Pope Francis is currently in the United States, for the first time in his life.
During his visit in America, he will step inside five churches (not including chapels): the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and Saint Patrick's church, all in Washington, D.C.; the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in New York City; and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
Remarkably, four of the five churches still have altar rails, which of course will not be used during any of the liturgies with this pope. All of the churches were built before the Second Vatican Council, and three of them have seen traditional Latin Masses offered at their main altars since the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei in 1988.
Having visited each of these churches, we thought it may be of interest to present a brief summary, from a traditional viewpoint, of the sacred spaces the Holy Father will encounter.
1) The Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle started out as a parish church when Washington, D.C. was part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It is most known for the Requiem Low Mass offered by Richard Cardinal Cushing, archbishop of Boston, for President John F. Kennedy's funeral in 1963.
Today, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, it is considered one of the most liberal parishes in the region, with a notable portion of its congregation opposed to Church teachings and natural law (to put it kindly). Although the cathedral offers a Sunday morning novus ordo partially in Latin (except when something more important bumps it) attempts to offer traditional Latin Masses have been denied. The cardinal-archbishop lives at another parish, not at the cathedral.
2) The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception took decades to complete, with a Gothic crypt and a hybrid upper church blending Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. Local legend has it that the entire building was supposed to be Gothic, but when the Anglicans constructed their National Cathedral in the same city, using an English Gothic style, the plan for a Catholic shrine was changed to not compete, hence the contrasting styles of the crypt and the upper church.
A pontifical High Mass was offered in the upper church in 2010, but a second one was canceled by Donald Cardinal Wuerl (the archbishop of Washington who turns 75 in 50 days) despite preparations and consent. Following the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, a chapel -- considered the most beautiful of all there, with its own sacristy full of traditional items -- was designated as the altar where TLMs can be offered if a priest makes a request ahead of time. Controversially, the request must be made to the shrine's liturgy director with a letter from the priest's bishop or superior stating the celebrant knows how to offer Mass using the 1962 missal. No such request is made of visiting priests wishing to say the novus ordo.
Despite challenges, that chapel -- the Lourdes chapel -- is used often for Low Masses, and even a handful of sung Masses. The crypt church has been used, with permission, by the FSSP for Solemn High Masses concluding their annual pilgrimages. In more recent years following Summorum Pontificum, the TLMs have not been canceled upon arrival as they were in earlier years.
The basilica shrine holds approximately 3,500, and can be packed with as many as 10,000 people for large events. Wednesday's canonization liturgy for Father Junipero Serra will be outdoors, on the east portico of the basilica. Although the basilica shrine's music department is generally considered conservative by novus ordo standards, the papal liturgy will feature five choirs (the shrine's choir having a minor role), with the main archdiocesan papal choir led by Tom Stehle, the man responsible for the liturgical conga music Benedict was forced to listen to in 2008 in Washington, D.C. (This was the mess which even Father Richard John Neuhaus, during live coverage on EWTN, called an "overweening and preening exercise in multicultural exhibitionism.") Following the 2008 papal liturgy, Stehle got himself promoted from a suburban parish to the director of music at the cathedral.
3) Saint Patrick's in Washington, D.C. is the oldest church in the federal city. Located five blocks from Saint Mary's, the German parish that now is known for its TLM, it was a beautiful Irish church until a devastating wreckovation that gutted nearly everything in the sanctuary. From the parish website: "Preparation to the 200th anniversary of the parish on St. Patrick's Day of 1994, the more-than-century old church structure was extensively repaired and renewed through the efforts of Monsignor Donald Essex as pastor. This renewal kept well in mind the vision of its architect and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council." Sadly, the sanctuary is completely bare, with all of the removed furnishings destroyed, including its altar rail, high altar, statues and artwork. Even its four Gothic confessionals were removed, with one of them in use at nearby Saint Mary's.
Traditional Latin Masses have not been offered at Saint Patrick's in decades, and given the current sanctuary, no known attempts have been made to request one.
4) Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City will be the second church of Saint Patrick visited by the pope in the same day, on Thursday. We have written numerous times on the magnificent restoration there, including three post-Vatican II additions removed.
Although it has been quite some time since TLMs were offered at the cathedral, it is a beautiful and popular place to visit. The removal of its table-altar was a pleasant surprise to many, and its music program is considered pretty conservative by novus ordo standards. The cathedral's music director will be in charge of sacred music during the pope's visit to New York, and the assembled choir and orchestra at Madison Square Garden under her direction will likely be a stark contrast to the samba and gospel music expected in Washington, D.C.
5) The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia is a stunning 1864 brownstone church with no ground-level windows as a result of the ongoing Know-Nothing riots of the time. Its Roman-Corinthian architecture with its tall copper dome makes it one of the most beautiful and distinct buildings in the city, with few post-Vatican II modifications made to its gorgeous sanctuary.
The current archbishop, Charles Chaput, insists on using a portable table instead of the high altar, much like the basilica shrine in Washington, D.C., to be closer to the congregation. Thankfully, the table can be whisked away for occasional TLMs there, including a Solemn High Mass offered in the cathedral last month. The music in Philadelphia will be interesting this weekend, as the liturgically conservative choir director for the cathedral and archdiocese quit in June after "irreconcilable differences" with Archbishop Chaput, who is not a fan of sacred Catholic music such as polyphony.
In addition to the cathedral in Philadelphia, Pope Francis will visit Saint Martin's Chapel at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, to meet with bishops. Although we have not personally visited this chapel, images of it show a beautiful, traditional interior and exterior, completely intact, albeit with a table as a second altar.
Pope Francis will likely not be visiting Our Lady Queen of Angels church in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York when he visits the parish school on Friday, as the 1886 church was closed in 2007.