Monday, April 21, 2008

En Mass - Thursday, 4/17

Note: Between my writing and my posting of this, there's been a great deal of - ah - discussion of the liturgy and particularly the music at it. No criticism occurred to me at the time, and I'm not going to start here....quite honestly, I am not interested this time around. Not when I look at the bigger picture:

Juli and her housemate had Mass tickets where I had none, so I went to St. Stephen's in Foggy Bottom – a gorgeous church, I'll have to go back to it someday – where they were broadcasting the papal Mass. Around 10 people were there; it was just a small room off the parish hall. The news channel showed the Mass with no interruptions and minimal explanatory commentary by a priest; very welcome. I'm glad I didn't stay at Juli's to watch: Mass is never an individual event, even watched on TV. There were enough people there, too, that it didn't feel artificial to say the responses and sit/stand/kneel. It really felt like participation after a fashion – as well, since finding an actual Mass in DC that day was impossible. All the priests, that I could tell, were off concelebrating at Nationals Stadium. What, though, is the protocol for reverence to the Eucharist when it's on TV?

I came too late to see it, but someone there said that when Pope Benedict arrived, the Popemobile rounded home plate. I did come in time for the start of the Mass - Benedict processed up to the altar and gave the opening blessing, after which he sat down and Archbishop Wuerl welcomed him to DC – and was promptly interrupted by a mighty cheer which Benedict stood back up to acknowledge. It was awesome watching Wuerl deliver the welcome/introduction (which was oft-interrupted by applause) – he was just beaming ear-to-ear the whole time, absolutely joyous; a kid in a papal candy shop. He covered in brief the history of American Catholicism – just a handful of faithful on some East Coast island, for the first Mass in 1634. The Mass readings must have been selected specially – the first reading (in Spanish) was Pentecost; the second reading and Gospel likewise focused on the Holy Spirit. The first reading set the tone for the Mass, which incorporated the main languages (10, I think?) you might hear walking down a Washington street. Including Igbo, a major Nigerian language and my brother-in-law's first language – I liked. :) Also appreciated because the Church is very strong in Africa – it deserves acknowledgment. The music was a similar blend of languages and styles.

In his sermon, Benedict focused on the shape the Church has taken in America; it's highs and lows. The Catholic hospitals and schools; the generous nature of Americans in time of crisis here and abroad; specific mentions were made of Katrina and the tsunami. But also – the treatment of American Indians and of blacks. (Even St. Matthew's Cathedral in DC only permitted black Catholics, in the mid-1800s, to use the basement. Not the actual church.) And also the Scandal; the trust that was broken.

The Creed was in the form of the baptismal/Easter questions, not something new to me by now – but it was the Pope asking us. And we answered him Yes – here, and in the stadium proper. The gifts were brought up by three groups: first laity; then religious, including the MC regional superior; she and the Pope spoke for a few moments; then by mentally and physically disabled. A man with Down's Syndrome; a woman in a wheelchair, others. Some of the same, including the MC superior, were in the papal communion line.

The Communion hymn was Panis Angelicus, sung by Placido Domingo - a truly transcendent moment. Not only the singing, but also the way Benedict went to meet Domingo afterwards and clasp his hand, not the reverse...the joy on Benedict's face. Again - such utter simplicity and appreciation of the beautiful; such capacity for joy. After Mass, the Pope blessed the tabernacle and cornerstone for John Paul the Great HS in Arlington VA. Can we get the Bishop of Arlington here? Please? I promise we'll only borrow him, Juli! Following that blessing, His Holiness processed into the dugout.

For the remainder of the day, I wandered the Shrine area and the Franciscan monastery, soaking in the atmosphere that Catholics en masse create, then went to my sister's in the evening to wish my nephew a happy 3rd birthday. I had bought a picture of Benedict, embracing four children together, at the Shrine; when I showed it to my nieces, the four-year-old burst into delighted chortles, hands over her mouth; and the five-year-old grabbed the picture and ran to go show her daddy. I'd have left it with them, but it would have vanished within the day. I gave my sister's mother-in-law her choice of three Benedict pictures; she chose one and started saying over and over “I love Pope, I love the Pope. Thank you. Thank you.” She's not even Catholic, nor...mmm...attuned to Catholicism. I would have thought. Showing me, again, how little I know of her world.

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