A blessed sleep-in on Sunday morning (that unique privilege of the unordained), then off through the tunnels under the Janiculum to Fortress America, a.k.a. the N.A.C....
Somehow, yours truly, as a hanger-on to the Australian contingent at the Priests' Conference just ended, and as the guest of some of the Perth seminarians, had gained an invitation to the North American College's 150th anniversary Mass and dinner.
(Before heading up the hill, though, I had made a visit to St Peter's, gone to confession, and prayed for the plenary indulgence available there.)
Fr Rowe and I arrived late, as he'd had me serve his private Mass first; we came in at the sermon. What a sight: over two hundred seminarians, all in clerical suits; 162 priests concelebrating; 24 bishops present; and Cardinal Levada singing the Mass. The singing (Missa de Angelis, Credo III, et al.) was powerful.
Mass took something over two hours... at length, the solemn liturgy, done with almost military precision, American-style, was ended, and we came out for preprandial drinks, then sat down for the banquet. We Aussies were slotted in with some of our fellow-countrymen (such as Daniel and Nick, two Sydneysiders): it was somewhat strange, if edifying, to witness the Americans' patriotism and zeal on open display, with many moving toasts, standing ovations, and even all unaffectedly singing something like "God bless America" - it's not in our national psyche to do the same at all. (Meanwhile, we ate and drank our way through four courses.)
Digestivi afterward introduced me to a very pleasant liqueur called Disarrono.
Fr and I then sprinted off for Vespers at St Peter's at 5 pm; we stayed on (reading our Breviaries) for the first half of the ensuing Mass, a rather lacklustre affair at the altar of the Chair.
(In the Office and at private Mass, it was the Feast of the Holy Family, which I'd already observed in the new rite back in Australia ere I left; at the public Masses and Vespers, it was the Baptism of the Lord, which I'll mark again on Wednesday! Preferring the EF while attending the OF occasions many such doublets, let alone if I bring the Byzantine Rite into play.)
Leaving the Vatican Basilica, we ran into the Corboys, friends of Fr from Wangaratta, who prevailed on us to come back to their apartment for nibbles. Making my way back to my hotel after nine o'clock, who do I run into but Mark, Mike and Brennan (Aussie N.A.C.'ers), coming back from dinner out with Fr John (a wise old priest visiting from Australia) at the local Chinese restaurant! Talk about hollow legs.
I lay in bed watching Pirates of the Caribbean III, dubbed into Italian, before I turned it off and went to sleep.
I didn't want to get up early to-day! But I had to: Fr was saying Mass at St Peter's, and wanted me to serve again.
We ended up in the Lithuanian chapel in the crypt, down amongst the Papal tombs. As the altar was freestanding with a predella behind and too great a drop in front, Fr Rowe had to say Mass versus populum!
The rubricks may be of interest: he didn't need to turn around at the Dominus vobiscum's (though once or twice he began to out of habit, and did a full pirouette at the Orate fratres), and I knelt in front of the altar on the opposite side to usual, so as still to be on the opposite side to the altar.
Some annoying Filipino's were singing at their Mass next door... so we sang the Salve regina at the prayers after Low Mass, then tacked on a sung Litany of Loreto for good measure.
After breakfast back at my hotel (Fr as my guest), we took the bus to Mary Major's, where Fr arranged to say Mass at the altar of the Crib at 8 am to-morrow (Tuesday the 12th). (I blogged back in September about how moved I was at my first visit to the relics of the manger wherein Our Lord was laid.) We also looked at the museum underneath: what vestments, what sacred vessels, what relics! The vestments of St Pius V and of St Charles Borromeo were noteworthy.
We went on to visit the enormous Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls, where I finally fulfilled my pledge to Rev Br Paul, O.P., to pray for him at the shrine of the Apostle.
A side trip to Santa Sabina proved fruitless, since the bookshop there was closed for siesta (I'll go back later), but we did get a chance to pray in San Anselmo.
Having caught the bus, we ended up at San Clemente, and thoroughly enjoyed visiting that beautiful and fascinating church and the deep excavations below, down to the 11th century church underneath, down to the pagan temple underneath...
The train then took us back to the Vatican, where we met up with Fr Don, Fr John, Paul, an American priest named Fr David, and - surprise - Fr Justin, an old friend of mine, who we'll catch up with to-morrow. But the rest of us went off in taxis...
Soon enough, we were at the deep underground marble bunker of the Prelatic Church of Our Lady of Peace.
Yes, gentle reader, I have been in the bowels of the headquarters of Opus Dei!
Mass was celebrated, and then we had a very earnest numerary tour us around the mysteries of the crypts of the church; we venerated the Founder, St Josemaria; then we were invited to see the resting places of other notables of the Work whose causes are in various stages. I must say, I found the place somewhat unnerving.
It was a relief for the doors to be unlocked and for us to emerge into the world again. (Several priests of Opus Dei are known to me, and I am indebted to them for their spiritual advice, but sometimes the solemnity of the lay members can be a bit much.)
Pizza and laughter with our party of Australians and one American was a great cure, especially when capped off with a pleasant night-time walk back past the Pantheon to the Vatican.
Another busy day on holiday...