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August/September 2005

A Mass to Remember!


Some friends and I were fortunate enough to spend the last week of June in Rome so, with thousands of others, we were able to assist at Pope Benedict XVI’s first Papal Mass for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on 29th June.

Rome was packed with pilgrims from all over the world as I and my friends hurried down to St Peter’s Square in good time for ten o’clock. The Holy Father was offering Mass in St Peter’s Basilica but television screens were put up in the Square outside so that we and the thousands of others packed into the Square could follow the Holy Sacrifice without any problems.

Pope Benedict said the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin and as every close-up showed him to be immersed in prayer, the vast crowd outside also became quiet and prayerful, catching the profound reverence of their Holy Father.

Before the Offertory the Pope bestowed the Pallium on thirty- two new Archbishops, including His Grace Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served the late Pope John Paul II so faithfully as Secretary. He is now Archbishop of Cracow, an appointment the many Poles present obviously thoroughly approved.

It was moving to watch each new Archbishop solemnly promising "fidelity and obedience" to the Holy, Apostolic, Roman Church and to the Supreme Pontiff, and then to see Pope Benedict arrange the Pallium of pure wool round his neck, giving each one a few private words.

Then the Mass proceeded with everybody singing the Nicene Creed as in the Missa de Angelus. We all had books for the Mass giving the words and music for all the parts sung by the people. So, led by the magnificent choir in the Basilica, we were able to sing together even though we came from so many different countries.

At the Consecration the silence was even deeper and it was edifying to see so many people fall to their knees, even though the cobbles of St Peter’s Square are far from soft. Holy Communion was given by the Pope and other bishops in St Peter’s and distributed very carefully outside. Many priests came and stood behind barriers already erected where we formed orderly queues to receive Our Blessed Lord.

When Mass was over the Holy Father went to his apartments and appeared at the window to say The Angelus with us. As it was now five past twelve he apologised charmingly for being a little late, before reciting the prayers in Latin, with the crowd responding likewise.

He then welcomed the bishops, priests and people who had come from all over the world to be present on this great day and graciously thanked the Delegation from the Patriarch of Constantinople for their presence. The Pope gave his Fatherly greetings to very many of the groups present in their own language and ended a wonderful morning by giving us all his Apostolic Blessing.

There seemed to be a really festive atmosphere in Rome that day. Everyone was smiling and greeting each other in their own language. Many, especially parents with young children, settled themselves around the pillars to eat their picnics and we all sought some shade, for the temperature in Rome reached thirty-eight degrees. This was the highlight of our week but we were also very excited on Tuesday 28th June when the Holy Father launched the new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I was waiting for a bus near the Vatican on Tuesday morning when I noticed two priests holding copies so, in my fractured Italian, I asked where they had bought them. Very kindly they explained that they had not bought them as the Holy Father had given them out at a special presentation ceremony. He had presented a copy to many bishops and other religious leaders from all over the world who had come to Rome to celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul with the Holy Father.

I have never seen so many bishops altogether in Rome before. They came from most European countries, Africa, Asia and the Americas. It was good to see them talking and laughing together in cafes and at most street corners. Good bishops must necessarily lead rather lonely lives so when they can meet each other they make the most of it. I was just sorry that none of the bishops from England and Wales felt able to come to Rome for this great feast of the Church.

The ‘pocket catechism’ appeared in the shops on Thursday 30th when I obtained two copies, in Italian of course, but still worth having. It really is ‘pocket sized’ being about as big as the average Penguin book - 160 pages of questions with full but concise answers. It follows the original Catechism of the Catholic Church in order and, as far as I can judge, in content. There is an index and an appendix of common prayers which are given in Italian and Latin. Rather unusually, Pope Benedict XVI who wrote the Motu Propio approving this Catechism on 28th June 2005 had already written the Introduction to it as Cardinal Ratzinger on March 20th.

Once this Catechism is available in English it will be a tremendous help, especially to parents, priests and teachers who have to instruct others in the Faith. As well as being true to the ‘big’ Catechism, whose pertinent paragraphs are indicated beside each question and answer, there are some beautiful and relevant illustrations which the Holy Father has decreed must be used when it is translated into various languages. He has also decreed that when the prayers are put ino the vernacular the Latin version must be included beside each one. Whoever has compiled this Compendium has done a marvellous piece of work and deserves the gratitude of all faithful Catholics everywhere.

We should all thank God for our new Pope and pray every day for him.