Tuesday, January 23, 2007

March for Life 2007, Part II: the Mass

The other priests and I met again for breakfast at 8:30, after which we'd head to the Verizon Center for Mass, a few blocks away. This is when my errors of judgment came back to haunt me. I packed in a blur the prior afternoon, and didn't give enough thought to the stole I brought. Would it be red, for St. Vincent the deacon, or green for ordinary time? I brought those two; then opted for the red, since I had to carry my stole, alb and cincture to the Mass. (I took one of the plastic laundry bags from the closet; hopefully, the hotel won't charge me for it.) Well, as the immortal crusader in the Indiana Jones movie quipped, "he choose poorly." The celebrant, Archbishop Wuerl, wore purple, and most of the concelebrants wore white; a few, green; I did spot one other fellow with a red stole, who perhaps was just as gratified to see mine.

The Mass was a loolapalooza--some 10,000 in attendance; in fact, it started with a "youth rally" about an hour prior; the assembly was hooting and swaying to a band about 20 minutes before Mass was due to start. At one time, there was a "seminarian Mass" held at a nearby church, but that was ended a few years ago, and supposedly this took it's place. I think that is a shame; however, Archbishop Wuerl did recognize the seminarians.

The music was heavily in Christian-rock vein. Meh. After the long procession (credit to the D.C. liturgist--they did have all the deacons and priests process in, but alas, not the seminarians), the Archbishop, before the opening Sign of the Cross, bade all to sit. He then made all the introductions, leading to various contingents to cheer for their diocese when their bishop was named. Archbishop Wuerl introduced the papal nuncio by saying, when you go back to Rome, please tell Pope Benedict of our loyalty and love--and everyone jumped to his feet, and the nuncio actually gave some arm-pumps, which charged up the crowd even more. The rest of the bishops got rousing reactions from their own contingents, and polite applause from everyone else. The bishops jumped to their feet to applaud the priests, which was nice (and everyone stood, too); the priests and all jumped to their feet to applaud the religious and seminarians; but unaccountably, the deacons did not get a standing O.

Well, after everyone had applauded everyone, we began Mass. When all that lasted about 25 minutes, I dreaded how long the rest of the Mass would last, but it proceeded nicely. A priest, the chaplain for University of Maryland, gave the homily, which was rather good. I gather he was chosen because he was expected to deliver a rousing message that would elicit strong responses from the assembly, and he did not disappoint. (It is rather telling--and I guess a sign of some humility--that no bishop was judged suitable for this mission.)

He started curiously, talking about junk food: I think junk food should be good for you...and playing video games should make you muscular; candy should cure acne...that sort of thing. Then he said, do you agree? Let's vote. "Yes," everyone thundered. Of course, he said, that's not how it works; we don't get to vote on reality. Truth is truth regardless of a vote. And so he segued into the prolife issue. Along the way, he also made some good points about chastity, and he told a moving story about a girl who came to him, pregnant, and how he helped her tell her family. He talked about personal vocation, plugging priestly and religious vocations, and he made a great point about how you know God's plan for your life--start by following his general plan: go to Mass, go to confession, do what you already know is right; because if you don't do these things, you are shutting him out of your life.

Well, he made other good points, but let us move on...Mass proceeded in the usual fashion from there. I forgot to mention the Mass had a bilingual quality--one of the readings was in Spanish, as were some of the petitions; a program helpfully provided translations--i.e., the printed text for what was in English, was Spanish, and vice-versa. Yes, I did think that this would have an excellent opportunity to use some Latin; and a little did make its appearance, in a contemporary, English-Latin Agnus Dei and a choir of seminarians chanted Adoro Te Devote and Adoremus te Christe. I wanted to sing along, but alas I do not know the words by heart. What if these had been printed in the program? (Dirty little secret--this is what priests do when they attend these big Masses--we critique everything.)

The gifts were brought forward by a coterie of folks with various disabilities, including several I believe had Downs Syndrome. And the thought that struck me will shock you, but here it is: If abortion is, indeed a kind of holocaust, then "the Jews" are people with Downs Syndrome: because they are the ones who are being exterminated. When you next meet someone with Downs Syndrome, realize that you are meeting a member of a group that are being wiped out from existence, because of pregnancy testing that identifies babies considered likely to have Downs Syndrome--and the fact that the vast majority of babies so identified are destroyed in the womb. Now there is a push to check every unborn baby. Search and destroy.

Also, as I watched the Archbishop warmly greet the gift-bearers--who were accompanied by able-bodied friends or family--I realized that in all our chest-thumping about the dignity of those with disabilities, it is in particular families that the rubber meets the road, as it were. If you are a parent, or a sibling, of someone with a disability, there are challenges and demands placed on you, perhaps very severe, perhaps for your whole life. It's fine for me to say, those with disabilities have dignity; but families to whom such folks belong are the rescuers, the "righteous gentiles" (a term Jews apply to non-Jews who aided them during the Holocaust) of our time.

Another thing I think most priests do, at a Mass like this, is watch to see how something so gargantuan, so complex, is organized. How will they consecrate so much bread and wine? How will they provide the Eucharist in a timely and orderly fashion? Confession time: there is a little, dark part of a priest that senses a train wreck may be in the offing, and feels a certain morbid fascination.

Well, I say with full admiration, they handled it about as well as I think they could--from what I saw. While the organizers might have had an altar big enough for all the bread and wine, as it happened, they had tables set up, at the edge of the arena floor, in front of the two sections where the concelebrating priests were. On these were placed bowls of bread and chalices of wine. Quite a bit was placed on the altar per se.

(Note: Roman Canon was used, with all the saints. The Mysterium Fidei and Per Ipsum were intoned, in English, by Archbishop Wuerl, who sang nicely, leading me to wish he'd sung more of the prayers. The priests spoke their parts--the epiclesis, words of consecration, and the offering, aloud, and made the gestures proper to the Roman Canon: bow, striking their chest. They joined in the Per Ipsum, and that was very nice.)

MCs--masters of ceremony--showed up, at the right time, with bowls containing the Body of Christ, so that the concelebrating priests could receive the Body of Christ with the Archbishop. Then we were led down, row-by-row, to those tables in front of us, to complete our communion with the Blood of Christ--and for those in the first several rows, to take bowls so as to distribute to the assembly. Priests were given slips of paper, presumably indicating where to go. Considering we had 10,000 people on three levels, it worked well. I was not needed to distribute, so I and my returned to our places after receiving the Blood of Christ. The MCs gathered all the hosts after communion, and with the help of several deacons, purified all the vessels in the proper fashion, and everything went smoothly. Mass ended fairly promptly--there was a practical announcement about exiting, meeting buses, and picking up signs.

Well, we processed out to another pop-rock sort of song (I really think the assembly would have responded as well to other musical choices. I'm not dead-set against all this sort of thing, but I do believe a little goes a long way, and shouldn't we have diversity?) -- it ended up being a rather quick-step recessional--maybe the servers or priests ahead of me, setting the pace, had too much coffee before Mass. Getting unvested and out of the arena, like the Mass, was remarkably orderly under the circumstances. Full kudos to all the hard work planning this.

One of the priests I was with wanted to hobnob with a bishop; the other had to hit the mens room, and said, I'll meet you at the corner of 7th and F. When we got out there, there were about 2,000 people at that corner--miraculously, we saw each other.

Here, again, another of my errors of judgment came back on me. I hadn't checked out of the hotel; I figured on returning, so that I wouldn't have to carry my alb, stole and cincture with me through the day. Had I been smarter, I would have checked out, stowed my luggage in the lobby, and then I'd have had a choice--because at that moment, I'd just as soon stayed gone ahead to the march. But too late--so I headed back to the hotel. In a few minutes, I'd stowed my liturgical gear in my bag, along with my scarf and gloves, as the temperature was near 40 degrees and low wind. I kept my cassock on; I figured it not only represented "flying the flag," but it would help keep me warm, which it did. It would, however, get muddy in the mosh pit where they have the "rally." But more on that in Part Three.


Anonymous said...

The only reason I didn't stand to applaud the deacons was because I was tired, and nobody else was standing--I know, lame reasons. And then I felt bad because everybody decided to stand for the religious and such.

And I loved your cassock. I hope it washes.

Megan (that homeschooled kid hanging out with Lehman)

Anonymous said...


Thank you for sharing your experience. It was almost as if I was there. *SIGH* Maybe next year!

I had to chuckle at you wondering how long Mass would take. I've always wondered if priests ever felt that way, and if so, if they "wondered aloud to themselves" would a bolt of lightening stirke them down for not being totally joyful about a Mass that has gone or might go on for hours?!

Glad you had a nice time, and glad you made it back safe and sound.

Dad29 said...

Great stuff! Thanks for the post.

One of my daughters was at the Mass you described. She didn't get the message about "not kneeling" so she did kneel...

and, believe it or not, was reprimanded for "lacking unity" with the others by some snot-nosed teenybopper with her group.

She told him that she would utilize reverence, thanks anyway...

Father Martin Fox said...


I'm all for kneeling at Mass; and I have no use for the extremity of conformity of posture that some folks stress; it's just not realistic and counterproductive.

That said, a Mass in an arena such at that is the sort of circumstance I think the rubrics have in mind when the faithful can be excused from the norm of kneeling.

I would say this, however: had I been in charge, I would have had an MC come to the mic right before Mass and instruct all the gentlemen to take off their hats, remembering they are at Mass, even if it isn't a church.

For all I know, that happened; but I saw a number of young men had their hats on, and I think they would have doffed them with such a reminder. People who mean well, but forget how to act in such circumstances, need such reminders.

Anonymous said...

A great performance.
But did the Archbishop of DC speak (teach)specifically to abolishing Roe v. Wade as the law of the land? It is this law which allows the slaughter to continue. Did he speak (teach) specifically to those Catholic politicians who aid and abet Roe v. Wade and to the eternal consequences of their ignoring the Church's position on abortion? No?? Then he is a shadow, just as his predecessor was.
Was the Archbishop at and, preferably, at the lead of the march?

Anonymous said...

Father; I'm glad you were there and there was such a big turnout. However, the Mass sounds a little to circusey for my taste. Probably, just as well I wasn't there. I'm not a big fan of applause and pop music in the sanctuary.

mom said...

Father, Thank you ! I did not feel the mass was a circus. I too wish the seminarians were introduced. I really wanted to respond to your thoughts on the chidren who brought up the gifts. I am a mom of one of those kids. I will never be able to tell you what a honor it was just to be there at mass. Thank you for your insight into our life. Everyday I pick up my cross , and it is almost 80 pounds. However it sure felt weightless on Monday. Thank you again