>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: Gaudí the Man, Part II

Regular readers know that this week I have been writing on subjects related to the upcoming Papal Visit to Barcelona, when Pope Benedict XVI will be consecrating the newly-designated Basilica of the Holy Family, or “Sagrada Familia”. Yesterday readers were able to examine several photographs of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, the architect of the church, in conjunction with a loose timeline of what was going on in his world at the time the pictures were taken. Today we will take a look at some of the aspects of the great architect’s native place and age, and perhaps gain some insight into his thoughts and outlook.

It is impossible to underestimate the importance that Gaudí’s being a Catalan, and emphatically not a Spaniard, had on his work. There are those who would find such a statement to be somewhat inflammatory, for the issue of Catalan nationalism has often been a cause of conflict in Spanish history. Yet as a man who appears in the universe at a particular place and time, Gaudí like any of us was a man informed and shaped by where and when he found himself.

When Gaudí was born in 1852, Catalonia was beginning a rapid transformation from a commercial backwater into an industrial powerhouse. As money poured into the industrial cities of Catalonia, Barcelona foremost among them, the Catalans went on a building boom which they had not experienced since the heady days of their lost empire in the 14th and 15th centuries. New fortunes were being made, and new fortunes need new homes, factories, offices, warehouses, parks, churches, schools, libraries, and theatres: in short, there was plenty of work for ambitious young architects.

At more or less the same time, the Catalans were rediscovering their history and their language. With the encouragement of the elites, they began to express and patronize their cultural identity as a people in poetry, music, and art, in a movement known as the Catalan Renaissance or Renaixença. Spoken and written Catalan once again began to take over the cities (it had never really been stamped out in the countryside), and festivals that had fallen into disuse or which were banned under the Bourbon autocracy in the 18th century were revived, such as the reestablishment of the Medieval “Jocs Florals” or “Floral Games”, last celebrated in the 1400’s and revived in 1859. Catalan newspapers, magazines, novels, and songs were created to spread the use of the language, while the plastic arts commemorated important figures and concepts from Catalonia’s past.

Gaudí was very much a part of this movement, and to look at a building like the Sagrada Familia without understanding that it was designed by a Catalan architect of this period and built by men committed to a conservative, Catholic Catalan nationalism, is to completely miss the point of it. The evocation in its design of the unusual, towering finger-like rock formations of the holy Catalan mountain of Montserrat, location of the image of Our Lady housed in the ancient Benedictine monastery dedicated to her, is obvious to anyone who has visited both sites. The Catalan love of nature, particularly of the combination of sea and mountain – mer i muntanya – throughout the decoration of the basilica, is conceptually important in many aspects of Catalan identity: there is even a national dish bearing this name.

Although he could speak Spanish when he wanted to of course, Gaudí continued to use Catalan as his primary language throughout his professional life. This may be part of the reason why there are so few Gaudí buildings that exist outside of Catalan-speaking areas. In fact, there are no buildings by him that exist outside of Spain, though he did design a skyscraper for Manhattan which, sadly, was never built.

The architect’s insistence on Catalan knew no bounds: when King Alfonso XIII of Spain came to visit the construction site of the Sagrada Familia for example, he addressed Gaudí in Spanish, but Gaudí answered him only in Catalan. This sort of Catalanism was both very serious, in a political sense, and also very funny – to Catalans anyway. Gaudí knew who he was, and he was not going to defer to a Bourbon who refused to learn the language of a significant portion of his kingdom.

On another occasion, the great Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who frankly was rather full of himself, visited the Sagrada Familia and announced that he thought the whole thing was a waste of money which would never be finished. During the tour which the architect attempted to give, Unamuno wandered around wringing his hands, and very rudely saying out loud, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” in Spanish. The (naturally) offended Gaudí decided to follow along behind Unamuno imitating his gestures, and saying, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” in Catalan. This sort of behavior was to get him into trouble however, as we shall see.

Most nations or peoples celebrate what they consider to be their national holiday in order to mark a particular high point. For example, these holidays will often take place on the anniversary of achieving independence, or the birth of a significant figure. Catalonia however, marks its national day, known as “La Diada” or the “Day of Days”, on September 11, 1714, the day of their greatest defeat. This was the day that the Bourbons took Barcelona in the Wars of the Spanish Succession, abolishing the local autonomy which had been established in Catalonia during the Middle Ages, and later preserved, albeit with increasing restrictions, under the Hapsburg Empire, along with the use of the Catalan language.

In 1924, the government of Spanish dictator General Primo de Rivera ordered the closing of all churches in Catalonia on September 11th, in order to prevent popular commemoration of La Diada. However, some edict from a military junta was not going to deter Gaudí and other Catalan Catholics from marking the occasion as a conservative Catholic Catalan would normally do. And so on the morning of the holiday, he set out for mass at the Basilica of Sts. Justus and Pastor, located just across from Barcelona city hall, which planned to hold a mass to commemorate those who had died on September 11th during the French siege. Those interested in learning about this ancient and beautiful Gothic church can read about its fascinating history on my other blog, Catholic Barcelona.

What happened next shocked many observers, not only in Barcelona and in Spain, but around the world. As the 72-year old Gaudí made his way across the square in front of the basilica, he was stopped by the Guardia Civil, the Spanish national police, who refused to allow him to enter the building. They asked him to identify himself and explain what he was doing there, to which the elderly architect replied – in Catalan.

Matters escalated as the police continued to question Gaudí in Spanish, and he continued to answer them in Catalan, remonstrating with them for trying to prevent him from attending mass. They insisted that he was breaking the law by attempting to attend the mass and by addressing them in Catalan, to which the architect responded: “My profession obliges me to pay my taxes, and I pay them, but this does not oblige me to stop speaking my own language.” Gaudí was then arrested, and taken to jail where he was housed in a communal cell with petty criminals.

As the arrest was witnessed by many people, someone contacted his office at the Sagrada Familia with the news of what the old man had been up to. One of his assistants contacted a priest friend of the architect, who then came down to bail Gaudí out and pay the fine for disturbance of the peace and speaking Catalan, which amounted to about $700 in today’s money. In an interview he gave to a journalist the following day, Gaudí made the comment that after his rather shocking experience, he was convinced that with such actions on the part of the police forces, a radical transformation of Spain was inevitable; his prediction would later be proven correct with the establishment of the Leftist Republic in 1930, and the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Tomorrow, in our final post before the Papal Visit, we will have a round-up of some of the interesting things to look out for during the coverage of the event.

A caricature of Gaudí at work, by his friend Ricard Opisso i Sala