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Strength of the Liturgy Evident at Papal Mass  
Jerome Hall  
   

Long after the Papal Mass at Nationals Stadium ended April 17, I was still struck by how well we prayed together. I was struck by how much we have learned since Pope John Paul II prayed with us on the National Mall. In 1979, when the Pontiff presided at the Mass, the reformed liturgy was only fifteen years old. In the intervening years, we have learned much about liturgical prayer. We are more skilled in singing together; we are better at listening and responding, at offering our lives together. As the celebration pulled together such a huge assembly of the faithful, it demonstrated the power of the reformed liturgy. We found ourselves joyful, attentive, one in heart and mind as we opened our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Today's great sense of oneness and peace, of catholicity, and of mission, are, however, tremendous gifts that the Lord gives us though our liturgical prayer. Liturgies such as the one at Nationals Stadium demonstrate how much the celebration of the reformed liturgy is teaching us.

It was a beautiful morning for us to pray together! We gathered joyfully, in our tens of thousands, expecting the Lord to be at work among us.

Our music ministers brought us into a listening, responding, singing group, sharing pieces by American composers. We began to be drawn into the singing (Jim Chepponis' "Go Up to the Altar of God") when the bishops processed. As they made their way across the field, through the crowd and to their places, we heard more music to draw us together in expectation.

Pope Benedict's arrival, heralded by Flor Peters' "Entrata Festiva" and a chant "Tu es Petrus," set off an excited roar of welcome that quickly turned into a full-throated "Holy God," in English and German. From this point, our musicians kept us more active; quickly we moved to another hymn, and to a setting of the spiritual "We Are One," whose refrain we sang with our cantor, Denyce Graves.

Having sat for a moment and rested our voices, we stood to sing our Entrance Song. When cantor Steven Bell, CSP, led us through the penitential rite we could hear our voices raised across the ballpark. Pope Benedict led us in the Opening Prayer for the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, and we settled down to listen to the Word: Pentecost story (Acts 2:1 - 11), beautifully read in Spanish, Psalm 104 ("Lord, send out your Spirit," in Alexander Peloquin's setting), Paul's reminder (Romans 8:22 - 27) that the Spirit prays within us, and Jesus' Resurrection gift of peace (John 20:19 - 23). The homily (delivered in somewhat accented English and in beautifully spoken Spanish), acknowledged our history of sin and grace, proclaimed the power of Christ's love, and encouraged and invited us to live in the hope that the Spirit gives. Renewed in the Spirit, we stood, renewed our baptismal promises, and interceded (in English, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Igbo, and Spanish) for the world's salvation, singing our response and giving a hearty "Amen!" to the collect.

The Preparation of the Altar and the Gifts gave us a moment to catch our breath, to notice, as our gifts were brought forward, the size and diversity of our assembly, and to prepare for the great prayer of our self-offering in Christ. We rose to be incensed, prayed the Prayer over the Gifts, and moved into the Eucharistic Prayer, almost 50,000 of us praying together! One clear high point came as we sang the Lord's Prayer; we were listening to each other, with the people on the field waiting for the folks in the stands to complete one phrase before moving into the next! It was a moment of audible unity, for which we can all be thankful.

As the Communion procession began, Pope Benedict came down to the field, ministering the Sacrament to a number of people before returning to his chair. In 1979, Pope John Paul II distributed Communion to a group who were brought up the stairs to receive. This time the presider went down to the people. In this celebration, too, the procession was given much more time than during the 1979 Mass on the Mall: we waited, prayed, and sang together until, from the field, it seemed that almost everyone in the stands had returned to their places. For the meditation after Communion, our third cantor, Placido Domingo, prayed the Panis Angelicus with us. This prayer was followed quickly by the Prayer after Communion, the blessing, and the dismissal. In the usual way of such huge open-air papal celebrations, the closing song was mixed with cheers of gratitude and blessing. Finally, with thanks for the organizers, the musicians, the ushers, a veritable army of ministers, for the joy and palpable faith of all those with whom we were blessed to pray, for Pope Benedict, and for our Bishops, we made our somewhat sunburned way out of the ballpark.

May the Lord, who gives us—Pope, Bishops, priests, deacons, and the faithful—to each other, transform us, so that our celebration may change the way we live!

Jerome Hall, SJ,
writes the "Preparing for Sunday" article in Pastoral Liturgy. In 1979, he was the cantor at the papal Mass at the National Mall. On April 17, he was one of the concelebrants at the Mass at Nationals Stadium in Washington, DC. Hall is an assistant professor in the Word and Worship Department at Washington Theological Union.
 
         
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