, spoke against the resolution, arguing that because the chapel had ample room, spending a large sum on an unnecessary building was foolish and unbusinesslike. The senior warden, Capt. Joseph Hall, responded that walls of the main church already stood 18 feet. The work must be completed, Capt. Hall observed, or the unfinished walls would stand as a memorial to the Ascension's inability to complete what it had undertaken. The resolution was adopted with only one dissenting vote.
In September contracts were let for repair of the chapel and completion of the main church. A new architect, I. W. Tilton, modified original plans by eliminating some features including a triforium gallery and extension of the chancel through the existing chapel to the back of the lot. The cost of completing the work at that time was estimated to be approximately $35,000.
During this period at the beginning of Fr. Larrabee's rectorate, the Ascension began to attract a number of socially prominent persons as parishioners. Press reports noted that many of the faithful were arriving in carriages. A fund-raising entertainment conducted by ladies of the parish was described in the society pages of newspapers. Patrons paying $7.50 a ticket filled a rented hall for an amateur amusement; most of the audience wore evening dress and came in carriages. A newspaper critic had high praise for the handsome production set, but suggested that the performance might have been improved if the cast had been audible. Regarding the one piano solo, the critic felt that its best point was that it was brief.
Encouraged by this and other parish fund-raising efforts, work on the buildings moved swiftly. On Sunday, October 24, 1886, the chapel was reopened. At the Solemn Mass at 11 o'clock the Rev. Dr. Hiram Beers, who had twenty years before been the sixth rector of the parish, delivered the sermon. The press noted that all the ritualistic practices peculiar to the Ascension were in evidence. Only Fr. Larrabee, the celebrant, received communion at the Solemn Mass; however, the Comfortable Words, Confession, Absolution, and Prayer of Humble Access, to which Fr. Ritchie had strenuously objected, were all included in the liturgy.
Eight months later, on Saturday, June 25, 1887, at eight o'clock in the evening the completed main church of Ascension parish was visited by the Rt. Rev. George F. Seymour, bishop of Springfield. This first service in the new church, reported by all the city newspapers, began with a procession from the chapel down Elm Street and around to the main door of the church. At the entrance Bishop Seymour, vested in cope, recited prayers and a blessing. The procession continued down the nave with the choir chanting Psalm CXXII, "I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord."
After the procession reached the chancel, the "Veni Creator" was sung. Bishop Seymour, assisted by Fr. Larrabee and a Fr. Moore as chaplains and followed by six other priests, blessed the altar, cross, candlesticks, and vestments. There was a sermon by the bishop, then a solemn procession with incense around the church ending with the singing of the Te Deum. The service ended with several collects and a blessing by Bishop Seymour.
At the time of this first service it had been nearly six years since the ground had been broken for the building. By the summer of 1883 the walls had only attained the height of eighteen feet. At that time work had stopped and the unfinished walls stood untouched for three years for reasons associated with Fr. Ritchie's dispute with the bishop. A reminder of these problems is visible on the upper portion of the exterior wall along Elm Street. The same cut of stone was not available after the three-year suspension in work, and the stone work above eighteen feet differs from that below.
The church as it appeared when it was opened was somewhat different from the way it appears today. Until the west end was altered in 1930, there was a porch and central door on LaSalle Avenue where the baptistry is today. Inside there was no choir loft or narthex. The nave ran all the way to the west wall. The floor, lower walls, and ceiling were all of light-colored Georgia pine. The chancel had no rood screen, and choir stalls were situated at the front. The organ stood against the wall to the north of the chancel arch. The altar was of carved wood with a wooden tabernacle. All newspaper accounts of the opening of the church mention the simple beauty of its interior. No paint or plaster appeared on any surface. Red pressed brick, pine and glass made up the entire interior.
The first Mass was said in the church at six o'clock the next morning by Bishop Seymour. Solemn Mass was celebrated by Fr. Larrabee at eleven o'clock. At each of these services, including Evening Prayer that night, the new church was filled to overflowing.
At Christmas of 1887 a gift to the parish from Fr. Larrabee was first seen. He had erected in the church a seven-foot high crucifix of carved pine, a memorial to the Rev. Louis Sandford Schuyler, a friend of Fr. Larrabee who had died while aiding the sick in a yellow fever epidemic. It is the same crucifix which was later moved to the LaSalle Avenue front of the church.
[Louis Sanford Schuyler, the son of an Episcopal priest, was born on March 2, 1852, educated at Hobart College, and ordained a deacon in 1873. While continuing his theological studies, he became troubled concerning the Catholicity of the Episcopal Church and was referred by his father to the Rev. James DeKoven, who influenced him to remain in the Church. In May, 1877, a year after his ordination to the priesthood, Louis Schuyler attended a mission at the Church of the Ascension conducted by the Cowley fathers. Awakened to an intense interest in the religious life, he sailed for England in October to try his vocation at Cowley St. John, Oxford, with hope of early admission to the novitiate. However, his health failed, he found himself unequal to the exercises of community life, and returned home.
[In 1878 while engaging in missionary work in the parish of The Holy Innocents, Hoboken, New York, Mr. Schuyler supplied as chaplain for the Sisters of St. Mary at Peekskill. Learning that hundreds (including members of the sisters' community) were sick and dying of the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, and that two remaining priests were dangerously ill, he immediately offered to go to Memphis. To his friends and relatives who tried to dissuade him, Schuyler replied: "If God calls me and I go and die it is not a self-willed act, but an act of obedience to God."
[Arriving in the plague-ridden city on September 7, Louis Schuyler ministered tirelessly to victims of the epidemic. He succumbed to yellow fever and died (aged 26) on September 17, 1878.]
In the fall of 1888 Fr. Larrabee quietly reinstituted the practice of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. No word concerning this was heard from the bishop, and the practice has continued to this day.
During the latter years of the decade and through the 1890s, with nearly all the ceremonial and devotional practices in place which would persist to the present, the general attitude of the diocese toward the Ascension was somewhat more relaxed and accepting. That this attitude was related to changes in Churchmanship throughout the diocese is suggested by the following excerpt from an article in the Tribune of April 26, 1892:
Suppose a Protestant Episcopal Churchman of 1871 had fallen asleep just after the presumptious high churchmen had been set down upon so hard, and had waked up and gone to church this morning, wouldn't he be astonished? This is saying nothing about the "Ascension" on the north side, where they have incense, and probably a ritualistic service as high as any in America. That has been a sort of frontier post and it will be years before the rest stand where it is, if so be that day ever comes. But what with St. Clement's, and Grace, St. James' and St. Andrew's, and all the rest, the poor Protestant Episcopal Rip Van Winkle would hardly feel at home unless he stayed awake long enough to find out that things were a good deal livelier than when he was in Chicago before, and that if there are no more low churches, there are no more high churchmen either. For the old "high and dry" has gone out of fashion too.
A long and laudatory article concerning the parish was published in the Evening Post of September 5, 1892. The author began by noting that the Ascension was one of the few parish churches in the city whose doors were open all day. While most of the city's churches were open only on Sunday, the Ascension had at least three services each day and more on Sundays and Holy Days.
A complete history of the parish up to that time was given in a most favorable light along with an accompanying note to the effect that the principle observed at the Ascension was that the Episcopal Church was a part of the Catholic Church and must maintain the traditions that had been universal in Catholic Christendom.
The Book of Common Prayer yields itself without straining to the carrying out of those traditions. The music and ritual at the Solemn Mass are of a high order. There is not another church in the country where the ritual is more perfect and more regularly carried out in accordance with Western use. The vestments, the lights on the altar, the incense, and the other adjuncts of Catholic ceremonial have been used for years. The ceremonial of the Mass is, in the main, the same as that observed in the Roman Catholic Church, but the Episcopal Prayer Book is used.
The article further reported that the Sacrament of Confession was practiced. Of the 612 voluntary confessions made during the previous year, many were by "members of the sterner sex." The article concluded with descriptions of parish buildings and organizations and noted that an important improvement was soon to be made in the parish, the erection of a new marble altar in the main church.
The new altar and rood screen, which can be seen in the church today, were the gifts of Mrs. George Wheeler in memory of her father, Mr. Gilroy Lord. The press reported that the cost of the altar and screen would aggregate $10,000. On December 7, 1892, the oak altar, which had been used in the main church since its opening five years earlier, was donated by the wardens and vestry to Nashotah Mission and was placed in the seminary chapel. An effusive article in the Times described the new altar and its installation:
Hushed are the voices and reverent the hands of the workmen that are slowly uniting the hallowed marbles of the new Altar of the "Ascension." The spirit of the work and the place casts its spell on even the rough artificers and the ponderous stones swing noiselessly into place, the silence broken only by the clink of the mason's chisel, or the grating of his trowel. The long golden rays of the afternoon sun stream through the high windows softening every outline and lending rare beauty to the work, even in its unfinished state. The altar with its glistening marbles, rich architectural effects, and glowing mosaics will be one of the finest examples of purely ecclesiastical art in this country . . . The Ascension will then contain what is probably the noblest piece of altar architecture in any Protestant Episcopal Church in this country.
On Ascension Day, 1893, Bishop McLaren visited the Ascension to give the new altar his solemn blessing. Solemn Evensong, with incense, was sung. The bishop preached on the nature of the Blessed Sacrament, emphasizing the Sacred Presence and the sacrificial aspect of the celebration of the Eucharist. Twenty-seven of the city's forty Episcopal clergy attended, most wearing cassocks, surplices, and birettas. A newspaper account referred to the Solemn Evensong as "one of the most impressive and devotional functions" that had ever been held in the diocese.
Although the new church had been blessed by Bishop Seymour in 1887, it was not until the spring of 1896 that it was possible for the consecration of the church to occur. On April 10th of that year Alice Lord Wheeler died in her home on South Prairie Avenue. Mrs. Wheeler was one of the most prominent members of the parish. All of the city's papers published long obituaries concerning her life, generosity, dedication to the church, and long-suffering in her final illness. A long, loving article in the Angelus, the parish magazine, told of her devotion, both public and private, to the Ascension and to the Catholic Faith. The article announced that she had left to the parish a legacy of $15,000, an amount that would completely free the parish from debt.
Mr. Wheeler, widower of the benefactress, transmitted the sum to Fr. Larrabee without delay. Within days the mortgage on the church was paid and the long-standing collection box marked "Church Debt" was removed from the chapel. Planning now began for the consecration of the church, and for the erection of a new parish hall to be named in honor of Mrs. Wheeler.
The consecration of the church building, which took place on Ascension Day, Thursday, May 14, 1896, was described by The Living Church as "... one of the greatest functions ever held in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago." Bishops, priests, deacons, seminary professors, and seminarians all were present. The church was filled to overflowing.
The service began at 10:30 A.M. with a procession of the clergy around the outside of the building, headed by crucifier and acolytes, followed by Bishop McLaren with his deacons of honor, the Rev. Dr. Gold and the Rev. Dr. F. J. Hall, both of the Western Theological Seminary, the latter deacon bearing the bishop's crozier. Next in the procession came the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, bishop of Wyoming and his chaplain. They were followed by Fr. Larrabee and Fr. Sword, recently named assistant priest at the Ascension. At the end of the procession were various dignitaries including the dean of the convocation, bishop's secretary, and several rectors of Chicago parishes.
Arriving at the door of the church on LaSalle Avenue, the bishop of Chicago knocked three times and the door was opened by the wardens and vestrymen, who were assembled in the vestibule. Mr. C. R. Larrabee, member of the standing committee and father of the rector, was also in the vestibule. The procession entered and passed up the middle aisle, between ranks of choristers, who followed them and were followed by the vestry and the bishop, the choir chanting antiphonally the Twenty-fourth Psalm to a Gregorian tone. The bishop assumed his chair and the office of consecration began as the clerk of the vestry read the instrument of donation and consecration whereby the building is forever set apart for sacred uses, the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments; the bishop then intoned the prayers. During Matins, which followed, one of the lessons was read by Canon Dorset, who at the time was teaching at St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin.
At the Solemn High Mass which followed, Fr. Larrabee was celebrant, Fr. Sword served as deacon and Fr. Bowles, subdeacon. The choir sang Gounod's "St. Cecilia" Mass. The sermon was preached by Bishop McLaren, who closed with "a touching allusion to the late Mrs. Wheeler, her beautiful life, good works, and her example as a conscientious Catholic." A luncheon followed, and that evening at 8 o'clock Solemn Vespers was sung by the rector.
The parish had just finished celebrating the payment of the parish debt and consecration of the church when disturbing news was received. At the annual meeting the treasurer, Mr. Frederick W. Lee, reported that at the close of the year, despite Mrs. Wheeler's generous legacy, the parish had several thousand dollars in unpaid bills and was heavily in debt. Many, who had hoped that construction of the new parish hall would soon begin, were surprised and disheartened by the news. Quietly a few members of the vestry began to make inquiries.
At the annual meeting in the spring of 1897, the vestry again expressed concern about the financial condition of the parish. A committee to investigate and report to the parish was formally appointed. Mr. Lee was again named treasurer.
The following year was eventful in the life of the parish. After Vespers, on the first Sunday in January, Fr. Larrabee conducted Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Since Fr. Ritchie's institution of Benediction in 1884, the service had been held occasionally on appropriate feasts. In 1898 the practice of scheduling Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on the first Sunday of each month began.
On Sunday, March 27, 1898, Capt. Joseph B. Hall, who had for 26 years been senior warden of the parish, died. In 1842 his father, the Rev. J. M. Hall, had established the first weekly communion in the United States in Ashtabula, Ohio. Capt. Hall, who came to Chicago in 1864, had been a member of the vestry that called Canon Dorset. He was elected senior warden after the Great Fire of 1871. As noted, his son, the Rev. Francis J. Hall, distinguished professor and theologian at Western Theological Seminary, was a member of the parish's first vested choir and was the first boy to serve as an acolyte at the Ascension. A Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated for the soul of Capt. Hall, and his body was taken to Ohio for burial.
Although in England laymen played important roles in initiating and nurturing the Catholic movement during the nineteenth century, such was not generally the case in the American Church. Capt. Hall, however, was a notable exception. He not only strongly influenced the appointments of Canon Dorset, Fr. Ritchie, and Fr. Larrabee, but throughout his many years of dedicated service firmly and unequivocally supported the principles of Catholic faith and practice which informed the ministries of this succession of rectors. Furthermore, through the work of his son, Francis J. Hall, he contributed a highly valuable legacy to the entire Episcopal Church.
On the day of Capt. Hall's death, the Rev. Robert W. R. Dolling, an important leader of the Anglo-Catholic movement in England, visited and preached at the High Mass. On Palm Sunday, April 3, he preached at all the Masses. After hearing confessions all day on Holy Saturday, Fr. Dolling returned again as preacher on Easter. [The Rev. Robert W. R. Dolling was one of several priests of the Church of England during the latter decades of the nineteenth century who were strongly influenced by both the Catholic revival and the temporal as well as spiritual needs of the poor to whom they ministered. Before his ordination Dolling engaged in social work in London slums while associated with St. Alban's, Holborn. He spent ten years in working class neighborhoods of Portsmouth as a priest at St. Agatha's, Landport. While practicing the most advanced Catholic ritual observances, as well as founding his ministry on a Catholic interpretation of the sacramental system (the basis, he argued, for his strong Evangelical orientation), Fr. Dolling did all in his power to lessen the evils of slum life. From pulpits throughout England (including those of St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey) he made known the appalling conditions of life of the lower classes, denounced those responsible, and vigorously advocated social change. During his visit to the United States in 1898, Fr. Dolling was offered a canonry of the Chicago cathedral, which he declined because of other commitments.]
At a special meeting of the vestry on March 21, Fr. Larrabee reported the discovery that Mr. Frederick Lee, for several years the treasurer of the parish, had been embezzling parish funds. His office was declared vacant and Mr. George Ranney was unanimously elected to fill the post. A Finance Audit Committee was appointed to take further action. Within a day the committee went to Mr. Lee with a demand for over $2,500, which he was then known to be withholding. By the end of the week the committee was instructed to begin legal actions against Mr. Lee.
At a vestry meeting on March 29 it was announced that, under legal advice, the Finance and Audit Committee had ordered the arrest of Mr. Lee and a warrant had been issued by a judge to that effect. At another meeting on April 1, the vestry voted to hold a parish meeting in order to present to the parish a complete account of the embezzlement and legal proceedings.
Mr. Lee was given a hearing on April 12 before Judge Foster on the charge of embezzling $2,000 of church funds. Mr. Ranney, who had sworn out the warrant against Lee, told of the discovery of Mr. Lee's shortages, and of efforts vestrymen had made to arrange a settlement without legal action. Mr. Redford, attorney for the defense, declared that his client was being persecuted. The attorney noted that his client was ready to pay any shortage, but the offer was refused.
After the examination of Mr. Ranney was completed, the case was continued until the middle of October, 1898, when this item appeared in the Tribune:
The case of Frederick W. Lee, former treasurer of the Church of the Ascension, came before Judge Brentano's court about the middle of September. A motion to quash the indictment on the ground that 'no proper demand on Lee had ever been made' was overruled by the judge who said, 'If that argument were good, all an embezzler would have to do would be to say that he had embezzled because no demand had been made on him for the money.' The trial then proceeded. Lee was found guilty, sentence was passed October 6th, and shortly after he was taken to [the prison at] Joliet.
Since the time of these events all collections have been counted in the presence of two persons, and the church's books have been regularly audited.
Christmas of 1898 fell on a Sunday and Masses were celebrated at 7, 8 and 9:30 A.M. A Solemn High Mass was celebrated at 11 o'clock followed by an evening service of Solemn Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
At midnight, two hours after the church had been locked after Benediction, a fire was discovered burning in the church. It did considerable damage before it was extinguished. It was at first thought that the Wheeler altar had been destroyed, and damage estimates were as high as $40,000. More careful examination indicated that the altar was only slightly damaged. The roof of the main church and the north windows were destroyed. Heavy water damage was done to the interior, particularly to the organ. The chapel suffered extensive damage and the parish house was completely destroyed. Most of the vestment collection and some church papers were lost. The final estimate of the loss was set at over $12,000.
The vestry met on Monday and appointed a committee to settle with the insurance companies. Letters were read to the vestry from both St. James and St. Chrysostom offering space for the parish to worship. Another vestry meeting was held on the 28th and a committee was appointed to oversee repairs of the church and chapel and to procure plans for a new parish house. The rector announced that on Sundays Mass would be said at 7 o'clock at St. Chrysostom and sung at 9 o'clock at St. James.
The cause of the fire was never determined. It was thought to have been caused by either an over-heated furnace or crossed electrical wires. However, by January 15, 1899, the vestry had authorized the contract for restoring the church and chapel. The vestry also considered plans for a new parish house under which would be constructed a steam heating plant to heat the entire premises.
On February 1 the vestry accepted a settlement of $13,537 from fire insurance. The contract for the new heating plant, at $1,545, was signed and plans for a two story parish house, designed by the original church architect, John Tilton, were approved. The cost was estimated at $6,400. The parish house is the one in use today.
On the Feast of the Pentecost, May 21, 1899, the Church of the Ascension celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of Fr. Larrabee's rectorate. The following day the Tribune carried a lengthy account of Fr. Larrabee's recently published work, Prayers at Mass, an illustrated work containing material translated from Roman Catholic liturgical sources to supplement Book of Common Prayer rites. "A notable fact about this book," wrote the Tribune, "is that it has no parallel in the United States outside of Roman Catholic churches and no companion in the world except a less elaborate compilation in use in St. Alban's Church, London."
In his preface to Prayers at Mass, Fr. Larrabee noted that the book "is designed to assist the worshiper in following with greater intelligence and devotion the actions of the priest in all that pertains to his ministry at the altar." The work presented private devotions for each part of the Mass. "The more ancient use," the preface continued, "prescribed for these stages of the Mass approximate prayers which are in themselves the best commentary upon the ritual acts in which the priest is at the time engaged."
Prayers at Mass also contained devotions for the office of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament as well as the Litany of the Blessed Sacrament. Also included were "certain devout affirmations of love to our blessed Lord" appropriate for use at any time during the course of the Mass.
During the spring of 1899 Prayers at Mass occasioned considerable additional discussion and editorial comment in the Chicago press. The Rev. J. M. Scanlan of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Name was reported to have expressed no surprise at the decided Catholicity of the book.
I had known that Father Larrabee had been leaning toward Catholicism for some time. I think, as does Dean Farrow, that the Episcopal ministers must either join the Catholic Church or justify themselves. It is too bad that they go so far, and yet do not go far enough, but it takes some time for them to make up their minds. The three great English converts, Cardinals Manning, Newman, and Wiseman waited for years before they were convinced. The Catholic Church is making many converts among the Episcopalians in England, and out of fifty or so converts made during the year at the cathedral, by far the greater number are from the ranks of the Episcopal Church. Of them many are from Father Larrabee's parish.
The Tribune reported that Prayers at Mass was widely discussed by Episcopal clergy throughout the diocese; few, however, wished to have their opinions of the work published. Although Bishop McLaren declined at first to comment on the book, the bishop's secretary, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Rushton, told a reporter:
There is no need for all this excitement about Father Larrabee's book. I might mention fifteen or twenty books of the same kind have been published by rectors in different parts of the country. Great latitude is allowed in this respect in our country. It is not to be understood for a moment that this book of Father Larrabee's supersedes the regular prayer book.
In a later interview Dr. Rushton quoted the bishop as expressing the opinion that "the book written by Father Larrabee was one written for private prayers among members of the congregation and would in no way interfere with the worship as heretofore carried on." Having examined the book, the bishop found nothing objectionable in it.
The parish historian, Mr. Henry Ranney, noted parenthetically that the whole matter of Father Larrabee's book "dropped into oblivion" following Dr. Rushton's interview. Although certain members of the parish objected to the cost of publishing Prayers at Mass, none objected to its content. The book, Mr. Ranney reported, was never in general use at the Church of the Ascension.
On June 3, 1899, Fr. Larrabee's father, Charles R. Larrabee, died at the age of 75. Mr. Larrabee was a long-time member of St. James parish and for many years its senior warden. In later years Mr. Larrabee became a parishioner at the Church of the Ascension. After a funeral celebrated by Bishop McLaren at the Ascension, he was buried at Graceland Cemetery.
Solemn Vespers was sung on Michaelmas Eve, September, 1899, and Bishop McLaren was present to bless the new Wheeler Parish House. The next day the parish celebrated its forty-second anniversary with a choral Mass in the morning at 6:30 and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Solemn Te Deum at eight o'clock in the evening.
In October the Rev. Dr. John Cracraft, the first rector of the Ascension, died in Saratoga, New York, at the age of 72. Dr. Cracraft, who had held extremely Low Church views, at one time very nearly joined the Reformed Episcopal Church schism. He did not, however, and in the end died a priest of the Church.
Christmas of 1899 was celebrated in the parish with the customary solemnities. With the regular choir supplemented by a string orchestra, the "Mass in E Flat" by Guilmant was sung. With the repeating of the same music at the eleven o'clock Solemn High Mass on Sunday, December 31, the parish marked the conclusion of the nineteenth century.