Papal Mass in Washington


Yesterday, I watched Pope Benedict celebrate Mass with 48,000 people at Nationals Park in Washington. I wouldn’t usually do this because like fireworks, there’s something about Mass on tv that just isn’t the same. I’m also something of a “low church” kind of Catholic, to use an old fashioned term. But I was home from work and really curious. Since I’ve become active in liturgical ministry in recent years I wondered how they would share Eucharist among 48,000 people and whether people would kneel on the cold, beer-stained concrete of the grandstand during consecration. I also hoped I might see my friend Edward who was in attendance.

I didn’t find out the answers to these questions, but I’m really glad that I watched the Mass courtesy of live web streaming on USCCB’s Papal Visit Site. From all appearances, it looked like a joyous, hopeful, and prayerful celebration. I found it much more moving than I expected. I was especially moved by the liturgical music for the Mass which was a diverse mix of the standard contemporary Catholic songs, music of the many different cultural communities of the Washington archdiocese, and even a communion meditation by Placido Domingo! Pope Benedict is known for his fondness of music and I suspect he enjoyed the best that the American church offers in this joyous and prayerful liturgy. The diversity of the music also tied in well with what Benedict said in his homily:

“Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. The Church in the United States is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges – challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears – with the hope born of God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5).”

I recognized one of the cantors, Stephen Bell, a deacon who will be ordained as a Paulist Father in June. I feel like I know him personally, but actually I just know him from when he participated in the BustedHalo Cast a couple of years back (apparently he does know a lot of people though). He has a rich and sonorous voice and it was lovely that he could share his gifts for leading the people in praising God.

The Pope’s homily was also moving with its message of hope. Like Dirty Catholic, I realized that I’d never heard the Pope’s voice before. It’s an obvious German accent, but softly spoken. My friend Edward put it best when he said you expect power from that accent so when you hear it gently spoken it’s “sort of like a powerful man tenderly holding an infant.” Like many Europeans he shames us monolingual Americans by being able to communicate fluently in multiple languages.

I’m particularly pleased that he was able to honestly and empathetically discuss the clerical sex abuse scandal in the homily. I’m even more happy that he met with some abuse survivors for an open conversation after the Mass. Hopefully this will be the beginning Church taking some responsibility for the wrongs of the past and working toward that hope for the future the Pope so eloquently foresees.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to tune into more of the events as the Pope visits New York (even though he’s going to the home of the Yankees, ick). The coverage provided by USCCB was excellent, albeit the screen for the the streaming video is tiny, but I read elsewhere that on tv news the reporters were chatting over the Mass and cutting to commercials so this was much better. Rocco Palmo as always deserves accolades for his Whispers in the Loggia where he’s publishing the text of all the Pope’s public comments as well as much more papal visit coverage.

2 responses to this post.

  1. I was at that Mass as well. Very interesting setting for church I thought.

    Reply

  2. Posted by John D. on 19 April 2008 at 6:57 am

    I agree that the mix of musical styles really contributed to this being a joyful and prayerful liturgy. One of my favorite moments was the singing of Veni Creator Spiritus during the incensing of the altar, which started as a traditional Gregorian Chant and then later incorporated a Native American flute and African and Latin American drum rhythms for a sound that really spoke to my heart.

    Reply

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