Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Pope says 'Hi'...

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?


Anonymous said...

Fr Fox,
May I say Amen to this whole post? I'm a nurse who has to work today, so I'm not able to watch the St Pat's Mass but what the Pope said in your last paragraph of this post makes me want to pray for him all the more. For my whole life, we've had much better popes than we deserve!
And, oh yes, the Washington Mass Music kinda made me crazy. Its impossible to meditate after Communion when there's such an emphasis on entertainment.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the gentle and gentlemanly expression of diagreement with the music selection. The explanation that you suggest of why the Vatican might have permitted this to occur gives me hope, and there is a great deal to be hopeful about. I agree, the Holy Father has exceeded even the expectations of optimists.

gemoftheocean said...

Okay, I'll be a jerk and say I HATE when Spanish is used to be politically "Correct."

EVERYBODY else had to "get with the program" and learn English, why can't the Hispanics?


Fr Martin Fox said...


Well, I think that's not actually how it was in church--while the Mass, prior to the Council, was predominantly in Latin, it did include hymns and preaching in the vernacular--and in this country, they were often done in the languages of immigrants, whether in German, Italian, Polish, and so forth.

Why should these recent immigrants be different?

EC Gefroh said...

Good post Father! I am so happy you shared this with your readers.

Anonymous said...

Father. I very much admire you and read everything you post, but please let us wait about 200 years before we attach Great to our beloved JPII.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,

Rich Leonardi has the following observation regarding the music at the Washington Mass. He writes,

"Consider this my last post about yesterday's Papal Mass at Nationals Stadium. My strong negative reaction to what went on there is based on two factors: (1) the shock that Archbishop Wuerl, a man whom I've praised many times, would permit such a bizarre exhibition in defiance of Church teaching and Pope Benedict's writings; and (2) the insult delivered to the various groups and ethnicities supposedly represented by the performers. (Bear in mind I wrote my post in "real time" as events were happening.)

Last things first. I'm blessed with an extended family that traces its ancestral roots to at least three continents. The notion that my African-American niece should automatically feel an affinity for Jazz, or my Asian-American sister-in-law ought to perk up over a prayer given in Tagalog, is offensive and condescending. It is no different than a parish worship commission asking me, an Italian-American, if I would like to see a performance of the Tarantella at the next Mass. Latin Rite Catholics should be spared from appeals to rank tribalism.

As to Archbishop Wuerl, a shepherd with a reputation as a master catechist, he should remember that liturgy is inseparable from catechesis. I now understand why Pope Benedict's "liturgical renewal" was buried in a list of "other themes" in the Archdiocese of Washington's recent papal primer. Any subsequent recommendation to his work comes with an asterisk. Pope Benedict has written voluminously about liturgical fidelity, and it is inconceivable that the liturgical planners were in the dark about it. Why they chose to ignore his -- and the Church's -- sensibilities is beyond me."

Mr. Leonardi's question is with merit.

Peace to all.


Anonymous said...

When the Mass was in Latin it was seen by people of all nations as their Mass. Now, apparently, the Mass is perceived as not being relevant to people unless it is in their language. Something wrong with the catechesis here I think.

I too like gospel music and salsa music but not in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

All that was missing from the Washington Mass was the wall of grand pianos.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father for your perspective.

I didn't see the Mass in Washington, but I did watch most of the Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was beautiful.

I found myself smiling every time I saw our Pope featured on TV or in the paper. I see "God" in his eyes and it is awesome!

Dymphna said...

Thank you Fr. for your post. I'm glad you had a wonderful time. I was way up in the 406 section. The music was very poor but I think--- I hope it was meant well. The trouble is good intentions almost always lead to a mess. I'm black but I didn't recognize any of the so called gospel music. Judging by their expressions, neiher did any other black person seated in my section. However, the mass at St. Patrick's was sublime. Cardinal Egan may not be a charmer but he h has good taste. Hopefully people will forget about the DC mass and remember New York.

gemoftheocean said...

Father, I have no objection to Masses being done in the US for the *newly arrived* Spanish speaking where there is pastoral need but then the whole Mass should be *SPANISH* not some weird admixture.

Do we hear any Vietnamese at these U.S. papal Masses? German? Italian? Polish? NO! These groups don't expect to be catered to. A *parish* level is one thing ... but these Masses are specifically aimed at the US population. And if you want to be truly part of the US, then you should work on "getting with the program."

English is the language of this country and everyone else got with the program, so can the Spanish speaking.

In my job, I can't tell you the number of times I run into Spanish speaking ONLY immigrants who have been here for YEARS and can't even have very basic simple conversations in English. It's not that I don't have sympathy, but if my grandmother who only had 3 years of formal education in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire when she was a young girl before WWI could come to this country as a 20 year old could go to night school and learn English, so can these people.

I'm sorry, but if you've been living here for years you ought to be able to do at lesat basic communication in the language of the country.,...and it isn't freaking Spanish.

I'm sorry if this sounds a little harsh, but there are many of us who choke back indignation at the FLOOD of spanish speakers, *many of whom are illegal aliens* who expect us to learn their language. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard "you no speaka Spanish?" ["no sweetheart, if I wanted to speak that I'd go there and learn the langauge."] If they're going to break into the country, jump our borders, break the emergency wards of our hospitals to the point where the hospitals close their doors, then they can have the courtesy to learn English ... or is that expecting too much?

Everyone else had to learn English, they can too. This isn't Mexico, but in some parts of the country you wouldn't know it.

But I have to laugh now that people in "fly over country" are now plagued with the swarms of Spanish speakers and overwhelmed with these folks expecting bilingual services and ballots yet. We in the Southwest complained for years that this unchecked illege flood was ruining the country, and fly over country didn't care. Well, I think we finally got their attention.

First politician to catch the well founded anger and do something about having hordes of illegals across our border and does something about it wins. And frankly, both major parties are now whores to catering to illegals.

Anonymous said...

Hi Father, What a blessing to have been present at the DC Mass, "bad music" and all! I also appreciated your measured comment after the near-hysteria of comments elsewhere. BTW, I was watching the Mass on CNN, and looked for you, but I guess the camera didn't reach your section! Anyway, it was kind of neat to realize that, watching from Canada, I could say that there was someone of my acquaintance who had the honour of concelebrating Mass with the Pope! Also wonderful was the telecast from the National Shrine -- the weather was much better than the last time I saw it in '06, when it was raining buckets!!! Thanks for your post -- it was almost as good as being there. Hope you had a safe return trip to Piqua. Regards, Patricia Gonzalez

Adrienne said...

After the Mass at Yankee Stadium we can all quit saying the only reason DC was horrible was because of the venue. New York proved that wrong. Bad is bad.

After St. Patricks and Yankee Stadium I think most people's memories of DC are already diminishing - and that's a very good thing.

Pete said...

Thanks for your even-handed DC Papal report! I found this entire week, including the much discussed Mass at Nationals, incredibly uplifting and renewing. I find the critiques here and elsewhere regarding the music, the Mass, the vestments, the candles, the language, the cantors, the priests, the bishops and the Holy Father Himself, both fascinating and sad. I'm fascinated that so many seem to know so much about how Mass should be, yet never is; and sad that so many miss what the Mass is all about as they continue to seek the perfect (in their opinon) Mass. As a spectator of the ongoing exchanges, I enjoy reading the give and take (who doesn't love spirited dialogue?)and as a Catholic, I've found renewal and inspiration through Pope Benedict's visit this past week.
Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Yours is a wonderful post father. Thanks. God is so good to us to send Benedict to the Church. What a brilliant, sweet, humble, loving and obedient soul.

Anonymous said...

Balanced and well thought out as usual Father! I didn't even think of the possibility the Holy Father may have chosen to allow the contrast of the two stadium masses to get across the teaching point. Interesting hypothesis...maybe the coming months will see the Holy Father expound on it.

I have a great deal of heartburn with the whole Politically Correct of language at the Washington stadium Mass. While I agree that preaching for a predominantly immigrant parish in their native language is a valid thing, however, I think the way it was done at the Washington stadium mass was insulting to all.

Example, My wife is Chinese. She thought the different language it was very stupid. Chinese and make up over a billion people in the world and many new immigrants from there and other countries speak Mandarin Chinese, so why wasn't any of the mass in Chinese? Why, well, my wife would say because the Chinese have no issue with learning the local language as they would expect people coming to their country to learn Chinese.

(BTW, she also thinks Gregorian Chant works better for Chinese and other Asians as they have their own chanting for the native religions so they are far more accepting of Chant than they are with whatever it was they had at the mass)

Tagalog only covers the Philippines, and they actually learn English in School (that's why there are so many call centers there) so using Tagalog is redundant. It also leaves out most of Asia.

Including all the African languages would take up the entire mass. So we're going to do Swahili or Nigerian dialects? Which ones? In Nigerian, English is the language of unity, for other countries it is French.

I would think that either sticking to English, which is the Normative language of the Country, and or Latin, the normative language of the Mass (and the Church) makes FAR more sense, and does not cause the disunity or disruption of trying to fit everybody's language in. It is another example of focusing on ourselves RATHER than focusing on God.

Just my two cents...

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I've been in bed sick for our Papa's entire visit, but He has been in my thoughts and on my heart the entire time. After reading many reviews of the DC vs NYC Masses, I am most impressed by your thoughts.

I am a musician by heart although not by trade and, for the most part, agree with where you are coming from regarding a variety of music at Mass. Chant is to be held in esteem, but that does not exclude other styles of liturgical music that do not bring to mind images of Sweeney Todd or modern liturgical music that is well done (although here we could side track onto another issue of poorly done modern music, an issue that I am sure has existed throughout the centuries).

Also, I concur with you regarding Spanish, for the most part. I have no problem with use of Spanish in daily life or in Masses that are said for Spanish parishioners in Spanish. Having said this, I am not a fan of multiple language Masses when we have a common language, Latin, that we are turning our backs against. If it wasn’t for the hate and/or almost immediate desire to ignore Latin in most circles, incorporating English, Spanish, and Latin in the same Mass probably wouldn’t bother me.

All in all though, I really love our Papa! He seems so real! I believe Pope John Paul II was genuine, but Pope Benedict XVI speaks to me more directly as an unassuming defender of our faith. I love his humble expressions of faith and love for us. He really reminds me of a great German Shepherd who protects, defends, and loves us.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that report Fr!

Unknown said...

I thank you for the balanced reaction to the Mass music while the rest of the blogosphere calls Placido "barftastic"

Anonymous said...