By Steve Skojec, April 30, 2018
I spent last Saturday in DC, attending the Pontifical High Mass offered by Archbishop Sample of Portland, Oregon, in thanksgiving of the tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. The last time such an event was held in main body of the largest Catholic church in the United States, the year was 2010.
On this occasion, it was a beautiful Spring day in the nation’s capital, and the upper church began filling early. I spent my first our on scene in line for confession, and only thanks to the gracious assistance of a friend, had a reserved seat in the front row of the Basilica for the main event.
Attendance was good — I’ve heard estimates ranging in the neighborhood of 1500 to 4000 people. My personal guess would be about 2500, since the seating capacity of the upper church is 3500 and mid-Mass, this was the scene from the narthex:
The pews weren’t filled to the brim, but there were people throughout the whole church. All in all, I’m happy with the turnout.
The Mass was well executed, with a vertiable army of altar servers and priests in choir. Among the notable clergy who participated in the liturgy were several priests from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, including Fr. Joseph Bisig, who co-founded the Fraternity and served as its first Superior General. Clerics were also present from the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, including provincial superior Canon Matthew Talarico. Maronite chorbishop Anthony Spinosa was also seen in attendance. Also spotted was Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, prior of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem. Honestly, there were so many clergy present I feel as though I’m doing them all a disservice by mentioning just a few.
The music was excellent, and was performed variously by the Scholas of The Lyceum School in South Euclid, Ohio, St. John the Baptist in Allentown, New Jersey, and St. Mary, Mother of God in Washington, DC, as well as by the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Selections included pieces by Tomas Luis de Victoria, Claudio Monteverdi, and Thomas Tallis, among others.
I took a number of photos for the event (which you are welcome to use if you credit me as the photographer with a link to this post):
Archbishop Sample’s homily was a rousing tribute to Summorum Pontificum, and he highlighted the youth presence at the Mass:
As we gather here today in this magnificent basilica, one cannot help but notice the very large presence of young people who have come to participate in this Holy Mass. I have met a good number of you personally. You are a sign – a great sign – of encouragement and hope for the Church tossed about these days on the troubled waters of secularism and relativism. As they say, you “get it”. You understand your place in the world and in the Church to help rebuild a culture of life in society and a renewal of Catholic culture within the Church herself.
Over the years since the release of Summorum Pontificum, I have heard many in the Church – including priests and bishops – express puzzlement and dismay over why so many young people are attracted to this venerable form of the Roman Rite. They say things like, “I just don’t understand. How could they be so attracted to a form of the liturgy that they did not grow up with or ever experience before?” If the comment has been directed to me, I have often responded “That is exactly the question you should be asking. Why are they attracted to this liturgy? Or perhaps more pointedly. What is it that this form of the Roman Rite provides for them that their own experience growing up with the Ordinary Form did not provide? For this will give us an insight into what future liturgical development might look like.”
So many young people have discovered this form of the sacred liturgy as part of their own Catholic heritage. I myself first discovered the traditional Latin Mass as a college student. I came across it. But for me it was an historical relic and something that I never imagined that I would actually experience. Maybe the experience of these young people growing up with the Ordinary Form did not carry with it the beauty reverence prayer fullness sense of mystery and transcendence or wonder and awe that the traditional Latin Mass has provided for them. Perhaps this is the answer to the question posed above about why so many young people are drawn to the Holy Mass celebrated according to the 1962 missal.
Where I would digress from the Archbishops’ thoughts somewhat was in his insistence that he was not “calling into question the legitimacy the validity or even the goodness of the missal promulgated by Blessed Paul VI” or in his emphasis on Benedict XVI’s insistence that there is “no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy, there is growth and progress, but no rupture”. I think that most of us in the liturgical trenches not only question the “goodness” of the missal of Paul VI, but know very well by experience that there was indeed rupture — and that the so-called “hermeneutic of continuity” is, sadly, little more than wishful thinking.
That said, this was a Mass broadcast live on EWTN (see the video below) for an audience that one can only expect has been left largely unexposed to the beauty of the Church’s ancient liturgy or the deep theological and anthropological contrasts that exist between it and the new rite. On the whole, I found the Archbishop’s homily to be a good one, even if I eagerly await the day when the Second Vatican Council is no longer viewed as the mandatory reference point for all things by even our best prelates.
The video below offers the full broadcast of the Mass from EWTN with commentary from Msgr. Charles Pope and Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth. Beneath that, I’ve included a separate audio file and transcript of Archbishop Sample’s homily.
All told, this was an uplifting and hope-filled event, and I hope that we won’t have to wait another eight years for the next one. My gratitude goes to The Paulus Institute for making the liturgy happen, to Archbishop Sample for agreeing to offer the Mass, and to all the priests, deacons, seminarians, schola and choir memers for making it such a memorable event.
Thanks also go to each and every attendee — many of them pilgrims coming from far away — for filling the pews and making such a powerful statement about our love for the Church’s venerable Latin liturgy – and of the Holy Spirit.