24 April 2008

Pope Benedict in America: Musings

All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope accompany me.
~ Pope Benedict XVI


Today, Nationals Stadium welcomes baseball fans once again, showing no signs that a mere seven days ago, it held within in its heart our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and His beloved servant, Pope Benedict XVI. What glorious day that we will not soon forget!

Over 45,000 souls gathered inside to show the Holy Father their love and support. There is nothing to describe the feeling that comes over one when you first see the Popemobile drive out into the stadium or hear 44,999 other voices praying the Our Father in unison. This was definitely an experience where I felt all four marks of the true Church hit me in the face like cloud of incense: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

My friend Roshan was blessed to volunteer at the Mass and was kind enough to get me and another friend tickets. Since yours truly misplaced her camera, he also acted as official photographer for our little group. These beautiful pictures are courtesy of him. Thanks Roshan! :-)

Although I was very young at the time, I still remember when John Paul II visited D.C. in 1979. There was Mass on the Mall, thousands of pilgrims and lots of praise and worship music. This time around, it was more structured, and given the world we live in, there wer Secret Service crawling all over the place, but there were still thousands of pilgrims and the music sounded pretty much as it did in 1979. More on that later.

Above, our little band of B16 fans pose in front of the VIP section, where Roshan was volunteering. It was a double blessing in that our whole house (The Divine Mercy House) was able to attend the Mass, along with two converts, one of whom just came into the Church this past Easter. Welcome Doris!!
The cross used at the Papal Mass was, if I'm not mistaken, loaned from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and is the crucifix used to mark the historic landing of the first Catholics to the New World.
When we first arrived at the Stadium, I was surprised I didn't see more people I knew, but like any Catholic Mass, it was only afterwards that we kept running into familiar faces. We all gathered near the back of where the altar was set up and had to keep taking pictures because we kept seeing people we knew and calling them over for a huge group shot. I am sure there were others, but these were the friends who were in the vicinity of the cameras.

Fallen Sparrow mentioned in his post on the Papal visit to New York that there were protestors. We had our share of them here in D.C. as well. It is a common occurance in the nation's capitol, but I was still annoyed. You could faintly hear them during the Holy Father's homily and once we were outside, I could not help rolling my eyes and sighing. Perhaps I should have been feeling more charitable, but as we all know, feelings and emotions are neutral and say nothing of the act of the will. So, I willed their good, said an Ave for them and ignored them. Can you really reason with a man with a bullhorn?! I highly doubt any of them would know a Greek letter of the alphabet if it bit them, so why waste time trying to explain how their reading of Scripture is way out of context and does not even follow the original text? One of my housemates did stop and talk to several of them, so someone did try.
And now to the Papal Mass itself. It was a huge undertaking and having been involved in the past with Masses and events at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I have an appreciation for all the work and planning that went into putting together and celebrating a Mass on this scale. It ran like clockwork. If there were any hitches or mistakes, I did not see them.

The one thing that I did notice however, was the music.
All I can say is that as a Catholic in the United States and a member of the Arlington Diocese, I was embarrassed and appalled. As a musician, I was archly amused. I had missed auditioning for the Papal Mass Choir and was feeling a little sad about that. But after they began singing, I was relieved that I had not! God bless them, it was not their fault. When you are a chorister, you sing the music that is put in front of you. And sometimes, when you are the choir director, you conduct and rehearse the music your boss asks you to. I do not know who is to blame for the music choice for the Papal Mass last week, but it was....lame. Not to be mean, but the music we sing on a weekly basis at Saint John the Beloved is much better. Thank God for David Lang and Father McAfee!
Bongos, guitars, hand claps and *groan* the Mass of Creation!? And that is not the half of it. My first thought was, here we have a sample of what has been wrong with the liturgy for the past 30 years. My second thought was, have these people even heard of Spirit of the Liturgy, much less read it?!? I will give them the benefit of the doubt that the music choice was done out of ignorance and not malice. But one has to ask: what were they thinking?! The Pontiff is a man with exquisite musical taste, an eye for beauty and an brilliant understanding of liturgy and tradition. He comes from the land of Mozart and you gave him Haugen!? How.....gauche. Not to mention liturgically wrong and just plain ugly.
As my director always tells us, a right note sung at the wrong time is still a wrong note. And in the case of the music for the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C., their pitch may have been perfect (which, by the way, it was not), but the music chosen was way off key.
Fortunately, the Holy Father was at the Shrine the evening before and Dr. Peter Latona is an incredible composer and director, so the music was more in keeping with what Pope Benedict XVI advocates and loves. And there was a musical bright spot at the Papal Mass itself: Placido Domingo singing Panis Angelicus. One of the most emotional moments took place after he finished singing: the Holy Father got up out of his chair and met Placido Domingo half-way and embraced him. It was beautiful. But I couldn't help thinking, he's probably saying: "Thank God! Finally, a beautiful piece of music befitting the glory of the liturgy!"

Musical faux pas aside, though, it was an overwhelming experience and I am so grateful to my friends and to Our Lord that I was able to attend. God bless Pope Benedict XVI and long may he reign!
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
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