Saturday, September 18, 2010

Papal Mass at Westminster Cathedral (Votive of the Precious Blood)

This is live-blogged, more or less… I wrote this as it happened, and now post it.

I checkt the time in London, and then the Papal programme of events – the Pope would be saying Mass!  So I switched to the live webcast, and tuned in during the silent pause evidently after the homily.  The Pope at length arose from his throne, and intoned the Credo in plainchant, which all took up with a great roar.

That done, a lady read the prayers of the faithful – I mean, really! that’s a deacon’s job!  The English made their quaint response, “Lord, graciously hear us”.

At the Offertory, the famous Westminster Cathedral choir sang a moving motet: Christus factus est (Bruckner?), then the organ took over until the “Pray brethren” and the Prayer over the Gifts (in English).  Then it was time for the glorious age-old chant of the Sursum corda and Preface in Latin.  The choir sang a polyphonic Sanctus [the Mass setting is Byrd's, for five voices]: indescribably good.

Te igitur… aloud – beautiful! the Holy Father reads beautifully the Latin… one of the principal concelebrants (the Archbishop of Westminster?) read his part in a slightly faltering English accent, then an Italian bishop did the same.

I missed the expected “mysterium fidei” in the consecration of the chalice!  (I forget that this isn't the old Mass.)

No here it is – Mysterium fidei chanted by the Pope, and the great congregation responding with Mortem tuam in plainchant.

(The sound on my link dropt out for a bit alas, only returning for the full-throated chanted Amen at the end of the Canon.)

Now all are chanting the Lord’s Prayer… (sound dropt again)

The choir sings the Agnus Dei in polyphony…

The Pope invites the faithful forward to receive their Lord, and all respond, from Supreme Pontiff down to the humblest, “Lord, I am not worthy…”

The choir is chanting in Latin, and the Pope is giving Holy Communion on the tongue to those - choristers and lay faithful – coming up to kneel at a prie-dieu before him.  What piety and devotion!

Now the choir begins another polyphonic masterwork [Hassler's O sacrum convivium], ending with a multifold Alleluia.

Footage outside shews happy crowds in attendance outside; within, the Byzantinesque interior of the cathedral is ablaze with lamps, and a vast congregation now receiving their Eucharistic Saviour.

The organ sounds!  It is St Alphonsus Liguori’s beloved hymn, “O Bread of heaven, beneath this veil, thou dost my very God conceal: my Jesus, dearest Treasure, hail! I love Thee and, adoring, kneel” – so true, so true.

Silence… nothing but a few coughs, and the soft clicking of cameras throughout the basilica…

At length, all arise for the Prayer after Communion in English.  The blessing, though, is sung in Latin.  Can the blessing be received over the Internet?  I pray so. Certainly I united myself to the offering up of the Sacrifice and prayed in worship of Jesus at the Elevation after the Consecration – for, while I viewed a representation of the event, in spirit I prayed I was there; and of course God is always everywhere.

A Deacon sings the Ite missa est from the Missa de Angelis, to which a hearty Deo gratias is returned by all.

The organ and trumpets play, as the procession forms up before the altar.  The hymn I can’t quite catch, but it’s something very stirring about Our Lord… [it's "Love Divine, all loves excelling"]

The sea of concelebrant bishops and priests in bright red chasubles make a sight indeed, as if the Precious Blood were spilling forth and running down the aisle.

The Pope stops first to greet the ecumenical representatives – various Oriental ecclesiarchs all in black, some Byzantine in tall hats (I forget the name), some non-Chalcedonian in turbans, plus the silly old A.B. of C. (looking very motley in Parker’s rags).

The congregation applaud His Holiness as he now leaves the chancel and passes down the nave.  The organ thunders the while.


As he comes forth from the doors of the Cathedral, the crowds outside applaud and cry out in adulation.  Now, a chair is brought, and an address began (the sound just dropt out again) – I think this is when the Pope will bless the latest new mosaic to be installed at the Cathedral, representing St David of Wales.  Now is it the turn of the Welsh to acclaim Peter’s Successor?

No, he rather greeted the wildly enthusiastic crowds – lots of eager young people – and blessed them.  Reëntering the Cathedral, the choir sings Bruckner’s Ecce sacerdos magnus – Behold a great priest.

Now comes the blessing of the mosaic of St David, and of a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Cardigan.

The Pope is again seated, and receives the gracious greetings of the Catholics of Wales, and of Wales itself, from the Catholic Archbishop thereof, speaking in rich rolling English and Welsh.  No wonder Tolkien loved the sonorous Welsh tongue so much.

All good things come to an end: the Pope, after giving a miniature catechesis about St David, greets dignitaries and then returns to the sacristy while the organ plays.  In a nice last scene, the television coverage shews him shaking hands with all the choristers, thanking them for their soaring music.


(I suppose the Pope read several of the prayers in English because chanting them in an unfamiliar tongue would be difficult for him.  But why wasn’t the response to the petitions of the Bidding Prayers sung, as is commonly done at the Cathedral in Melbourne?)

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