Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Behind the Mass": the 10th anniversary pontifical Mass from a lowly book-bearer's eyes

One of many splendid photos taken by Allison Girone for this Mass. There's a complete album here.

A personal account of the inspiration, preparation, and execution of the historic Pontifical Extraordinary Form Mass at the Throne on September 14, 2017 for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. All views are, of course, my own only. The complete Mass is now watchable on YouTube here.

You can learn a thing or two about someone just by asking them where they were when some major event in recent history took place. "Where were you when you heard that JFK was shot?" Or, "what were you doing when the twin towers fell?"

Admittedly, the release of Pope Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum in 2007, declaring that the traditional, pre-Vatican II Roman liturgy was never lawfully abolished, went unnoticed in the eyes of the average Catholic and was barely a blip even on most priests' radars. But for a young and impressionable Catholic with a budding interest in the liturgy like myself, Summorum Pontificum was a watershed moment. Before then, during high school when I was still inquiring into becoming a Catholic, I had attended a few low Masses in the old rite... but these, while approved by the Archdiocese of San Antonio, still had a clandestine, somewhat forbidden flavor to them. The designated chapel was a claustrophobic little thing behind an old nursing home. The locale conveniently fit the conventional canard that the old Latin Mass was tolerated only as a bone to throw to old folks who couldn't accept the changes to the Mass after Vatican II. While I still appreciated the sobriety and unflinching call to worship of the low Mass, I'll admit that I didn't fully understand the appeal of the traditional rite's beauty until over a year later, when I caught a broadcast on EWTN of the celebratory solemn Mass by the FSSP on September 14, 2007: the date upon which the provisions of Summorum Pontificum would go into effect.

Father Josef Bisig, first Superior General of the FSSP, celebrated a solemn Mass on September 14, 2007 for the effective date of Summorum Pontificum at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, pictured above.
There I was, on a Friday morning at Ave Maria University where several TV screens in the cafeteria were playing the broadcast at the same time. I still remember some of the people sitting at the table I was at. And there the three ministers at the altar were on the big screens: priest, deacon, and subdeacon, all moving like they were performing the same sacred ritual for the thousandth time in a row--not hidden away in a tiny chapel that could barely hold 20, but at the high altar of Mother Angelica's shrine in Hanceville, Alabama for the world to see. I didn't understand everything I saw that day, so I hit the library and consumed several old tomes on the traditional Mass to whet my appetite. I did the same the next week, and the week after, and the week following. 

The passing years were far from any sort of continual ascent to holiness, as I struggled with basic matters of faith and virtue like (as many other young adults do). But my love of attending and serving Mass helped me persevere through the worst times, and by 2016, I had started my own schola to teach ordinary guys how to sing Gregorian chant, and written numerous articles to help people delve into deeper appreciation for all the treaures of our liturgical patrimony. Looking back on what got me started on this apostolate, I had to credit Pope Benedict XVI and Summorum Pontificum above all.

My first time meeting Bishop Joseph Perry, who preached at a priest's first Mass here in 2016
In July of that year, I happened to run into Bishop Joseph Perry, who was visiting Philadelphia to attend a co-worker's ordination to the priesthood and preach at his first Mass the following day. I knew that he enjoyed coming to Philadelphia to minister to the urban parishes here, and also that he liked to travel around the country to celebrate the Extraordinary Form for communities at various parishes. So I thought, why not Philadelphia, too? Why not a pontifical Mass on the feast of the Holy Cross next year to give thanks for the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum? The matter was brought before the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul (which already generously provides its space for several solemn Extraordinary Form Masses on holy days throughout the year), and eventually, the Archdiocese sent a formal invitation to Bishop Perry to lead the celebration for us at the Cathedral. This would be the first traditional Latin Mass celebrated by a bishop at the Cathedral Basilica (and, perhaps, the whole Archdiocese of Philadelphia) in 50 years.

By the summer of 2017, the 10th anniversary of Summorum's first announcement on July 7 had just passed, with a flurry of celebratory articles on the web (I link to Dom Alcuin Reid's piece, "We can safely say the doomsayers are wrong", as one example of many). This was the perfect time to engage the faithful's interest, so I conducted an extensive mailout to clergy and lay leaders throughout the region to let them know about this pontifical Mass and ask them to promote it in their parishes. The excitement only grew when I spread word that a bus from Holy Innocents, Manhattan had been chartered to bring people in. A second bus was organized to start at the FSSP's parish in Scranton, with a stop at their sister apostolate in Allentown and again at the local Carmel for Vespers before arriving at the Cathedral. Flyers were also posted at churches in Washington, DC like Mary Mother of God, and word had spread even to Christendom College in Virginia. Clearly, I wasn't the only one who thought the 10th anniversary of Summorum was worth celebrating!

I was quite happy to see that Mary, Mother of God in Washington, DC had put a notice of this Mass in one of their July bulletins (above).
It's also worth emphasizing here that the excitement was by no means restricted to die-hard Latin Mass attendees. Flyers were posted in quite a few suburban parishes with no connection to the old rite whatsoever. Announcements were aired on secular newsradio the weekend before. The word was enthusiastically spread around several of the African-American parishes where Bishop Perry frequently visits. The Tolton Ambassadors of Philadelphia, commissioned by Bishop Perry to promote the canonization cause of Father Augustus Tolton during a visit by His Excellency to the city just a few weeks before our pontifical Mass, joined us and brought many of their friends along to experience the traditional Latin Mass for the first time. We were happy to have them set up a table in the narthex to distribute materials about Father Tolton's cause. The Ambassadors told me afterward that it was a very successful night for them.

A month or so before the Mass, we received word that EWTN would broadcast the liturgy as part of their Cathedrals Across America program. For me, it was as though everything had come full circle from that day, ten years ago, when I watched that solemn Mass of September 14, 2007 being aired from the Shrine in Alabama. This wouldn't have been the first time EWTN had broadcast a pontifical Latin Mass before (Bishop Perry actually celebrated one at the Shrine in 2009), but this would certainly be the biggest one they've aired since the Paulus Institute's pontifical Mass with Bishop Slattery at the National Basilica in DC for the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's accession to the papacy (2010). 

Mass is not a performance--but there was a sense that so many eyes would be on Philadelphia that night that we had a special incentive to put the Cathedral Basilica's space to its fullest use and let the faithful see and hear the best of what the classical Roman rite had to offer. As plans developed, the Archbishop of Philadelphia granted Bishop Perry the privilege of pontificating from the throne. Meanwhile, on the musical front, we secured a full choir and orchestra under the direction of Peter Richard Conte: the legendary organist of the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ (which I mentioned in a previous post on the church of Saint James the Less) and choirmaster of S. Clement's Church, a famous Anglo-Catholic shrine in the Episcopal Church. Mr. Conte previously had the honor to direct the music for Father Michael Magiera, FSSP's first Mass, which took place at the Cathedral Basilica in 2005. This was, I believe, the first Extraordinary Form Mass at the Cathedral since Vatican II, so in a way, this pontifical Mass was a follow-up to the success of that first Mass years ago.

A photo from the first Mass of Father Michael Magiera, FSSP in 2005. This was, I believe, the Cathedral Basilica's first TLM since the Vatican II reforms.
Rehearsing the ceremonies of pontifical Mass was a time-consuming process which involved multiple sessions, copious notes, and multiple priests taking time out of their busy schedules to learn their parts. Further, as this Mass would be celebrated from the Throne, there were additional offices that needed to be filled by clerics. The total assistants and servers for this liturgy came out to:
  • An assistant-priest (or archpriest) in cope
  • Two deacons-of-honor at the Throne
  • Deacon of the Mass
  • Subdeacon of the Mass
  • Two masters of ceremonies (one for the altar, one for the throne)
  • Four chaplain-bearers in copes (book, candle, mitre, and crozier)
  • A crucifer in tunicle
  • A thurifer
  • Two acolytes at the credence table
  • And six vestment-bearers, who would also serve as torchbearers during the Canon

In retrospect, we could have benefited from three or even four MC's: one to direct the clergy-in-choir, and one to remain in the sacristy. The greatest hurdle was the simple fact that most of us involved had never actually served a pontifical Mass before. Had this been organized by the FSSP or the Institute of Christ the King, all the key assistants would have had served their fair share of pontifical EF Masses. In our case, there are no full apostolates by any of the Ecclesia Dei societies in the city. An honorable near-exception is Mater Ecclesiae Chapel just across the border in New Jersey: the only diocesan church in the US which is devoted exclusively to the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments... and one of this Mass's biggest supporters. But even they had only done one pontifical TLM before, just this past November at their chapel with Bishop Athanasius Schneider. Nearly every other priest involved was a pastor of a "regular" diocesan parish.

From the first rehearsal, with a view of the massive amount of sanctuary space to walk around in. The first step to the altar is at bottom-left.
My assigned position was as the book-bearer: one of the four chaplain-bearers at a pontifical Mass from the Throne. While I more usually assist the Cathedral Masses as subdeacon, we wanted to offer as many minister roles as possible to the various priests who had started or sustained the various TLM communities in the area over the years. So, you'd think my new job would have been a breeze to learn by comparison. That's true on the surface, but there was still much to learn about where to stand at which point in the Mass, which book to bring at a given time, and when to switch the book off with the archpriest. Our first rehearsal was the Saturday prior with almost everyone but the bishop. The second rehearsal began on the day of the Mass with the bishop, six hours beforehand. Since I'm told most bishops don't "do" rehearsals, we were grateful for Bishop Perry's patience in going over all the rites with us. After that, the bishop retired to the cathedral rectory to prepare while I helped (a bit) with collecting all the requisite supplies, carefully bringing an antique processional cross downstairs, and retrieving Bishop Perry's personal mitre set. People began to fill the Cathedral even two hours before starting time to get decent parking.

From the bishop's rehearsal (Bishop Perry is obscured from view by Father Pasley). The red altar frontal is in place, and the Blessed Sacrament has been relocated from the tabernacle. Note that the altar is actually freestanding.
The sacristy table lined end-to-end with vestments for the pontifical Mass. When Mass is at the Throne, the bishop is attended by two deacons-of-honor in dalmatics, and four chaplain-bearers in copes.
A separate table was needed for the vestments of the deacon and subdeacon of the Mass (distinct from the two deacons-of-honor).

About twenty minutes before Mass, the bishop and his familiares (his chaplain-bearers and members of his personal retinue--that is to say, the members of his "family") gathered in the small rectory chapel next door to the Cathedral to begin the formal preparation before Mass. We weren't yet vested, but rather in choir dress: cassock and surplice for the chaplains, cassock/rochet/mozzetta for the honorary canons, and the purple cassock and mantelletta for the bishop. I knelt before the bishop with the book opened to the seven penitential psalms. Whenever I brought the book to the bishop, my fellow instituted acolyte from Mater Ecclesiae, John Rotondi, accompanied me to the right with the hand-candle (also called the bugia). The fact that the rite calls for a special candle to be held near the bishop whenever he has to read something is one of many small aspects of pontifical Mass that seems to suggest it was designed to make the celebrating of Mass as easy as possible for a frail, venerable old man.... or, for the more cynical medievalist, a man who only pontificates once or twice a year and then spends the rest of his time out hunting or jockeying for favors at the royal court. This is all emphasized by the fact that an attendant is usually there to turn the page for the bishop, move the bookmarks around, and even to point with his hand exactly where on the page to begin reading!

The private rectory chapel where we prayed the preparations before Mass. Not in the broadcast, of course.
In Bishop Perry's case, I was immediately struck by how comfortably and gracefully the first words of the opening antiphon, Ne reminiscaris, flowed forth. Even many priests who celebrate the Extraordinary Form are uncomfortable with Latin and so stumble their way across the liturgy to the dismay of the congregation. The psalms went by in no time at all, and we made the responses of the closing versicles back to the bishop at the end. We finished this stage of the preparation early and so waited in our places, though there were no seats for the chaplain-bearers so we sat in a semi-circle on the floor along the altar steps (like little children, in the bishop's words, hence his familiares). 

As the time for Mass approached, we exited out the front door of the cathedral rectory and made the short walk along Race Street to the front door of the Cathedral in a mini-procession. As soon as we stepped outdoors, we were greeted to the beat of gangster rap thumping out of an SUV parked across the street, prompting someone to ask, "so, is this the processional hymn?" Welcome to Philly!

Waiting in the narthex for the signal to enter. Two honor guards stand at front: one representing the Knights of Columbus, the other (obscured from view) representing the Knights of Peter Claver. The archpriest is Father Pasley of Mater Ecclesiae, in the mozzetta of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (for whom the Holy Cross is a principal feast). The two deacons-of-honor are pastors of diocesan parishes who also celebrate the EF when they can: Monsignor Sangermano and Father Kulczynski. The four chaplain-bearers take the rear. On the far side, there's a table with literature on the canonization cause of Father Augustus Tolton.
Tourists and other passersby outside had no idea what was going on but snapped photos of us in our funny clothes as we circled around the corner. When we got to the steps leading up the west portal, we ran into some protesters waving some nasty signs. It would seem my efforts in getting the word out about this Mass were rather too successful, in this case. They were protesting sexual abuse of children by the clergy. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an absolute zero-tolerance approach to sex-offenders in the Church, but this was not the time or place to engage them, so we moved on. I felt bad for Bishop Perry because of the protesters pointed at him and said, "look, just another one of your victims", not knowing or caring that the bishop isn't even from here. Thankfully, I learned after the fact that one of my fellow-parishioners who came to attend this Mass decided to dialogue with them after Mass was over.

All while this was going on, the altar servers, clergy and seminarians in-choir, knights and dames of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and Order of Malta, and the deacon and subdeacon of the Mass were processing into the sanctuary and taking their places. The rector of the Cathedral gave a brief introduction for the benefit of the full congregation, most of whom had never attended a pontifical TLM before, and probably a few hundred whom had never even attended any kind of TLM at all. There was a bit of awkward lingering in the narthex because we were waiting for EWTN to give us the signal to begin. ("The real power in the Church", someone joked.) Finally, we stepped just inside the nave so the faithful could see the solemn reception of the bishop at the door. The rector formally welcomed the bishop by offering him the holy water sprinkler, which he used to bless everyone in reach. We then made the long walk down the center aisle past a thousand or so worshippers who had come from war and wide to join us.

The choir sang the antiphon Sacerdos et Pontifex to a plainchant, then the canticle Benedictus to a 4-part Anglican chant, then finally the responsory Ecce Sacerdos Magnus to a setting by Sir Edward Elgar. A lot of faithful in the pews seem to have been so struck by the majesty of the rite that they genuflected out of instinct as the bishop passed by. 

We first made a stop at the side altar of the Assumption, left of the chancel, where the Blessed Sacrament had been relocated from the high altar earlier in the day. Even most traditional Catholics are unaware that the Blessed Sacrament was never traditionally reserved at the high altars of cathedrals (the tabernacle behind the high altar at the Cathedral Basilica here is actually a recent addition). If the Blessed Sacrament is kept at the high altar, it's moved away before a bishop pontificates. After a moment's prayer, we made a second stop before the high altar, and then finally the archbishop's throne to begin the vesting and final prayers of preparation before Mass. The deacon and subdeacon of the Mass stepped in to help the bishop put on each vestment, which were laid atop the high altar and brought by the vestment-bearers in pairs. Meanwhile, the archpriest, deacons-of-honor, and chaplain-bearers retreated into the sacristy to put on their copes and dalmatics. The bearers of mitre and crozier additionally wore the "vimpae" under their copes. Unfortunately, I hadn't tested out the cope I had been assigned, so I found out too late that it was oversized and constantly threatening to slip off my shoulders entirely throughout the whole liturgy.

I returned to the throne and brought the book for the bishop recite the various vesting prayers for each item: over his purple cassock went the amice, alb, cincture, pectoral cross, tunicle, dalmatic, chasuble, gloves, and mitre. There were a couple of nervous gaffes during the vesting (which are now just funny in retrospect) here, like the fact that the bishop was given the wrong gloves and had to switch them out; but simple mistakes like this happen even during the royal coronations at Westminster Abbey, so no one should be scandalized that they took place here, too. It was well worth doing the vesting as part of the public ceremony, because a couple of people told me afterwards that they had no idea how many layers a bishop had to wear.

There was no sense in doing the hour of Vespers during the bishop's vesting, so instead, the choir and congregation sang the Office hymn for the Holy Cross, Pange lingua gloriosi
With crozier in hand, we all made our way from the throne to the foot of the altar to recite Psalm 42 and the Confiteor. In a pontifical Mass, the last vestment, the maniple, is not kept inside the Gospel-book like a bookmark and not given until these prayers are done and the bishop ascends the altar to incense it.

Another variation for pontifical Mass, unlike TLM's celebrated by a mere priest, is that the bishop doesn't read anything from the altar during the Mass of the Catechumens. Instead, he reads everything from his seat (either the faldstool or, in this case, the throne). The book-bearer holds the missal for the bishop when he has to merely recite any of the proper texts, like the Introit and Kyrie. But whenever the bishop has to actually sing something, like the Collect, the archpriest has the honor of holding the book during these moments instead. Sometimes, it's a mix of both: for instance, the bishop must sing the opening intonation of the Gloria, but recite the rest of it quietly. So, the archpriest takes the book to hold it just for the Gloria in excelsis Deo, then hands it off to the book-bearer immediately after.

The Mass Ordinary was sung to Mozart's "Sparrow" Mass, with a full orchestra. My faithful readers know I'm not normally a fan of orchestral Masses, but hearing it in-person, and giving the architecture and historic significance of the event, it seemed eminently fitting. It is unfortunately a "you had to be there" moment, as no recording does the music justice.
As at a priest's solemn Mass, the subdeacon chanted the Epistle and the deacon chanted the Gospel. We usually keep the Gospel reading within the chancel at solemn Masses here, but this time, the procession went out past the chancel gate into the nave on the Gospel side.

The Epistle
When the deacon knelt before the bishop to receive his blessing before proclaiming the Gospel, the entire procession knelt behind him, as though everyone standing in the bishop's immediate line of sight had been caught in the blessing's "blast radius".
After the Gospel, the familiares formed another procession to accompany the bishop around to the pulpit. We sat in the Sacred Heart Chapel, right of the chancel, to listen to the bishop's homily on the Holy Cross. Bishop Perry is a highly gifted preacher, and so I highly recommend that everyone listen to it. It begins around 55:44 in the linked video.

A few friends remarked to me later that they had hoped the bishop would talk about Summorum Pontificum in the homily. His Excellency chose to focus entirely on the Holy Cross that night, but not long after, Bishop Perry would go on to celebrate another pontifical Mass for the inaugural Culmen et Fons liturgy conference in Massachusetts. There, he preached a homily entirely about Summorum Pontificum, which may be read at this link.

The lengthy settings of the Mass Ordinary are, a friend said to me, an opportunity to reflect on the words. Note that the bishop sometimes wears the less ornate, less heavy "golden mitre".
We returned to the throne for the Creed from Mozart's Sparrow Mass, and the end of my official duties. The bishop would be at the altar from this point on, so I spent the remainder of the Mass standing or kneeling at the foot of the altar, off to the left side. Once the bishop arrived at the altar for the offertory rite, the Mass continued on more like an ordinary priest's solemn Mass, though with many more ministers around. The biggest differences go back to my point about pontifical Mass seemingly designed for a frail old man: the bugia-bearer was still needed to attend to the hand-candle beside the book, which in this instance wasn't the same pontifical canon I had carried into the church. This edition of the canon was a truly jumbo-sized, antique folio edition with lettering as big as the giant E at the top of an optometrist's vision test. This canon was so large that it slid off of its stand a few times, to Father Pasley's vexation as he kept readjusting it until it finally stayed in place.

A close-up view of the jumbo pontifical canon, which the bishop would read from at the altar in place of a missal.

The elevation
The Sanctus, Roman Canon, and Agnus Dei all seemed to pass by in a blur for me. For the people's Communion, the clergy, then the servers all ascended the altar four at a time to receive from the bishop. Once he finished communicating them, the bishop went down to the altar rail to join the other four priests there in administering Communion to the many lay faithful gathered that night. It took a while, though I think not as long as it would if everyone received Communion a single-file line while standing as the vast majority of churches here do today.

The kiss of peace. The pontifical rite adds some complications by having the ministers receive the pax not at the usual time, but immediately before each of their Communions if they intend to receive.
Holy Communion of the faithful. The bishop came to the rail to assist with the distribution after all the clergy and servers had communicated.
Mass concluded with us responding back and forth with the bishop for the concluding versicles and his triple-sign of the cross over the congregation. Now, with both the bishop's attendants and all of the clergy, knights, and servers together, we formed a massive recession to the narthex and back around to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The bishop gave a final blessing to all of the clergy and servers, who all responded with a hearty Amen. After a few group photos and enthusiastic greetings from the seminarians, we retired to the sacristy to unvest without further ceremony. It was a very long day, but worth every minute to reclaim these great traditions for the praise and worship of God.

The recession, with quite a few seminarians in line!
The recession went to the narthex and looped around back along the side to the side chapel.
The Tolton Ambassadors greeting Bishop Perry right after Mass
This was, as far as I know, the only "individual" photo anyone got with Bishop Perry that night. He's holding an antique crozier which, I'm told, belonged to Archbishop Edmond Prendergast (Archbishop of Philadelphia during the First World War).
My wife and I ended up unwinding with a few of the Knights of Malta at a rooftop lounge across the street, overlooking the Cathedral. We didn't get back home until after midnight. It was back to work as usual for me the next morning, but it took me well over a week to come down from the spiritual "high" of that experience and recount it for my readers here. 

View of the Cathedral from the rooftop lounge
Among the many responses I've received over the past week and a half, some friends and key members of the diocesan Extraordinary Form Mass in my hometown of San Antonio, where I helped establish a schola, resolved to begin increasing exposure for themselves by livestreaming all of their sung Masses from that point onward on Facebook. This is really the best response I could hope for from the pontifical Mass: that those who attended or watched it on television would be inspired to promote the gifts of Summorum Pontificum in their communities at home. Onward and upward, to restore all things in Christ! 


  1. James, this is an instructive and excellent recap. Thank for all you do to promote the Beauty of our faith.

  2. Thank you, Sir, for this wonderful article. I'm glad that the Mass was held, and that you had such a prominent role in promoting it.

  3. My recollection of Pontifical Mass in the 50's & 60's is fuzzy at best -- and the sound was out on the tape -- but what was the collect (?) the bishop said at the throne between the Creed and the Offertory antiphon? I don't recall this at all.

    1. Oh, looking more closely I see: the Bishop chants "Dominus vobiscum...Oremus" as usual then recites the offertory antiphon. At first look he seemed to be chanting throughout (as I say, the sound is off).

  4. Another question, if I might. From 1:33ff it appears that the bugia-bearer remains at the altar. My fuzzie recollection was that the bugia was placed on the altar and the bugia-bearer withdrew. Was his presence at the altar due to the difficulty of dealing with Bishop Gulliver's "canon," or for some other reason?

    One would think that if the problem was with the books, then the book-bearer would be charged with dealing with it.

  5. All very splendid and wonderful to see, but can you get back to the medieval spirit -Pugin and Gothick loveliness ? What about a post about the glorious restoration of St Augustine's,Ramsgate ? Thank you anyway and PLEASE do not take this as negative critcism.