>Some Thoughts on the Papal Mass at La Sagrada Familia

>My regular readers know that all last week I wrote a series of articles dealing with various topics related to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Barcelona yesterday to dedicate the Basilica of the Holy Family. And yes, I did get up at 3:30 in the morning in order to live-tweet the coverage of the Papal Mass on Catalan television. The television coverage was excellent, particularly some of the swooping camera angles that TV3 Catalunya used via robotic cameras to try to capture the sheer size of the interior.

Although there was only one news feed to media outlets, i.e. the TV3 shots, I must say that whoever the English-language commentator was for EWTN, she made repeated errors. She kept referring to the Sagrada Familia as a “cathedral”, for example, and the Sagrada Familia is emphatically not the Cathedral of the Metropolitan See of Barcelona. It is an Expiatory Temple, and it is (now) a Minor Basilica, but Barcelona already has a beautiful Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, primarily built during the 14th century. The commonplace error of referring to the Sagrada Familia as a “cathedral” might be expected among the secular media, but Catholics should know better.

I was also very disappointed with Twitter. Those of my readers who were awake and followed my tweets know that just about the point where the Holy Father blessed and distributed the incense, Twitter stopped me from live-tweeting, and I was not able to resume tweeting until nearly the end of mass, when the Pope came out to the Nativity Facade to address the crowds and pray the Angelus. I don’t have an explanation as to why this happened, though perhaps the unusual number of tweets and the strange time made Twitter think my account had been hijacked.

Here are a few other observations on the day:

- As I had predicted, Queen Sofia wore white, or in this case, technically a “winter white”, which is her royal prerogative as a Queen of Spain, granted by the Popes back in the 15th century.

- Yes there was some of the expected Leftist nonsense about pro-homosexual intercourse, pro-contraception, pro-female priests, pro-infanticide, on the streets, but not nearly anything to write home about. Most of that seems to have been from small groups looking for photographers, since none of that had any impact on the mass and was blissfully absent from the television coverage I saw. In fact I did not even see any images of this until later in the day.

- I was thrilled to see that the Benedictine Nuns of Sant Pere de les Puel.les were chosen to dress, and decorate the high altar after it had been consecrated. Historically they are of tremendous significance to the people of Barcelona. The Convent of Sant Pere de les Puel.les is the oldest continuously extant religious house for women in Barcelona, founded in 801 A.D., and then made a royal monastery by Princess Adelaida in 945 A.D., who had taken the veil and eventually became the abbess. When Dad and Mum are the rulers, you get some pull.

- The music was infinitely better than what I heard in Washington, New York, or Westminster, I must say. Was it accidental or deliberate that not only did the combined choir of some 800 voices sing Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” and adapt his “Alleluia” from the “Exsultate, jubilate” to use as the Alleluia for the Gospel, given that the Pope’s favorite composer is Mozart? I would say the latter, but either way these pieces, as well as the rest, were beautifully done.

- On a similar note – so to speak – there is an expression in Catalan, “If you pinch a stranger on the street and he does not cry out in perfect pitch, he’s not Catalan.” Like the Welsh in Britain, the various choirs and choral groups in Catalonia are considered by many classical musicians to be the best in the Iberian Peninsula. Those watching the coverage would have noticed the group of choir boys dressed in what look something like sleeveless white albs with long-sleeved black tunics underneath: these are the members of the Escolania de Montserrat, the boys choir of the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, which is the oldest boys’ choir in Europe.

- Don’t ask me why King Juan Carlos did not receive communion; I have seen him decline to receive, and I have seen him receive. I can tell you from experience that Catholic Spaniards – or at least, the ones I am familiar with in my family – very often refrain from receiving communion every time they go to mass, even if they go to mass every Sunday or even daily. Old-school Spanish Catholics take being properly disposed to receive very, VERY seriously, and certainly more so than in this country, where people seem to be receiving communion as if they were taking a bus ticket. This Spanish tendency is partially piety, but it also may be some leftover from the Middle Ages for, you may recall from your Church history books, people very often only took communion once or twice a year. Frequent reception of communion is something encouraged, but not demanded by the Church, after all.

- I did think it was unfortunate for the Queen to take communion in the hand [shudder], rather than kneel at the prie-dieu in front of her to receive. Was this voluntary, though? There was no way she could come down from the riser she was on to be at the same elevation as the Pope in order to receive on the tongue, so perhaps the reception in the hand was an instant calculation based on the logistical difficulty of she and the Pope getting to each other and she did not think of the kneeler. The placement of the thrones – really just side chairs – for the King and Queen seemed rather awkward, quite frankly, and they should have been moved elsewhere.

- I could not believe how much chrism oil the Pope spread on the high altar during its dedication. I thought he was just going to mark the four corners, but instead he coated the entire top! Those more versed in liturgical matters than I can tell me whether this is the usual sort of thing or not.

- Didn’t the weather cooperate beautifully? I had been worried from weather reports that it might rain, but the sun shone and the interior of the basilica worked exactly as Gaudi intended. The ceiling is covered in occuli which work as skylights, and shafts of light beam down through into the nave as the sun moves across the sky which, along with the 52 columns, give the impression that one is in a forest of stone trees. It was interesting that on television, everything was bright white, but a number of the photos are dark. Gives you a sense of how tall the interior is, I suppose.

In any case, these are just some thoughts on the day; those readers who watched and have their own to share, please feel free to leave comments! I would be very interested in reading them. Now that the Sagrada Familia has been dedicated, those of us interested in the project can just sit back and enjoy the next couple of decades of construction, as the main facade and the still-to-be-built ginormous main bell towers are completed.

Papal Visit to Barcelona: This Sunday!!!

This is my last blog post before the Papal Visit to Barcelona this Sunday. For those of you who are interested, I will be live-tweeting EWTN’s televised coverage this Sunday morning beginning at 4:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Yes, this sounds very early, but keep in mind that here in the U.S. we are going to be setting our clocks back one hour on Saturday night before we go to bed, so we will be getting an extra hour’s sleep.

In any case, if you wish to follow my live tweets on Sunday morning, or just check in later and see what I thought of the event, bookmark my Twitter Profile at http://twitter.com/wbdnewton

If you wish to watch the Papal Mass live, EWTN will be providing live coverage on their cable channel, or you can watch online on their website by following this link.

Now, some bullet points on details to look out for this Sunday!

- Below is the official poster from the Archdiocese for the Papal Visit; banners imprinted with this image have been put on display on lightposts, in shop windows, on churches, etc. all over Barcelona. The sign reads, in Catalan, “With the Pope at the Sagrada Familia, November 7, 2010″, and in the lower right hand corner is the logo for the event: a silhouette of the Sagrada Familia with the arms of the Archdiocese superimposed:

- A lot of work is going to be continuing inside the Sagrada Familia until the last moment. Because this is still very much a construction site, there is not going to be a great deal of decoration, of course. Then again, the building itself is quite a decoration! Here are a couple of interior photos taken this week:


- The Pope will arrive at El Prat, Barcelona’s airport, from Santiago de Compostela at about 9:00 pm on Saturday. He will then be taken to the Episcopal Palace across from Barcelona’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, where he will spend the night. Reports indicate that he did not ask for any special accommodation, food, etc., and that he has been given a very simple room, with a window facing onto an interior courtyard (for security reasons.)

- When the Pope arrives at the Sagrada Familia, he will be meeting with King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain in the museum of the basilica before mass. At this point I am not aware whether this is to be a private chat, or whether it will be televised. However it would stand to reason that Their Majesties will be attending the Papal Mass since it has been announced that they will also be at the airport that evening to see the Pope off back to Rome.

- Speaking of the Catholic monarchs, keep an eye out for what color Queen Sofia will be wearing. Historically, it has always been the prerogative of a Queen of Spain to wear white (rather than black) in the presence of the Pope, if she so chooses; she is one of the few women in the world permitted to do so. Below is a picture of her, for example, at the mass for Pope Benedict XVI’s installation at St. Peter’s. She dressed completely in white and wore the full mantilla and peineta, the large ornamental comb used in Spain to hold up and keep the mantilla in place:

- With the presence of the Pope, the King and Queen, the Prime Minister, the Spanish hierarchy, diplomats, politicians, military officers, celebrities, and so on, in addition to the thousands of ordinary parishioners unaccustomed to tight security measures who received tickets, the task of keeping everyone safe at the basilica is going to be an absolute nightmare. Eleven square blocks around the church are to be closed to traffic with checkpoints. Threats are more likely to come from Moslem extremists – with which Barcelona, sadly, is rather full these days – rather than Basque separatists. There will also be Leftist anti-clerical and anarchist elements that are going to try and disrupt the proceedings, as unfortunately Barcelona has also been the center for that sort of nonsense inside of Spain over the past century and a half.

- The Pope is going to be presented with a giant “mona” in honor of his visit by the Barcelona Trade Academies’ School of Pastry. Catalans take their pastries and their chocolates very, VERY seriously, having had a huge influence from France as a result of their geographic, cultural, and political ties over the years. The “mona” is an uniquely Catalan chocolate confection that is often very elaborate; it is usually given out at Easter, though sometimes also on special occasions. It can appear either in a round, cake shape or can be formed in the shape of some object holding meaning for the recipient.

In this case, four of the pastry chef professors at the academy and two of their senior pupils made a “mona” in the shape of the Nativity Facade of the Sagrada Familia, where the Pope will be reciting the Angelus with the faithful at noon on Sunday. This mona is just about 4 feet high, and weighs about 110 pounds! It will be eaten at the luncheon for the Pope hosted by Cardinal Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona, at the Episcopal Palace after the mass:

- Finally, here are some numbers for your consideration:

+ Of the approximately 6,500 people attending the mass, 2,100 will be from the Barcelona Archdiocese’s parishes. Each parish was distributed 10 Papal Mass tickets to divvy up. Each of the other Catalan dioceses, such as Lleida, Vic, and Girona, were given 20 tickets to distribute for parishioners willing to come the distance to Barcelona.

+ There will be approximately 1,100 bishops and priests in attendance inside the Basilica.

+ The choir at the Papal Mass will number 800 singers, including the Orfeó Català (the chorus from the Palau de la Musica, Barcelona’s Carnegie Hall), and the Escolanía from the Abbey of Montserrat, the oldest boys’ choir in Europe.

+ There will be 36,000 outdoor seats provided at the Sagrada Familia for those unable to enter the church. There will also be a cordoned-off standing room only area for 1,000 people close to the entrance.

+ Because the interior of the nave has 52 columns – 52! – some of the seats along the four side aisles inside the basilica will have blocked views. To address this, there will be 45 smaller monitors located throughout the interior of the church so that people can see what is going on. There will be around 25 large screens spread around the exterior of the church, and another 30 giant screens spread throughout Barcelona in city squares, parks, etc., where people can watch the Papal Mass as it unfolds. Many of the basilicas, churches, and chapels of the religious houses in Barcelona will also be hosting large screens for those wanting to follow the mass.

+ There will be nearly 2,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 18 from different Catholic Youth organizations wearing blue jackets emblazoned with the logo designed for the visit, stationed around the site to help out as needed.

I would ask your prayers, gentle reader, that the Papal Visit goes smoothly and, most of all, safely. There are many friends and relations I have spoken to in Barcelona who are worried that someone is going to try something, though let us hope that this is mere speculation. If all comes off well, this will be a very significant moment for the Church in Catalonia, as the Pope consecrates its most famous church building. Visca el Papa!!!

>Papal Visit to Barcelona: Missal for the Papal Mass

>All this week I will be writing pieces related to the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Barcelona this Sunday, November 7th. As I have been reporting for the past several months, the Pope will be dedicating the iconic Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia, and raising it to the level of a Minor Basilica. For my American readers, the visit will be televised live on EWTN, which you can watch either on television or online, and there are other internet portals where you may be able to catch live or taped coverage. Repeated, taped coverage of the Papal Mass at the new Basilica will be more practical for many, since there is a six-hour time difference between Barcelona and Washington, D.C., for example, and the mass will begin at 10:00 a.m. local time.

The text of the missal which will be used at the Papal Mass has been released by the Vatican, and it can be read online at the following link – but WARNING, this will open a PDF file in a separate window, so give it time to load. Having forewarned you, gentle reader, here is the link. There are several interesting points to this document that I would like to draw your attention to:

The missal has portions in Latin, Spanish, and Catalan. Some people continue to have a mistaken impression that Catalan is nothing more than a dialect of Spanish, or more properly, Castilian Spanish, i.e. the Spanish spoken in what used to be the Kingdom of Castile, in Central Spain. This is partly as a result of ignorance, and partly as a result of the efforts of various centralizing governments in Madrid over the years, including the Bourbons, military dictators, etc.

The land of Catalonia and its language, Catalan, existed long before there was a Spain, and its grammar was just as well, if not better, formed as Castilian by the beginning of the Middle Ages. Because of political persecutions, over the years Catalan was banned at various times over the past several centuries – most recently until the death of General Franco in 1975, well-within living memory. For the Pope to come to Barcelona and dedicate the Sagrada Familia using Catalan is something that many people who lived during the Franco regime could not even imagine.

The design on the front of the missal shows four of the towers of the Sagrada Familia, in silhouette, with the arms of the Archdiocese of Barcelona superimposed on top. You can read about the meaning of the arms and a little bit about the history of the Church in Barcelona from early Christian times on my other blog, Catholic Barcelona, where I wrote about the episcopal history of the see. It is a very simple, but effective composition for the event.

After the entrance procession, Cardinal Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona, will greet the Holy Father and welcome him to the building. Then the current chief architect of the building will speak briefly about the history of its construction. After this the Pope will be handing over the key to the giant bronze front doors to the priest who will charged with the keeping of this object.

Mass will then begin, and as a Catalan myself I find it particularly moving that, in this great building by Catalonia’s greatest architect, the first words spoken by the Holy Father at the Sagrada Familia will be making the sign of the cross and blessing the congregation in Catalan. The mass then proceeds to the blessing and aspersion of water, with which the Pope will bless the high altar and the people. Six priests will then go around to all of the walls of the building with aspergills and bless them.

Back to the Liturgy of the Word, and the readers will bring the basilica’s lectionary to the Holy Father to bless. He will then ask God – in Catalan – to bless the basilica that God’s Word will always be faithfully proclaimed therein. After the readings, psalm, and Gospel, the Pope will give the homily. The Creed will then be followed by the chanting of the Litany of Saints.

The Pope will then say a prayer of dedication of the new church, and bless the four corners of the high altar with chrism. Although the altar itself is in place, the baldachin and lights Gaudi designed for it are not yet ready, because there will be a gigantic central dome over the crossing from which they will be suspended, and that is going to take a number of more years to complete. So if the space looks a bit stark on Sunday, be patient. As Gaudi himself said, his client is not in a hurry.

Cardinal Sistach, Cardinal Bertone (Vatican Secretary of State), and ten other bishops will then take chrism and go mark the walls of the nave, where 12 crosses have been placed. Then the new thurible for the basilica will be brought to the Holy Father, he will bless it, light the incense, and proceed to bless the high altar. After this six deacons will take other thuribles down the aisles blessing the walls of the church and the people.

Following this, a group of nuns will put the new linen and frontal on the high altar, place the candlesticks, and place flowers around it. Then one of the deacons will be presented with a lighted taper by the Holy Father who will ask him, in Catalan of course, to go light all of the candles in the church as a symbol of the Light of Christ. This deacon will then share the light with 12 local seminarians who will go light the candles on the high altar as well as those around the interior of the basilica.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist will then begin, and this will be in Latin. There will be a switch back to Spanish briefly after the Our Father, then to Latin for the Agnus Dei, and back to Spanish for Communion. After the distribution of Holy Communion, the Eucharist will be taken to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, located in the apse directly behind the central crossing of the church where the high altar stands. I know that Gaudi designed a tabernacle for the space, but whether this is the tabernacle that will in fact be used is another issue.

After this, Cardinal Sistach will read out the Papal Bull declaring the Sagrada Familia to be a basilica. The Holy Father and all of the cardinals and bishops will then process to the East Portal of the church, known as the Nativity Facade. This was the only facade of the church which was almost completed when Gaudi was killed in 1926, and faces onto a park. The Pope will address the people waiting directly outside, and then pray the Angelus with them in Latin, for at this point it should be about 12 noon local time. At this point I am not exactly clear whether he will return to the high altar to give the final blessing, which would seem to be logical, or whether he will give it from the East Portal; the missal does not make this clear.

Following the recessional, the Pope will head to the Episcopal Palace for lunch with the bishops. In the afternoon he will be visiting the Institute of the Child Jesus, run by the Franciscan Sacred Heart sisters, who are building a new residence for poor children. The Holy Father will be blessing and laying the first stone of the building. After this, he will head to the airport and back to Rome.

Tomorrow we will read a bit about the floor plan of this, the world’s newest basilica, and some of the very elaborate theological thought that Gaudi put into his plans for the church.

Construction workers before the steps leading to the High Altar
in the Sagrada Familia, with the apse in the far background
displaying some new stained glass windows.