Monday, September 28, 2015

The Papal Mass

Thus an amazing opportunity begun with a test of faith. Already out of the monastery we were staying by 9, we headed down the road. Several weeks prior Joe had mentioned to us about the open invitation to all clergy to be ministers of communion at the Papal Mass on Sunday. Of course we jumped on this opportunity and got all the permissions and paper work we needed. Confounding our very exciting opportunity we didn’t realize that we needed to register, again, and get tickets for the Mass. Fortunately Fr. Mike, our extremely helpful host, told us that the first to register get to sit up near the altar, instead of in the Cathedral. Of course we wanted this so some of us tried to register early. Unfortunately this was not the case; only priests could receive that special privilege.  Nevertheless we got our tickets.

Rolling out at 9 in the morning, we had two-and=a-half hours before our required check-in time of 11:30. Our goal was to take a bus down to the train and then the train into Philadelphia. As we approached the bus station, the bus we needed had just pulled out. A little disappointed we went to a diner about two blocks away for some food. The diner, described in greater depth in Dcn. Andy’s blog post, was filled with super friendly and amazing staff who gave us a wonderful breakfast. Then we headed back to the bus station.

Due to the papal event there was no way to gain access to bus schedules or find out which busses are running. Fortunately we knew from the night before that this bus takes us to the train and is running. As we were waiting, a Franciscan sister approached us. In her train was a Hispanic family. After a short conversation we figured out that the family was from Georgia and were trying to get to the Mass. We tried to explain to them how to get the Mass and back home, and allowed them to follow us along the way. After waiting over half-an-hour for the bus to arrive, we were getting rather anxious. Bryce decided to pray a Memorare to implore the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Half way through the prayer the bus arrived and we all headed to the train.

The trip on the bus and the train were simple, they both led to basically the same place. As we followed the instructions of the volunteers and officers we made our way down the  busy streets along with the huge crowd of people. We arrived at the security check-point at 10:40, and soon discovered that the line into the Mass areas was a 2-hour wait, which meant that we would not make it by the expected check=in time. We were bummed. After talking with several volunteers and trying to think of other options, we sadly joined the herd. Now, ten minutes later, the line had increased by a half hour. Dcn. Bryce decided to go search out other option and see if any other lines were shorter. Shortly after he left, the crowd head a second line had opened for security check. Summoned by Dcn. Bryce we headed over to the other line, but so did everyone else. The line continued to grow. Again, saddened by our defeat, we went and asked an officer who standing by the fence. We explained our situation and he said he would go see what he could. After he left Dcn. Bryce led us in prayer the Memorare. Three prayers later the officer returned and ushered us through the gate and through security. We were finally in the restricted area. Now we need to make it to the Art Museum by 11:30.

The Art Museum was about a twenty minute walk from the security check-point, but, as it turns out, we really didn’t need to be there on time. Entering through the back of the Museum, we were escorted to a special room for deacons. Then we were given the freedom to tour the Museum. Basically we got a free pass to the Philadelphia Art Museum. On the first and second floors they had set up tables full of very nice food. Walking amongst the tables were many cardinals. archbishops, bishops, priests, and deacons. As we walked through the exhibits, a cardinal would walk by in his red regalia or a bishop is his magenta. It was an amazing moment and such a surprise to see so many of the leaders of the Church walking around, eating, chatting, viewing the exhibits, relaxing. One of the exhibits we were able to see was a painting of St. Francis of Assisi, the prized exhibit of the Museum. The detail of this painting was so tiny that the painter used the under hairs of a mouse to paint that fine. The painting itself was about 8 inches by 6. Yet we needed the magnification of an iPad so that we could see such fine details such as h lines of dirt in his feet and the people in the boat on the lake in the background. The painting is called St. Francis by Emter. We toured a few exhibits but then had to return for instructions.

Let the chaos begin. The next few hours seemed disorganized and chaotic. At  one point we were supposed to meet in the assigned rooms. Then a staff told us to go to another room. Then we were told that only some of us. Then we were told all of us. Then we were told to vest. One instruction followed by many clarifications over and over again for nearly half-an-hour. Then we all laded the busses and drove through the parade route to the Cathedral. This part was rather comical. As we drove through the streets, the people waved and cheered almost like we are celebrities. One we stopped and got off, our tour of fame continued. People in the crowds gave us high fives and shook our hands. Then we were ushered into the Cathedral and given further instructions.

Most of us were hoping to be able to have a close view of the Mass, but this was not the case. Instead, we were to watch the Mass from close circuit TVs set-up in the Cathedral. We deacons prayed a little together, we could watch the broadcast or tour the Cathedral. Then one of the volunteers told us that the Pope might pass by the front of the Cathedral, so we all left and stood out front. All of the sudden we heard sirens and the security vehicles began to move. Sure enough here came the Pope right along the street in front of the Cathedral. I was about 10 feet away.  As he passed where I was standing, the car suddenly stopped. Pope Francis got out of the vehicle and came over to the “shrine” of our Lady Undoer of Knots, which was a series of knotted cords made by the Cathedral. He prayed for a few minutes as the crowd rushed to see him. Many people had their camera in the air and were shouting Papa, Papa. But the secret service would not let anyone approach. I stood amidst the swarm of people blocked by the ten feet of bodies that stood between me and the Pope. Then he got back in the car and continued down the route.

As the Mass begun, the MC of the deacons decided to give his instructions, which prevented us from participating in the Mass. By the Gloria he was through with his instructions. After the Sanctus (aka the Holy Holy), we all went up to the altar in the Cathedral where each deacon was handed a ciborium (a vessel that is used for storing or transporting the Blessed Sacrament) full of pre-consecrated hosts. Then we all left the Cathedral and joined with an escort who walked with each deacon down the road to a spot for distributing communion. Each escort was holding a gold and white umbrella, which looked like a parade of gold and white flowing down the street. Once we were given the okay, we approached the fence and gave communion to whomever came forward. Rather quickly the people formed two lines and distribution went rather smoothly. Much to my surprise most of us had remaining hosts in our ciboria. Then we all went back to the Cathedral, gave our ciboria back to the MC, purified the ciboria, and watched the end of the Mass. Although we couldn’t see the altar and the Mass as we would normally in a Cathedral, I still felt rather present and connected with the Pope during this Mass.

The Mass concluded, we went to join the others and head back. I am glad I was given this opportunity. It was an amazing way to be of service at such an extraordinary event.

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