|The stairs at the end of the Braccio di Constantino|
I wanted to title this post: "I attended Latin Mass with Pope Francis," but figured it would be too click-baity. :-) But, yes, it was a Mass largely in Latin, celebrated by (well, sort of), Pope Francis. And if I'd written "I concelebrated Latin Mass with Pope Francis," that would give it away -- that this was, of course, a Novus Ordo Mass, and not the usus antiquior
This was the Mass with the College of Cardinals on Tuesday, August 30, at St. Peter's Basilica. I've concelebrated a large Papal Mass before, at Epiphany, early on in this Pontificate (and in my priesthood!), in January of 2014. Back then, I had to have one of the seminarians at the North American College apply for a concelebration ticket with the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, and then go pick it up, through the Santa Anna gate at the Vatican, on the second floor of one of the offices in that wing of the Apostolic Palace. Nowadays, one registers at a Vatican website online, providing various details and a scanned copy of one's celebret. Once registration is approved, one can then apply for a ticket for an upcoming concelebration, and receives a rather unceremonious email with instructions, and the actual ticket attached as a PDF. According to the website, this is also the procedure for Bishops (though the paperwork requirements are slightly different). All this was done a couple of weeks back from the US. Not quite as glamorous as being let in to the Vatican offices by a member of the Swiss Guard. Easier and more efficient, for sure. And amazingly, for the Vatican, it all worked smoothly.
The day itself was another blazing hot August day. The Mass was scheduled at 5:30 pm, and the ticket instructed concelebrants to show up at 4 pm at the Braccio di Constantino. Not knowing if there was a separate security line for concelebrants, I joined one of our party who had valiantly agreed to stand ahead (while the rest of us enjoyed the a/c in our AirBnB), at 2:30 pm. It turned out that there was a separate concelebrants' line -- much shorter, and under the shade of the colonnade. At about 3:15 pm, the security guards (after much back and forth among them about "i concelebranti") let the priests and deacons in. Everyone made a mad dash to the Braccio di Constantino on the north side of Bernini's Colonnade. I'm. not sure why … we'd all be lined up later by the MCs and going in to the Basilica together anyway.
By 3:25 pm, I was fully vested. It was hot and humid in the corridor of the Braccio. There were over two hours still to go, and my handkerchief was quite soaked already. I watched as groups of priests trickled in and vested (clearly they had a better idea of how far in advance to come!). I would estimate that at least 75% were "of color," i.e. Latin American, Asian or African. I also estimated that maybe 30-40% didn't put on the cincture. This is another pet peeve. I'm not sure why priests think that omitting an essential part of the vestments of Mass is permissible, especially one that has a prayer for chastity connected to it! (The chasuble is the only vestment that is optional at a concelerbration.)
At 5 pm, the ceremonieri (Masters of Ceremony) appeared at the top of the steps, and gave instructions, in Italian and English. I nodded in hearty approval at one of these: "you are all reminded that you are concelebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As such, we request you not to take any photographs during the Mass, and maintain an atmosphere of recollection." The lack of decorum at large Masses that I've attended, whether at our Cathedral in Atlanta or elsewhere, is, to me, truly scandalous, and another sign of the rather pathetic state of liturgical formation of clergy in general. I truly wish that the "guardians of tradition" would pay much more attention to this than they clearly do. But that would require another post entirely.
At 5:20 pm or so, we were all lined up, "two by two, Fathers!" The large blob of priests moved towards the door of the corridor, clearly unable to form itself into two separate lines. A guard, with a (well deserved) scowl brusquely indicated to my tribe to line up properly as we processed down the portico and into the Basilica through the central doors, and in the central aisle lined with the faithful.
We were seated in a section behind the Bishops. The Rosary was being prayed (in Latin), and as it ended, there were announcements asking that the faithful avoid applause during the celebration. That would have been necessary had the Pope come in in at the end of the procession. However, given his recent difficulties with walking, Pope Francis was wheeled in from a side door to a spot on the right of the main altar, on a small platform, where he vested in alb, green stole and cope. It is unlikely that many of the faithful further behind even realized he was in the church.
|(taken before Mass started! :-))|
The Mass started with the procession of Cardinals, vested in green chasubles. I recognized a few (mainly the American ones and some of the Indian ones), and it struck me just how old this group is. Many limped, or walked with labored breathing. Some were in wheelchairs. At the rear of the procession was Giovanni Battista Re, the Dean of the College, who would preside over the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Pope is unable to walk, or stand for long periods, so, for a little while now, at Papal Masses, he presides in a cope, and leads the Liturgy of the Word, and a Cardinal takes over for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The rubrics permit this kind of presidential role for a Bishop, if he isn't the principle celebrant at the Eucharist (Ceremonial of Bishops, 176ff and a later clarification from the then CDWDS)
|Pope Francis stands briefly to vest|
The Ordinary and Propers of the Mass were sung by the papal choir in Latin, and there was no hymnody, except the Salve Regina at the every end. The readings were in English and Spanish and the Gospel chanted in Italian. Until somewhat recently, the Gospel would have been chanted in Latin.
The Pope delivered a short homily in Italian, with the central theme of not losing one's sense of wonder. "Come vai il tuo stupore?" "How goes your wonder?" focusing on the Scriptural images of St. Paul in wonder at God's plan of Salvation (the Canticle in Eph. 1), and the Gospel of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:20). I was pretty wonder-struck at once again having the opportunity to offer the Holy Sacrifice with so many priests, Bishops, Cardinals and the Vicar of Christ himself. And then, two rows of priests, including the one I was in, were given ciboria full of host for consecration, and were invited to line up to the side of the Papal Altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We held the ciboria with the bread through the Eucharistic prayer (A bit of a balancing act, with a the ciborium in one hand, a card with the words for the concelebrants for the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs I, in Latin, in another) … and I couldn't help but wonder as the ciborium, after the prayers, became a Tabernacle in my hands. After the Eucharistic Prayer we filed down the central aisle and distributed Holy Communion to the faithful. [Back in 2014, the instructions from the previous Pontificate were still in place, and the faithful were asked to receive on the tongue. In light of the pandemic, no doubt, this was gone. Over 90% received in the hand.]
Soon, the Mass was over with the final Papal blessing and, without much ceremony, the Holy Father was wheeled off to a side door, and the Cardinals shuffled out in procession. The Swiss Guard, as is customary, brought up the rear of the procession, even though the Sovereign they are meant to protect wasn't present. The Bishops and priests followed. As the music swelled, the faithful milled about taking selfies.
After Mass I met up with the rest of the group at the Obelisk in the Piazza. As we were taking photos in front of the magnificent façade of St. Peter's with the beautiful play of dusk colors behind, a family from Toronto struck up a conversation with us. They were of Indian origin. In fact, the daughter said, her dad was from Gujarat, and had converted to Catholicism when he married their mom, who was from Guyana. She had been raised Catholic and had never met a priest who could speak Gujarati. She was ecstatic! She couldn't wait to tell the rest of her family, especially her "Ba" (grandma) that she had met a Gujarati priest. "Members of my Hindu extended family often criticize me or make fun of me for following the "dholiyaloko no bhagwan" ("the god of the white folks."). I can't get them to understand that Jesus wasn't actually white, and He is for everyone. I just share how filled up I get when I go to Mass." We took photos and exchanged contact information, and I gave the family my priestly blessing.
|The Patel family from Toronto|
Now there's a beautiful encounter filled with wonder.
"Blessed be God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ, with every spiritual gift in the heavens!"