Wednesday, October 07, 2015

What We Saw in Philadelphia—Part IV

On Day 4, we got up a little later and prepared ourselves for the crush of humanity attending the papal mass. This day would be a bit different for us, as I would be traveling on my own to a shuttle area and check point. From there, I would be taken to the Museum of Art, where I would meet with the other clergy who would would be serving.

I dropped Gina off at St. Cornelius so that she could travel in with everyone else in our group. Had I known that she could have taken the shuttle, I would have taken her with me. Unfortunately, those details weren't very clearly conveyed to us. This would be a common theme for the day.

Anyway, I dropped Gina off, and then I drove to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. It was in a fairly sketchy part of town, and most approaches were blocked off. However, I found my way to South Concourse Street. The attendant at the entrance asked for my parking permit. I indicated that no one had informed me that I needed one. I think she must've noticed the alb hanging in back because she waved me through. A short way up the street, some other attendants signaled me onto the grass where other attendants were directing people to park. I didn't see a lot of distinguishing land marks but didn't really think much of it at the time.

I made my way to the checkpoint, which was remarkably free of lines, but also of nearby port-o'-potties. I climbed aboard one of the yellow school buses that would acting as our shuttles, and in a few minutes, we were on our way in.

We pulled alongside the hill on which the museum sits and filed off. Most occupants headed toward the parkway, but I crossed the street and headed up to the museum. Other volunteers were gathering in the pavilions behind the main stage. I think these were members of the city-wide choir that sang during Mass. More about that later.

The Knights of Columbus were gathering on the steps. I stopped a few people who looked like they should know something. Most of the volunteers had little idea where the clergy were supposed to go. Finally, I found someone who directed me to the back of the building.

We had been instructed to be at the museum no later than 11:30, but it didn't appear that anyone was really keeping track. We were told that there would be a brunch waiting for us. I dropped off my vestments and headed upstairs. And indeed, there was a brunch and a bunch of starving clergy. (Is that redundant? A Franciscan priest and mendicant assigned to our parish says that some Franciscans mendicate too much. I'm just reporting his opinion here.)

Pastry and coffee was available initially, but we were told a substantial buffet would be served soon. In the meantime, we could network with the other clergy. I chatted with a brother deacon from the diocese of Las Vegas, He and about many deacons were wearing black with a grey clerical shirt, or a white or light blue shirt. Some had black shirts with the deacon cross and stole embroidered on them. We have not been given permission to wear clericals in our diocese, but I have to say, it would have been handy simply for identification purposes.

While we waited for the buffet, we were free to check out the exhibits. While I can appreciate paintings, I gravitate toward other objects.

I had to get a shot of this vase depicting Prometheus getting his eternal reward.

Side-story: I worked on a pilot project named Prometheus for a client, and then later worked directly for the same client as a support analyst and trainer. One of my favorite lines was that I had worked on the original implementation named Prometheus, and that it truly was sort of like being chained to a rock and having your liver pecked out for eternity. Heh. I slay myself.

My wife's patron saint is St. Joan, so I couldn't not take a photo of this statue of Joan d'Arc.

Now, I did ask whether I could take photos, and I was told, "In this room, yes, without a flash. But no photos in the next room (the main special exhibit, where the Titian, Rubens, and Michelangelo pieces were)."

And then I ran into this (Klimmt),

And this (Van Gogh).

And on and on: Renoir, Degas, Rubens, Titian, Michelangelo, Monet, Manet, and Pissaro. There simply wasn't enough time to take it in.

I did go to the American exhibition, and it seemed to have even more craft smith work than the other exhibits (particularly silver and wood).

The buffet arrived, and I have to say it was quite good, even if the seating was limited.

I thought I should get back to the vesting area since it was getting close to the time we were supposed to depart (according to the rumor floating around at the moment). I caught the elevator down and managed to shake hands with Cardinal Muller, the prefect* of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the *role Pope Benedict XVI filled under Pope St. John Paul II).

He's tall.

Well, the rumors on how we would get to our destination swirled all morning. First, we were told that we would meet in the museum, then walk down to the cathedral and vest there. Then we were told we'd vest at the museum, then walk to the cathedral, leaving everything behind. Then we were told to take our vestments and belongs and head to the buses. Then we were sent back to the vesting room and told to vest, but leave our things behind. Finally, we were told to vest, grab our things, and get on the buses. Fortunately, no other orders came. So we threw on our albs and stoles and got on the buses.

As we started down the parkway, people along the parade route began to applaud and cheer for us. They surely had no idea who were on the buses, and some of the deacons laughed at that, given that were were all virtual nobodies. Having been on the other side and feeling the energy of the previous day, I don't think it matter a whit who we were. The attendees knew that we were part of this thing, and that was all they needed to know.

As we made our way into the cathedral basilica, I noticed the shrine to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, which was on the north side of the cathedral. I'd heard about it two days before.

I understand that the Holy Father had the popemobile stop as he drove by on the way up to the main stage/altar. A couple of the deacons went out about that time and got some great shots of him. Yeah, that wouldn't be me.

The interior of the cathedral basilica is stunning. I've been in some Gothic cathedrals in Europe and several cathedrals and basilicas here in the US (the most incredible of which was the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception), but this one also has its rare beauty. Here's what I saw as I entered.

I always check out the organs and choir lofts. Musician? Check.

I love the classic high altars in many of the churches and cathedrals I've visited. This one is no exception.

Here's a shot of the baldachin over the main altar from a bit further back.

If I had been thinking, I would have gotten a shot of the conopaeum (a baldachin resembling an umbrella) and tintinnabulum (bell), which are present by privilege in minor basilicas.

We had a bit of a wait before us. Of course, many of us wandered through the cathedral taking pictures. However, we also paused for afternoon prayer, which our MC (a parochial vicar at the cathedral) led in chant.

I pray the liturgy of the hours daily (the primary hours and night prayer), but hearing 170 deacons chant them in this fantastic location was beautiful. Chant simply beats out modern hymnody in beauty and facility. The rhythms and tones are simple enough that most people can pick them up with ease.

That was a great way to prepare for Mass, and it's how I usually prepare on Saturday or Sunday evenings (albeit with evening prayer). Anyway, after prayer, we made our way into the main cathedral.

When the time for Mass drew close, we were asked to group by assignment (deacon, escort, other). Our MC instructed us on how we would proceed and explained the protocol for the escorts. We were instructed to guard the Eucharist to ensure no one walked away with a host unconsumed. We were also told that we would get a signal when it was time to return.

At the Sanctus, we would start from the back of the basilica and come forward to the altar. The reason for starting from the back was that these people would walk the furthest. I tried to get toward the back row since I have nothing preventing me from walking and could quite frankly could have used a good trek. Anyway, we would approach the altar and receive our ciborium, then move to the right or left to be paired up with an escort (the ones carrying the umbrellas). By the time we were lining up, the faithful were intoning the Agnus Dei, and we began to go out to Logan Square (which is a circle).
We were told that people in this area did not know that they would be able to receive communion. I had been looking forward to this moment, and I didn't know what to expect. It was my primary reason for being there that day—to serve the people of God. With crowds like this, it should have been a slam dunk.

(Courtesy of Cherri Gregg)

I was told that this moment in the mass was very emotional for a lot of people, and I was filled with emotion as we stepped into the square (in circular fashion). Even our host family indicated that the yellow and white umbrellas made an impression. (I understand now that the priests at the main altar were also escorted with these umbrellas.)

I managed to find one of the least attended positions on the rail along the parade route. Three of the first four people I approached at the rail weren't Catholic, so I blessed them and moved on. And after a minute or two, the rail was empty. My escort and I moved to the opposite side of the street, and I distributed communion there, gave out some blessings, and moved along the rail. Finally, my escort said, I think we're supposed to head in." 

I had distributed only about 20% of what was in my ciborium. I was disappointed that my place hadn't been as densely populated as others. As we started back, some people started asking for me to bless sacramentals, so I blessed a few rosaries and a wedding ring, but what struck me was that most of the people didn't ask for anything—not the Eucharist, not a sacramental. But they looked at me with gratitude that I was simply there. The young people around the route offered their hands for a low five, and people looked at us with love that we were simply there.

I returned with my escort, since I'm a lawful good type and always follow the rules. We returned our ciboria and those of us who needed to (not me), cleansed them. A bunch of deacons showed up rather late. 

As it turned out, they had no escorts and so were not summoned back when the escorts were. So when they ran out of communicants, they ran down their communicants. They went from Logan Square down to City Hall, where there were no other people distributing communion. One brother deacon told me that it was chaotic and beautiful. These people didn't think they would be able to received by any stretch. And here these brothers of mine were coming to them. And they were weeping for joy to receive the Eucharist. And in my head, I was saying, "That's where I wanted to be! That's where I wanted to be!"

That's why I went to Philadelphia. But I think now that that's not why I was sent.

We watched the remainder of the Mass via feed from EWTN. This was the period in which the priest returned their ciboria, and the all-city choir was singing. During this time (and during every moment of sacred silence or musical reflection), the commentators on EWTN did what they do and commentated. A deacon from the archdiocese of Philadelphia noted that they were talking over the choir that the archdiocese had pulled together for the Mass. I later learned that all of the major networks had broadcast the Mass with no commentary. I don't think the typical Mass requires commentary.

Mass came to an end, and we were dismissed as we are usually dismissed—go and announce (proclaim) the gospel to the world. I almost always use that form for the dismissal. 

But I'm not exactly sure how to take that particular moment to the world. I guess this is my take the gospel to the world—this momentary instance of the gospel reaching the world—and it did reach the world.

My experience wasn't the lightning bolt I had hoped it to be. And that completely fits my experience as a Catholic. I would really love to have the lightning bolt—the clear, intuitive confirmation of my faith. But that's not why I was sent, and that is not my vocation. I came to my faith through my intellect, and while I have had many intuitive and even ecstatic experiences, by and large, my faith life is lived in the intellectual and practical realm. I love those moments of intuition (rare) and ecstasy (rarer), but they are not part of my vocation. They are occasional consolations—and occasions I have not valued enough.

I went to Philadelphia to serve and not be served. It was an incredible experience and a tremendous lesson.
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