There are a lot of things to talk about, let's just jump in...
The "retired" priest from here and I drove up to D.C. on Wednesday, we had essentially perfect weather throughout. We stayed at St. Joseph's Seminary, which is operated by the Society of St. Joseph, a community founded in the 1800s particularly to serve the needs of African American Catholics and to foster vocations from that community. It was kind of them to find us rooms on short notice.
We arrived in D.C. around 4 pm, and that's always an adventure in traffic, all the moreso with motorcades whipping this way and that, as they were with the Holy Father, and bishops and dignitaries making their way back and forth--to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, for Vespers, and then to the White House, for a state dinner. We were staying about a mile away, so we wanted to avoid getting caught up in the congestion. We went over to Virginia for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant; afterward, I drove father around town for his first visit in over 60 years! About 8:10 pm, we saw a motorcade of buses filled with bishops and cardinals whipping down North Capitol Street, I assume on their way to the White House.
We were up early each day--we left Piqua at 7 am, we left for Nationals Stadium at 6, to arrive there by 7:30 as we were strongly encouraged to do, and we were up early to have our own Mass at the Basilica before coming home on Friday.
I'll comment on the Mass shortly, I know that's received a lot of attention, but I want to say above all how much I appreciate and value the incredible effort that went into such an event. Give the Archdiocese of Washington its due--its folks worked hard and pulled off something unbelievably difficult. Everything was well organized, including helpful information about when and where to arrive, and why we had to do it as we did.
So, we get into the ball park around 7 am, we made our way, as directed, to the President's Club, where concelebrating priests would vest. It was far more calm and comfortable than I expected, which certainly hlped the priests to enter prayerfully into the Mass--which is pretty important.
We were out on the field--and while not of the same level, still, what a thrill is that?--around 8 am, to our seats: Mass would not actually begin for another two hours! The Archdiocese graciously provided care packages under the priests' seats (and perhaps for the VIPs and seminarians who were seated near us), which included: a good-sized poncho, a bottle of water, a granola bar and some crackers, a holy card and a pin. Really, that was thoughtful, as was the fellows bringing water bottles during the Mass. (If you say, well did the folks in the stands get the same treatment? Probably not, but they were able to exit their seats to shade and perhaps something to eat, while those on the field could not easily do so--and we were on the field for over four hours.)
So, we sat on the field, and folks milled about, priests chatted, many prayed. And we watched lots of coming and going. After the concelebrating priests came in, came the priests of Washington--this is their "home turf"; then the bishops. Normally when bishops come into Mass, that's a big deal, but not so much this day!
Two moments particularly encouraged me as a parish priest, make of this what you will. The first moment came after the bishops had taken their seats, and either just before, or just after, the pope had arrived and circled the field, of the MCs ("master of ceremonies") was doing a frantic, last-minute rehearsal with some ministers, showing them how to bring things to the altar! I thought: no I don't feel so bad when I am doing that before Midnight Mass! The second came at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, and the pope made a misstep in the prayer, starting the Per Ipsum, then backing up to pray two lines he'd almost forgotten. And I thought, "now I don't feel so badly when I do that!"
Now, I might as well address what so many are talking about: the eclectic selection of music for the Mass. Well...I want to be balanced. I understand why a need was felt to represent the variety that makes up the Church in the U.S. and particularly in the Archdiocese of Washington. And I have to say I have, perhaps, a greater tolerance for this sort of thing, and I believe many priests do. I was able to focus on what was so awesome about concelebrating Mass with the Successor to Peter, after all! So I reacted less; also, I tend to be eclectic in my musical tastes; I actually like Gospel music quite a bit; I used to listen to it in the seminary, and had a seminarian next to me, who would thought me too conservative, who nonetheless had almost no tolerance for the Gospel I would play and found very uplifting.
So I am not entirely opposed to trying to have a mix, but I think too much was attempted. It makes it very hard to experience a sense of overall unity to the liturgy, something I think clergy may fail to appreciate because of their theological training. Also, the "diversity" argument cuts both ways: you can make a point about "diversity" by having a little bit of everything, but you can make just as valid a point about having everyone come together in a profound act of common worship. And the great trick is, how to communicate that just right? As I say, I think the eclecticism undermined a sense of unity that no doubt the planners themselves agreed was important.
Also, let's not kid ourselves: music very powerfully and insistently calls up associations. Jazz, Merengue and Salsa styles (all used at the Mass) bring up various images, and I didn't find them helpful. Maybe that's a weakness in me, but I doubt I'm the only one. The responsorial psalm was particularly jarring: it brought to mind Steven Sondheim and Sweeney Todd.
Some of the choices were good, and the choir and cantors worked very hard and gave their all. In fairness, the manner in which the choirs and cantors sang the music compared very favorably with what I've heard from Masses in Rome. And, as someone else noted, how do you do this sort of thing? Could you have had much more chant and polyphony, and had it really work in that venue? I dunno, but I have a hard time thinking it would had more problems than this mix had.
I want to say again, I am not sayiing the use of a variety was itself the problem; but I would say that the way this was done only gives credence to those who say it cannot be made to work. As I type this, the Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral is being broadcast (the choir just completed a stunning Gloria), and the quality is remarkably different, even though some of the same things are being attempted: a variety of languages are being employed, for example.
On that point: I have no problem with using Spanish; like it or not, a significant portion of the Catholic Church i n this country, not to mention the hemisphere, is Spanish-speaking. I think it may be a bit much to end up using ten or twelve languages, but that's a minor matter. The major issue here is to note what the Holy Father himself said in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis: such international gatherings are ideal times to use Latin as a common language, a "neutral" ground where all meet and can pray in one tongue! The Archdiocese of Washington made almost no attempt to do that, but the Mass at St. Patrick's has made more attempt to do that thus far.
One can say, of course, that the Vatican signed off on it all. Given the notable shift in tone from the Mass at National Stadium, and the Mass--thus far--at St. Patrick's, I wonder if this might be explained the following ways: the Vatican decided to let the Archdiocese of Washington make its own bed, as it were. If the pope goes home determined that liturgical matters in the U.S. need more attention from him, the planners of the D.C. Mass can only thank or blame themselves for that. Second, it may be that the Vatican thought it useful to let the contrast between the Masses speak for itself.
Then again, the pope clearly has a plan regarding the liturgy, and it may well be he's going to proceed on his own timetable no matter what. When you think in such terms, individual events and occasions may not seem so critical. Of course, that can be a blind-spot--one can fail to appreciate fully a particular occasion--but it would explain why the Vatican didn't react as many wish.
Well, enough on that, there's so much more to say about this occasion. The Mass was, otherwise, as prayerful and dignified as such an occasion can be.
The pope's homily was good, although I find it hard to reflect on it in such a setting. I will note the following: I found it most meaningful simply that he was here: the successor of Peter, in my country! And he emphasized that, saying, I am here to confirm your faith, echoing the words of the Lord to his most eminent predecessor in the Gospel. Second, I was struck by his words about the Scandal; something he chooses to emphasize, we now see. Third, I was struck about his emphasis on hope, which--for all those who are catastrophizing about the musical choices at the Washington Mass, would do well to listen to a bit better than I think they are. The Holy Father himself seems to be very positive about the prospects of the Church in America, rather thanat the point of despair, as are so many who are so expressive online.
I can't help remarking how Benedict exceeds the expectations placed on him three years ago at this time, when elected: he'll be overshone by his venerable predecessor, he won't be able to communicate as effectively, he won't win the same affection and enthusiasm, his predecessor will outshine him particularly in how he connected with people so powerfully. While I have absolutely no truck with comparing John Paul the Great unfavorably, it must be said Pope Benedict has addressed the damage and pain of the Scandal very simply, directly and powerfully, doing things our late pope did not. Perhaps there is very good reason for that, I cannot say. The Pope's critics, who insist on depicting him as aloof, dour and too abstract, really are shown to be utterly lacking in a clue here.
...Well, I just returned, having been called away for a situation just after the Holy Father's homily, returning at the conclusion of communion, so I can't comment on the rest of the Mass today. I do wonder about this business of having these little speeches in the Mass (by Cardinal Egan just after the Sign of the Cross, and by the Vatican Secretary of State, Bertone, just now, near the end)--had I been Egan, I think I'd have done it when the pope arrived before Mass began, and then just have Mass; so I guess I'm more liturgically correct than the pope, haha!
Finally, if anyone was paying attention, the Holy Father, the Successor of Saint Peter, just added extemporaneous words before the final blessing, saying just a bit awkwardly in English, that he is a sinner, he is weak, he is overwhelmed by the task given him, he is deeply grateful for the prayers and love given him, and he didn't really know how else to express his gratitude, so he said, "my response is the final blessing." This is a prayerful, brilliant, humble, unaffecting man who sits on the throne, what a gift is that?