If you want to experience the sheer joy of the beauty and solemnity of the Latin Mass in the splendid setting of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. I offer you the spectacular video of the Mass of the Americas celebrated Saturday morning in the shrine in Washington, D.C. by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. There are two links to the EWTN video – one in the moving article by Robert Royal (see below) and a link following that article.
I became so riveted as I opened the video a short while ago that everything else was moved to the back of the burner – work, this column, emails etc. I had to tear myself away from the video – but not the audio – as I proceeded with other work so that I would be done in time for a later appointment.
I had a great reunion with Abp.Cordileone Friday night in Washington as we both attended a book presentation for Kathryn Jean Lopez and her latest work, A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.
The archbishop and I had worked many of the same years in the 90s in the Vatican under Pope John Paul. I had not seen him in a while, the last time was probably some encounter at NAC, so it was good to touch bases and talk about a few current topics. Had I only known about the Mass, however! I was scheduled to fly back to Rome on the day of the Mass but believe I could have attended the Mass and made my flight. This Mass will be celebrated again in various U.S. cities so I have hope. What a joy it would be to have it sung in St. Peter’s!
MONDAY IN THE VATICAN
Pope urges support for WFP’s campaign to eliminate food waste
Pope Francis sent a message to the World Food Programme on Monday, calling on all to support the UN agency’s global campaign to eliminate food waste through a change in lifestyle. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-wfp-food-waste-hunger-malnutrition-rights.html
Pope asks people of Japan to protect life, ahead of Apostolic Journey
Pope Francis sends a video message to the people of Japan, and urges them to protect all life – symbolized there by cherry blossoms – and to pray for his upcoming Apostolic Journey. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-video-message-japan-prayer-nuclear-arms.html
Pope meets Argentine Interreligious Dialogue Institute
Pope Francis receives members of the Instituto de Diálogo Interreligioso (I.D.I.) of Buenos Aires, who are meeting to discuss the Document “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-argentine-interreligious-dialogue-institute.html
Pope appoints new President of Vatican Financial Authority
A Holy See Press Office communiqué says Pope Francis has chosen a successor to the current President of the Vatican Financial Authority, René Brüelhart, as his mandate ends. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/vatican-financial-authority-pope-rene-bruelhart-new-appointment.html
INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY IN THE AMERICAS
By Robert Royal (TCT – The Catholic Thing)
Intimations of eternity are rare in this life. I had one, about this time of the year, when I was in high school. I’m enough of a modern man to know how unreal the claim seems. But it’s true. I was walking with a few friends under autumn leaves. We’d just been reading Virgil together in Latin, during last period. From somewhere, there welled up in me an overwhelming sense of both geologic ages and the immense extent of human life. And something beyond even those. Years later, I came upon an Italian poem – L’infinito – that captures the experience.
I had a similar experience this past Saturday morning. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco celebrated an Extraordinary Form Latin “Mass of the Americas” at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, accompanied by the music of Frank La Rocca, whom the archbishop had commissioned for that purpose. You can watch it by clicking here.
But listening to the recording and even watching the video can’t even begin to convey what the Mass was like in the Basilica. To underscore just one element, Archbishop Cordileone celebrated the Mass on the main altar under the baldacchino, way at the back of the church (instead of the new altar closer to the congregation). That had a marvelous effect. At least for me.
When he and the concelebrants processed to the far altar, near the imposing mosaic of Jesus as Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”), it was as if they were going deep into the divine mysteries. And later, when the priests came forward to distribute Communion, it was as if they were bringing the Body and Blood to the congregation from the depths of God Himself.
Image: The Christ Pantocrator mosaic by Jan Henryk de Rosen, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
Call this romantic illusion, if you will – though I don’t consider myself prone to that sort of thing. But that’s what the Mass of the Americas conveyed to, I think, more than one person Saturday. Liturgical formality, noble music, serene worship, and the basilica’s very architecture combined to produce that rare experience.
We used to have a lot of that in the liturgy. The Mass, consequently, often impressed non-Catholics, even anti-Catholics. In 1774, John Adams (both non- and anti-) famously wrote to his wife, Abigail, about a Mass at Philadelphia’s Old St. Mary’s: “Here is every Thing which can lay hold of the Eye, Ear and Imagination. Every Thing which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”
Adams wouldn’t have been so quick to reach for the old anti-Catholic slur about “the simple and ignorant” if he had been in the Basilica Saturday. And he wouldn’t have been so sure that the Protestant Reformation – now ailing and seemingly in terminal decline – had done away with real Catholicism.
Archbishop Cordileone had a brilliant insight in developing this Mass of the Americas (plural). He wanted an instance of real liturgical beauty. As he said in the homily, Catholicism teaches the Three Transcendentals: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Naturally, we seek to follow and extend the Good in various forms; we cannot do so properly, though, unless we know the Truth; and for most people the Truth has to be manifested, primarily through Beauty.
Archbishop Cordileone also wanted a Mass that would be rooted in both Americas, North and South. And that meant incorporating elements of the two great Marian traditions: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of Latin America, and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States.
There has been a lot of discussion in the Church recently about the old notion of “inculturation.” By the end of Amazon Synod last month, it had become a contentious term, primarily because the Vatican seemed to have chosen to promote a kind of inculturation that bent the Church in the direction of “indigenous spiritualities” more than drawing those indigenous beliefs into the fullness of Catholic truth and practice.
Frank La Rocca’s music struck a much better note of inculturation. The Mass was in Latin, Extraordinary Form, so the music drew appropriately from Church traditions of chant and polyphony, but also spoke a fluid and, above all, contemplative modern musical idiom.
One of the temptations of composers writing modern Masses is to draw attention to the music – and themselves. As Joseph Ratzinger often said, both before and after becoming pope, some sacred music seems more an opera or a concert than a Mass. La Rocca’s lovely work never gives into such temptations. Rather, it serves the spirit of the liturgy at every point.
There were Spanish and Indian motifs, particularly the melody of a popular hymn La Guadalupana woven into traditional musical forms, but never in a way that was intrusive or out of balance. While the archbishop was vesting publicly – quite something to witness in a pontifical Mass – the choir sang La Rocca’s beautiful arrangement of El Cantico del Alba (“The Song of the Dawn”), which contains the line: “Hell trembles three times at the sound of ‘Ave Maria.’”
At the de-vesting after Mass, a soprano sang the equally lovely Aue Maria (sic) – in Nahuatl, the native language in which Our Lady of Guadalupe addressed St. Juan Diego in her appearances on the hill of Tepeyac.
And it all ended with the familiar melody of the Salve Regina, sung in Latin but with La Rocca’s exquisite arrangement surrounding and advancing it.
The Mass of the Americas will be celebrated in other places here in the United States as well as in Mexico. If you have the chance, do yourself – your spiritual life – a great favor: make the effort to attend. Or see if you can bring it to your local cathedral.
My hope is not only that it will be repeated many times in the future, but that some of the aesthetic and spiritual possibilities it has opened up will also find their way into parish Masses – which desperately need fresh inspiration – all over our Hemisphere, and beyond.