Roman Journal: The Inaugural Mass and a New Beginning--9
Our Sunday Visitor Publisher Greg Erlandson traveled to Rome to cover the Papal Conclave. He filed reports as the week progressed with his observations and commentary.
April 24, 2005
I woke up at 6 a.m. to head out to the formal Mass of installation for Pope Benedict XVI, but probably 50,000 other people got up earlier than me.
As I walked up Via della Conciliazione, the broad boulevard leading to the Vatican that was built by Mussolini to celebrate the concordat between the Vatican and the Italian government in 1929, I was surrounded by German, American and Italian pilgrims coming to celebrate with the Pope.
Italian efficiency was in high gear, with thousands of police, first aid workers and volunteers on hand. I was offered a dozen bottles of water by eager volunteers as I headed over to the Vatican press office.
The Mass began at 10 a.m., and by that time an estimated 300,000 people filled the great square of St. Peter’s Basilica and spilled all the way down the broad boulevard to its end. Huge television monitors allowed even those who were farthest away to see every detail of the celebration. Catholics from Bavaria, the home region of the Pope, were in large number, with many dressed in traditional costumes.
But there were many families, and thousands upon thousands of young adults, teen groups and children also filling the square. Indeed, the lasting impression was one of youthful enthusiasm, with repeated chants of “Ben-e-det-to” and vigorous flag waving. One young Italian girl named Luisa had handwritten a banner saying in English, “I love Benedetto” with a red heart painted on it.
By 9:30 a.m., the various governmental representatives, including Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and King Juan Carlos of Spain, had been greeted by American Archbishop James Harvey, the head of the Pontifical Household at the Vatican, and escorted to their seats. At 9:45, the bells of St. Peter’s announced the coming of the 115 cardinals who had elected Pope Benedict and who now sat on the steps next to the papal throne, looking out on a sea of banners, flags and signs.
The cardinals, and then the Pope himself, had gathered at the tomb of St. Peter under the main altar inside the Basilica, and from their had processed out to the square while the choir chanted a litany, invoking 57 saints and ending with St. Benedict, to pray for the new pontiff.
The liturgy was entirely in Latin, much of it chanted. The readings were in English and Spanish, with the Gospel chanted twice, once in Latin, once in Greek. For Catholics interested in the Scriptures read at the Mass, the readings were from Acts (4, 8-12), Psalm 117, the First Epistle of St. Peter (5, 1-5, 10-11), and the Gospel of St. John (21, 15-19).
What made the liturgy unique was when the Pope received the Pallium, a pure wool band about 6 feet long that was marked by five crosses and is an ancient symbol of Episcopal authority. In addition, he received the papal ring, created just this week by a Roman goldsmith for the new Pope. It is this ring which is the seal of his authority, and which will be broken at the time of his death.
Then a group of Catholics representing the entire Church climbed the steps to the Pope to pledge their obedience: three cardinals, one bishop, one priest, one deacon, two Religious, a married couple with their child, and two young people. All the while the choir chanted the lines from the Gospel of Matthew: “You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church.”
Pope Benedict preached in slightly accented Italian, with a soft voice that occasionally rose with emotion, particularly when he urged young people to “not be afraid of Christ.”
The homily was a moving meditation on trust in God, on the role of the Good Shepherd and the image of Peter, the first Pope and the “fisher of men.”
One particularly striking element of this Mass – unlike any other papal Mass I have attended at St. Peter’s – was a conscious effort to offer some catechesis on what was taking place. At three different times in the liturgy, speakers in English, Italian and German provided some background. Most striking was before Communion. As hundreds of priests streamed out into the square to distribute Communion, the loud speakers reminded people that the Eucharist was for Catholics who had observed the conditions for reception.
At the end of the Mass, an open-air version of the popemobile, drove up to the papal chair. Pope Benedict got in – resplendent in his gold vestments, miter and crozier, and as the car slowly processed around the square, he blessed the crowd as they cheered and waved back at him.
And then 300,000 people simultaneously began their treks home. As a sea of humanity slowly moved down the streets away from St. Peter’s, the Pope entered the Basilica to meet with the representatives of various world governments.
The new pope has been installed. The journalists are packing their bags. The stories have been filed. In the coming week, virtually all of the secular journalists will be heading home. The secular media has provided some great coverage of the events of the past week, and the Pope himself, in a meeting with journalists on Saturday, April 23, thanked them for their efforts.
Now the job of providing regular coverage of the new pontiff will fall, as it always does, first and foremost on Catholic journalists and the Catholic media. For many reporters, their work is done. For Our Sunday Visitor, our work is just beginning, as it is for the Pope himself.
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