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Imposed (Ir)reverence?

Can you force someone to be more reverent? Is it possible to compel reverence from someone by demanding a particular prayer, position, or facial expression?

We can cultivate reverence. We can create environments that aid people in prayer. We can counsel others, offer spiritual companionship and direction, and inspire liturgical involvement and devotional piety in a way that encourages reverence. But I do not think it is possible to make people more reverent by making them do something which they are not ready to do. In fact, trying to do so would more often have the effect opposite of the intent, and instead impose irreverence.

Yet it is precisely in the language of “increasing reverence” during the Eucharist that there has been discussion in recent years of imposing particular postures – including how one receives communion. It has always been my position – as someone who has spent a decade instructing Eucharistic ministers and prepared adults and children to receive their first communion – that you should receive communion reverently.

"...make with the left a throne for the right hand, which recieves the King" -Cyril of Jerusalem, c. 313-386 AD

The Latin church itself prescribes two forms for this, in the hands and on the tongue. Dioceses and bishops’ conferences may add or stress elements of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, such that in some places we are asked to bow before receiving, as we proclaim ‘Amen’; others suggest a sign of the cross immediately after; in the Archdiocese of Seattle we remain standing throughout the communion procession as a sign of reverence, honoring the presence of Christ and the assembly’s act of communion with Him (and the Church), and honoring the liturgical integrity of the procession itself.

The Holy Father has himself weighed in on this, especially since he has been seen to prefer to administer communion in a particular fashion, and some commentators interpreted this to mean he was indicating a change. This is not entirely the case, however:

I am not opposed in principle to Communion in the hand; I have both administered and received Communion in this way myself.

The idea behind my current practice of having people kneel to receive Communion on the tongue was to send a signal and to underscore the Real Presence with an exclamation point. One important reason is that there is a great danger of superficiality precisely in the kinds of Mass events we hold at Saint Peter’s, both in the Basilica and in the Square. I have heard of people who, after receiving Communion, stick the Host in their wallet to take home as a kind of souvenir.

In recent months, it seems this last, unique concern has trumped general liturgical principle, and since the beginning of Advent 2010, at St. Peter’s Basilica during papal masses (and only at papal liturgies, as far as I have seen) communicants are refused communion unless they receive on the tongue.

The first time this happened to me, it was quite jarring. There has been no announcement that I have found, it was just a change. In fact, it seemed that many of the Eucharistic ministers (who are always priests during the papal liturgies, though not necessarily so at other liturgies there) had not been informed. I thought, actually, that it was just the priest at my station “imposing reverence” as he saw fit. He even looked a bit smug. Looking up and down the aisle, some priests were still serving the host according to the communicant’s desire, and others were refusing ‘in the hand’.

Clearly, this did not instill reverence, but rather robbed the moment of its usual spiritual peace. As I watched people’s reactions, from tourists to young Italians, to one elderly nun in full habit, more than three-quarters went to receive on the hand and when they were refused, responded in surprise, confusion, or even disgust (the septuagenarian sister looked ready to ‘have words’ with the young priest, but then decided against it).

The second time I went to a papal mass with this new practice, the priest at my communion station was a friend and classmate. I was prepared, and this time noticed every minister serving in the hand only, and this time it was the ushers who were gesticulating to everyone to make it clear that communion was only available orally. My friend looked apologetic, and the priest next to him was confused, clearly not having been informed of this new rule, either. Again, though some people would have received this way in any case and others had been recently enough to know what to expect, others looked disconcerted, distracted, or dissatisfied. None appeared more reverent.

Then again, reverence is an interior orientation, not an exterior expression, so maybe they were.


St. André Bessette and company

Saints banners on St. Peter's

Six new saints were declared by Pope Benedict XVI during the weekend of 17 October, but one in particular stands out. Brother Andre Bessetté, CSC has been a familiar name to me since Notre Dame, and his story I had known something about even before then. In fact, throughout my four years of service on the altar at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Litany of Saints always concluded with a robust “Blessed Brother André… Pray for Us!”

Those years of prayer are ‘paid off’ today, in the official recognition of the Congregation of Holy Cross’ first saint – though rumour is the cause of CSC founder, Father Basil Moreau may be ready as early as 2012. Brother Andre is also the first native-born male saint of North America, having been born and raised in Canada.

Notre Dame pilgrims for canonizations

He was a simple porter, a door-keeper, not educated enough for presbyteral ordination, but a man gifted with healing and a particular devotion to St. Joseph in a time when Marian piety defined Catholic spirituality. One man’s simple prayer to see a small shrine to Our Lord’s earthly father near the school where he served lead eventually to the impressive St. Joseph Oratory of Mount Royal, in Montreal, Quebec. The oratory offers a biography of the new saint here.

A delegation of Holy Cross brothers and priests, Notre Dame students, alumni, and faculty converged on Rome along with thousands of Canadians and others devoted to Brother André. About two dozen of us participated in a program offered by ND’s Center for Social Concerns. On the eve of the canonization day, these pilgrims filled the church of St. Andrea della Valle to standing-room capacity, about five thousand by estimates I have seen.

One of the Domer alumns from the states was my friend and classmate Julie Fritsch, who i literally picked up from Leonardo DaVinci airport as i dropped off Simone. From pro-life marches in D.C. to canonizations in Rome, it is nice to know you can share the journey with friends over the course of decades!

We got to participate in the vigil at Sant’Andrea della Valle, the canonization mass at St. Peter’s, the premier of Salt and Light’s  documentary of his life, “God’s Doorkeeper”, and a presentation by ND Professor Kathleen Sprows Cummings on the process of canonization.

Julie and I on Ponte Sant'Angelo

Leading up to the weekend, the only names of the soon-to-be saints i knew were Brother André and Australia’s first saint, Sr. Mary MacKillop, founder of an order of women religious and contemporary of St. André.  The program on the morning of the liturgy described the six thus: One priest (Stanisław Kazimierczyk, Polish, 15th cent.), one religious (Br. Andre), and four “virgins”. IN addition to Mary MacKillop, there were two Italian sisters Giulia Salzano and Camilla Battista da Varano and Spanish nun Candida Maria of Jesus.

Why the four women were not identified as religious, as sisters, or even the three as founders of orders, i do not know. While chaste virginity can be holy (as can chaste marriage or celibacy) it seems to mischaracterize their vocations. After all, none were consecrated virgins, so much as religious and founders. Giulia and Candida were educators and catechists, Camilla was a princess turned nun, an example of the wealthy giving up materialism for service to the poor. Mary has been championed by some as an example for those persecuted by ecclesiastical authority for remaining true to the Gospel rather than “obedience” to abusive leaders.

Four of the six were all born in the 1840’s: André, Mary, Giulia and Candida. The other two were born mid-15th century.

Official Catholic Dialogue with Judaism and Islam

Russell Berrie Fellows at Chapel of the Patrons of Europe, Vatican Basilica

The second full day of our orientation began with a celebration of the Eucharist at the Vatican Basilica, in the Chapel of the Patrons of Europe  just a few yards from the heart of the basilica, underneath the high altar. It was dedicated by Pope John Paul II in 1981 to the three first-millennium co-patrons of Europe: St. Benedict of Norcia and Sts. Cyril and Methodius of Thessaloniki. (The three second-millennium co-patrons, all women, were named in 1999.) The presider of our liturgy was Father Jess Rodriguez of the Jesuit curia, newly arrived in Rome to serve the English Secretariat of the Church’s largest religious order.

Noted art historian Elizabeth Lev  joined us after the liturgy to give us a brief, but informative, insider’s tour of the basilica of St. Peter. Even for those who have been in Rome for years, something new was gleaned from her rich presentation. For me, it was the answer to one of the Eternal City’s eternal questions: “Hey Bernini, what’s with the twisted columns on the baldacchino???”

A short walk down Via della Conciliazione brought us to the offices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which for largely historical reasons, also houses the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and a presentation from German Salesian Norbert Hofmann on the “Official Catholic Dialogue with Judaism”.

Bernini's Baldacchino

An afternoon of technical details broke for two more presentations: “Analysis of Nostra Aetate: Doctrine and History” by Thomas Casey, SJ and “The Official Dialogue of the Catholic Church with Islam” with German Jesuit Felix Körner of the Gregorian University’s ISIRC. The final discussion of the evening was a dinner dialogue with U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, theologian Miguel Diaz, his wife and fellow theologian Marian Diaz, and the Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy. Their topic, understandingly, was “Diplomacy and Interreligious Dialogue”. We were joined by Drs. Armando and Adalberta Bernardini, president and vice-president of the International Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Education – and Fellow Paola’s parents.

View from the top

Piazza San Pietro and beyond, our view from the top of the dome

The last day of April was another beautiful sunny day, and the temperature crept toward 80° F (it was 26° C about mid-day): A perfect day to scale the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica, the highest point in all of Rome. This was my first time to the top, having been to the depths of the Scavi two levels below the Basilica floor when Nancy was in town for Christmas break.

Few great days in Rome start without cappuccino, however, and we made our way to the Antico Caffé della Pace, just a little ways off of Piazza Navona, the quintessence of a Roman street café – shaded tables on a cobblestone pedestrian street in view of a large baroque church. A friend had advised you could get café at the table for the same price as at the bar, but I think the reality is that you get café at the bar for the same price as the table. But it would be worth it to camp out for a few hours and read or people-watch, as we did before heading across the Tiber.

These are spacious compared to what comes next

Once at St. Peter’s, a short elevator ride takes you from the ground floor to the basilica roof, the level of the saints’ statues, for €7. It is not a bad view from this level, but with 323 steps to (almost) the top of the dome waiting, we decided to move on. We re-entered the basilica at this level – and thank God for the metal cage installed in addition to the railing! I have never been that fond of heights, but being inside a building this massive, this high up, was enough to remind me what vertigo feels like. Just a little.

Once you adjust to that, or at least confirm the solidity of the security cage, you can appreciate the mosaics up close and read the entire two-meter- tall inscription “Tv es Petrvs et svper hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam. Tibi dabo claves regni caelorvm” (You are Peter and On this Rock i will build my church… I will give you the keys to heaven). Looking down, if you can handle it, giveds a bird’s eye view of Bernini’s baldachino (with ladder stored on top) and the ant-size people wandering the basilica floor – fifteen stories below.

As viewed from the dome: See that green oasis in the middle? In the midst of that is our home at the Lay Centre.

Then we went up. A gently sloping ramp wide enough for four leads to some normal staircases, then a winding spiral staircase big enough for one (no railing) that ends just about the time you wonder whether it ever will. That brings you to the curving level of the cupola itself, and you can actually see the inward curve, which gets steeper until someone my size has to bend over and lean to the right to get through. One more spiral staircase built for people half my size with tiny feet, and we finally make it out to fresh air.

There really is nothing higher than St. Peter’s in Rome. Even the fabled hills of rome barely rate from this height, though we could see the Lay Centre and some of the other features of Rome – the Altar della Patria, the Pantheon roof, the towers of Santa Maria Maggiore, and a commanding view of the Piazza and Via della Conciliazione out to the Tiber. The viewing platform circles the entire base of the lantern at the top of the dome, so there is a good view of the Vatican Museums and gardens, the various buildings. You can see very well how small the world’s smallest sovereign state really is!

This Dutch diplomat and scholar consented to have her picture taken with me, the Eternal city in the background

While at the top we found a small office for a couple of the staff of the Fabric of St. Peter’s – responsible for the physical plant – who apparently spend the day in a tiny cubicle at the top of the dome minding the tourists. Nearby we could see through a locked gate the stairs to the very top of the lantern, the base of the cross. I do not think I will petition to get through there any time soon. We were already about 440’ up, I do not think another dozen would make much difference.

Going down is actually a little worse… those almost endless spiral steps can make you dizzy, but thankfully once you get back to the basilica roof, refreshment waits. Bathrooms, water, a gift shop and a café all operate on the roof of the world’s largest church to provide services for the stair-weary pilgrim. (To get a small taste of the small stairs, check out someone’s YouTube video)

Rounded out the day with a late lunch of Roman pizza by the slice then gelato from the Old Bridge Gellateria – famous for its generous portions and modest prices, and pretty decent quality, too – before heading back to the Lay Centre for dinner and some overdue blogging!

Nativity of the Lord: Christmas Mass at Midnight

Preparing for Jill's Feast: AJ, Greg, Karina, Jill, Natalie

Nancy and I, and a small group from the Lay Centre started Christmas Eve with a traditional Italian dinner hosted by Jill, another Domer I discovered at the Angelicum. It was incredible! Antipasti and prosecco to start the night off, followed by soup, pasta, fish… and each prepared and served in proper order, it was almost a pity we had to leave for the mass! Seriously, aside from theology, ministry, and guiding tours of Rome she could open her own trattoria. Not only was it all delicious, it was presented so beautifully, it really made a special evening even more delightful.

Standing on the confessionals at St. Peter's, Midnight Mass 1944

It is from Jill that I learned that Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s is actually a relatively new phenomenon. Until 1944, the last time the bishop of Rome had celebrated Christmas midnight mass at St. Peter’s is believed to be for the coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD. Otherwise, the traditional location in Rome had been Santa Maria Maggiore – which makes a lot more sense given the indispensible role Mary played in the Nativity, and the location there of the relics of the Nativity including what was believed to be the manger in which the Christ child was laid. Since Pius XII’s celebration just after the liberation of Italy during WWII, the popes have celebrated midnight mass at St. Peter’s; but the Romans still go to Mary Major while the Americans and other pilgrims go pray with the pope – though we were not standing on the confessionals this time.

The line begins outside the Basilica of St. Peter

Jill’s place being mere minutes from Piazza San Pietro, we took some liberty with our arrival time. For the first time, what has traditionally been a Midnight Mass was moved up to 10:00pm so we were advised to arrive three hours early – we got there at 7:30 and got into a line that already wrapped around the entire Piazza and had started doubling up on itself. Waiting just ahead of us in line was an American, a theatre professor from Miami, who was hoping against hope to find a ticket to get into the papal mass. (His name is James Brown. No, really – you can look him up.) As it happens, I had had a friend arrange to get four tickets for us before we knew we would be getting enough through the Lay Centre, so Natalie had borrowed three for friends, and there was just one left over – the Spirit works in small ways too! Unfortunately, we lost Jim in the mass crush when our part of the line finally got inside the Basilica, but in a couple hours of waiting in line at least got to make a new friend.

View from our seats, taken after the liturgy

Once inside, we found the massive line had filled the seats in the nave and it looked as if we might have to stand – until they opened the transepts. We got the leftover seats from the “reserved” section in the south transept, directly to the side of the altar. We couldn’t see the pope as he sat in the presiders chair, but had a great view of the liturgy of the Eucharist.

We were placed directly between two of the massive pillars supporting Michelangelo’s Dome, looked over by Sts. John of God and Mary Euphrasia Pellettier on one side and Sts. Juliana Falconieri and Angela Merici on the other. Because of this we could not see very far down the nave toward the main doors. About the time we thought the music was changing from prelude to procession, we heard something like screams, a pause long enough to ask each other what that was about, then cheering. “Ah, they were cheering for the pope like a rock star!” We did not realize that Benedict had been knocked down until after the liturgy and we met up with some students who had been in that part of the Basilica. We did see Cardinal Etchegaray being wheeled out on a gurney behind us, and thought perhaps he had fallen or something. His Holiness did not mention it, and did not even seem fazed by the time we saw him.

Presepe at Piazza San Pietro

The liturgy was beautiful. Last time I was in Rome, for the close of the Jubilee, midnight mass had been held outside, in the Piazza. This was my second papal Eucharist inside St. Peter’s this year, and both times there has really been a sense of reverence and participation in the liturgy, even despite the size of the church and the numbers of people celebrating. The mass parts were in Latin, the readings in Spanish and English, the gospel sung in Latin and the pope’s homily delivered in Italian, the prayers of the faithful in Russian, French, Tagalog, Portugese, and German. The music is increadible, of course: the only places outside Rome I have seen compare for quality liturgy and liturgical music is the Basilica of Sacred Heart at Notre Dame and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. (The National Shrine in D.C. sometimes makes the cut, too…) Nancy was tempted to record the entire liturgy, but we settled for trying to get some of the music.

Afterwards we stood in front of the presepe (crèche, Nativity scene) at the foot of the obelisk in the middle of Bernini’s piazza, listening to a group of sisters singing carols. After an hour of trying to hail a taxi, we got a couple to take us back to the Lay Centre without trying to rip us off (Thank you, Karina!!)

On returning to the Lay Centre, Donna had prepared for us an “American breakfast” – pancakes with Canadian maple syrup, eggs, bacon, and orange juice – the most proper way to celebrate the birth of Jesus at 2:00am! And, to be honest, I do not think I have ever appreciated American fare so much!

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