>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.

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