Rorate Caeli

Pontifical High Mass in D.C.: photos, video and recap

The solemn pontifical Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception this past Saturday in Washington, D.C., was a major success.  The massive upper church was full, and the traditional Latin Mass was absolutely gorgeous, with thousands of laity in the nave and dozens of priests, deacons, brothers and seminarians in the sanctuary. 

His Excellency Alexander Sample, of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, was very well received for the 2 1/4 hour Mass, and offered a magnificent liturgy on Saturday afternoon after rehearsing for two hours with all of the clergy, servers and schola on Friday evening. His sermon was a fitting tribute to traditional liturgy and Pope Benedict XVI, acknowledging the dedicated young adults (including a Juventutem shout-out) driving the TLM movement (while paying homage to TLM elders) and the continued grass-roots momentum following ten years of Summorum Pontificum.  And he met hundreds upon hundreds of people after the Mass, taking photos with them, hearing their stories and sharing his perspective as a young archbishop who was raised 100 percent a product of Vatican II, yet came to learn and love the TLM as a result of Summorum.

Many on the basilica shrine staff were instrumental in preparing for and promoting the Mass, using social media and print advertisements to draw its followers to the first pontifical High Mass there since 2010 (the second such Mass in 50 years).

Clergy ranged from numerous priests of the Fraternity of Saint Peter and Institute of Christ the King, to diocesan priests and seminarians, and priests and brothers from religious orders ranging from the Dominicans to the Franciscans.

The stunning vestments were brought for the occasion, and the sacred music was planned down to the second.  Dr. Peter Latona, music director of the basilica shrine, had 16 professional singers accompanied by cornetts and sackbutts, and three organists, who sang and played early music that resonated throughout the largest church in North America.  Sixteen men, led by Mr. David Sullivan, comprised the schola for all of the propers, Credo (via indult, as was the votive Mass) and sung responses, from Saint Mary Mother of God church in Washington, D.C. Two choirs, from the Lyceum School in South Euclid, Ohio, and Saint John's church in Allentown, N.J., sang before the procession.  EWTN's coverage began at 1 p.m. with the vesting of the bishop.

If you have not watched the video yet, we recommend doing so here, narrated by two monsignori for those who tuned in on EWTN.

We won't dwell on what few negatives there were for the Mass.  At the same time, it would be journalistic malpractice not to mention the Elephant in the Room, aka the Cranmer Table in the Room, surrounded by a botanical garden, smack in the middle of all the liturgical action.  The organizers -- and even some clergy for the Mass -- tried their best to get the upper leadership of the basilica shrine staff to move it out of the sanctuary, like they did for the 2010 pontifical High Mass, and like they do for numerous concerts there. Despite moving the table as recently as December, for the annual Catholic University Christmas concert, a new policy just started, where the portable table will no longer be moved for anything or anyone. The irony of this senior leadership decision was a highly obstructed view for hundreds of VIPs and earlybirds sitting in the front of the nave on Saturday for the pontifical High Mass.

It is worth noting Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York, a fair comparison to the basilica shrine in D.C., disposed of its Cranmer Table permanently, four years ago, using the freestanding altar under the baldacchino for all liturgies there. [In Malta, God showed what He thought of a table there.]

Back to the positives.

The turnout was quite impressive at the basilica shrine on Saturday given the times in which we live.  Back in 2010, it was standing room only for the first pontifical high Mass at the basilica shrine since the invention of the novus ordo.  Pope Benedict was talking about liturgy in the Church. The Vatican was consulted on the planning of the 2010 Mass, and was quite helpful. Three years into Summorum Pontificum, the TLM was still new and fresh to a lot of people, so a mix of devotion and curiosity resulted in more than 3,500 attendees.  An unfortunate change in celebrants back then also, paradoxically, garnered a lot of earned mainstream media about the 2010 Mass, probably reaching those who had never been to a TLM.  This time, it was the second such pontifical Mass.  There was almost no earned media for the good news story, outside of traditional and traditional-leaning Catholic blogs. A pope who is, charitably, not a fan of anything traditional, reigns. The top-down momentum on liturgy came to a crashing halt five years ago.  But Saturday's turnout and beauty was amazing, in the wake of all that.  It shows what can be accomplished from the bottom up.

The Paulus Institute for the Propagation of Sacred Liturgy did all of the planning, all of the fundraising and all of the outreach. If you haven't already done so, visit them here or here.  They will be organizing more High Masses.

Mr. Joseph Vitacco, photographer and webmaster for Saint Mary Mother of God church in Washington, D.C., was kind enough to take a number of high-quality pictures and share them with Rorate.  If you pass them along, please be sure to give Mr. Vitacco proper photo credit.  Enjoy:

The next traditional Latin High Mass to be offered in the basilica shrine in D.C. is actually in just a few weeks, on the first Saturday of June in the crypt church.  Stay tuned for details on this annual FSSP pilgrimage Mass.