The Pope’s Mass in Washington

When the Pope started the Mass at Nationals Park, he began it with the words: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This must have surprised many people who are used to hearing other greetings such as “Good morning, everyone,” before or after the Trinitarian invocation. But the faithful attending did respond with, “And also with you,” instead of “Good morning, father” or whatever. So it’s good to know that we Catholics are at least a little teachable.
OK, now to liveblog, if not to say nitpick, the music of the Mass:
Kyrie eleison: the invocations were set to some black-gospel-inspired music, and came across as rather self-indulgent: they drew attention to the deacon’s virtuosity. However, the “Kyrie eleison” responses were quite nice.
Gloria in excelsis Deo: The Gloria was accompanied by some handbells that didn’t seem quite in harmony with each other. The text was chopped up artificially to give it a responsorial form. Here a pattern started to appear: apparently any old music was thought to be just fine, provided one slapped a few words of Latin on it. If the modern liturgists in charge of this production think they’ve solved the problems facing the contemporary music establishment with this tactic, they’ve got another think coming.
1st Reading: Acts, in Spanish. Is it really normative that a lay person not invested in the ministry of lector (lay women are not eligible for it) present the Scripture reading?
Responsorial Psalm: The music was a Broadway-style number, with weird dissonances in the setting of the verses and the refrain. It started out as laughable and ended as horrifying. Too bad that no-one was capable of singing the proper from the Roman Gradual, as the GIRM prefers.
2nd Reading: Romans 8: Another lay woman reading the Scripture, and reading it well enough. But what about diversity: is there some problem with lay men? Are they unacceptable?
Alleluia: a modern composition built on the refrain from O filii et filiae. This illustrates that even some antique hymns written in chant notation are not suitable for this sort of liturgical use. O filii et filiae is the Renaissance’s equivalent of the Celtic Drinking Song Alleluia: a “rousing” number in triple meter. Let’s all lock arms and sway, right? Um, let’s not. It’s not an ideal preparation for listening to the Holy Gospel.
The Homily was a wonderful word of encouragement to the faithful to be a faithful leaven in society. The Pope is not unaware that the Church here needs to accept the practice of penance and follow the way of holiness. We need to engage in sound catechesis, and Catholics need to “cultivate an intellectual culture that is truly Catholic”, ringing the insight of Christian thought and judgment to society, lest we be merely conformed to the every vagary of the latter.
The General Intercessions were, as Fr. Neuhaus pointed out, a display of multiculturalism. Whom are we trying to impress in the General Intercessions?
The offertory music was a bit of Latino dance music performed with bongos and, I think, an ocarina or maybe a Peruvian flute. At the “breakdown” of the song, there was clapping. I don’t think the Offertory proper was sung.
It was good to see the altar adorned with a crucifix and six candles in the arrangement that has come to be described as “Benedictine”.
And then the most amazing thing happened. As Jeffrey Tucker has already commented on the NLM blog, Marty Haugen’s setting, his Mass of Creation became a surprising moment of relative musical dignity.
There seemed to be no bells at the consecration, which is odd since there was plenty of handbell ringing during the Gloria.
The memorial acclamation was introduced by a fanfare of car horns, I believe, and they were used again for the Amen.
Now, at this point of the Mass, I stepped into my kitchen for a few minutes, so I missed the Our Father. Was it sung? I didn’t notice it.
The Agnus Dei was another multi-culti display. Apparently singing the little litany in Latin plus several obscure languages to some strange music is better than singing it in Latin. The result was a piece that no one could reasonably use in any parish whatsoever.
The Communion selections included everything but the kitchen sink, except for the proper. One of them was a merengue number. One was the Cesar Franck Panis Angelicus, sung by Placido Domingo: the only piece of music in the entire Mass that visibly pleased the Holy Father.
So thanks be to God, the successor of Peter has come to strengthen us, to exhort us, and — now that he has experienced the genius that is American-style liturgy at its ultimate — he has come to suffer with us.


  1. Welcome, Mike. Feel free to expand on that if you want, but please be aware that I wasn’t presenting a statement on the Pope’s visit as a whole.

  2. Was the “Our Father” sung? Wow, you did miss it! The stadium congregation literally boomed out the prayer in chant, loud enough to convince those in the cheap seats that it could be heard blocks and blocks away.
    You make it seem as if the Holy Father has been victimized by the liturgical music choices and that his offices had no say at all. I imagine that you will be absolutely verklempt over American Idol Kelly Clarkson singing Ave Maria with the young people at Dunwoodie and the Australian Idol singing the theme song at World Youth Day this summer.

  3. Actually, Msgr. Marini (the good one) has publicly stated that they left the musical choices up to the USCCB. Perhaps it was naive; perhaps it was for the sake of seeing what would happen and having their suspicions confirmed.
    Most of the stuff you mention, RC, has become unofficially mandatory amongst bishops. Go to any episcopal Mass and you will see female lectors (“because they need to be included in altar ministry”), multi-culti songs and petitions (“to show our diversity and make all feel welcome”) and the rest.
    I doubt it even occurred to the bishops to do otherwise, frankly. I wouldn’t consider it malice, just unfortunate second nature.
    Of course, some of those same things were once featured at papal Masses organized by Bishop Marini (the crazy). Perhaps they forgot a new sheriff was in town.

  4. Hi, Scott.
    It’s good to hear they sang the Our Father; it sounds like a beautiful moment!
    I got to see part of the Dunwoodie event replayed on TV. Why would I be ‘verklempt’? Kelly Clarkson singing Ave Maria sounds OK to me. Or is there something about her personally that makes her unsuitable? (I don’t know anything about her.)
    [Update: Kelly Clarkson was at the end, and she was fine. If she’d been singing that arrangement in a Mass, it would have been too much of a performance, but it was OK for the event.]
    On the other hand, I wasn’t crazy about hearing the youth sing the lame “Pan de Vida”.
    Pancho Villa, terror of the west,
    Pancho Villa, of banditos the best…

  5. The replay of the Dunwoodie meeting is wrapping up on TV with a litany of the saints, sung to the Becker setting. It started with this:
    Soloist: “God our heavenly Father…”
    Response: “Pray for us…”
    To whom?

  6. Has anyone taken into consideration the amount of work, communication, & organization it takes to execute the liturgies of this visit by the Pope? This is to say nothing of the security force needed, not only for the Holy Father but for the partiipants. No one has mentioned that it is heartening to see so many people, especially the young people at Dunwoodie, participate so enthusiastically at a time when nay-sayers seem to be everywhere! I for one would never be able to begin to pull something off of this magnitude and I am not comfortable, therefore, to sit in my lounge chair and take pot-shots at those who at least care enough about our faith just because there are other ways of expressing one’s faith that might not be familiar to me.

  7. Thanks for the comments, Bill. While I haven’t been writing much here about the beautiful and inspiring Masses in New York, I’ve been following the discussions at the NLM blog and commenting some there.
    At the moment, the Mass at Yankee Stadium is in progress, but I have to leave to sing at an afternoon Mass, and will catch the rest on the replay tonight.

  8. “On the other hand, I wasn’t crazy about hearing the youth sing the lame “Pan de Vida”.
    Pancho Villa, terror of the west,
    Pancho Villa, of banditos the best…”
    Hey, I thought I copyrighted this! :-)

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