June 23, 2006 § 3 Comments
Two little children – a boy and a girl, maybe four or six years old – hesitantly made their way up the steps of the main altar at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The girl carries a bouquet of white flowers. Ahead of them, flanked by two formidable priests, stood the new Archbishop Wuerl, smiling. The lights over their heads were dazzling, but Fr. Fisher was urging them on from the side altar, stress making his voice thin. Her heart pounding, the little girl thrusts the flowers up at the Archbishop. Suddenly, he knelt down in front of the children and talked to them, thanking them simply and gently as he accepted the gift.
This moment involving the new Archbishop Wuerl is the one that I will carry with me. Seeing him literally get down on his knees without hesitating to accept those lovely children was so moving I nearly cried. It must have been some kind of relief for the little ones; those steps to the main altar make me dizzy to walk up without the Mass going on and the new Archbishop ahead. I am very excited about Archbishop Wuerl – he seems such a sweet man and a faithful servant of God.
I was also very impressed by one aspect of his homily: he made the past/present/future dynamic of the Church one of his main focuses. A year ago I wrote a paper about the importance – perhaps the sole importance – of this dynamic for a strong community. That was one thing that actually bothered me most about Cardinal McCarrick. He was always talking about "the future" but hardly ever mentioned the past and present. It was as if they were unimportant.
The Mass itself was gorgeous, with, as Fr. Joe said, some 400 priests, 20 or so bishops and archbishops, and six cardinals (not to mention countless deacons and seminarians). I think the procession alone took a half and hour each way! I had a fairly good seat, considering the number of people in attendance. I was about halfway back in the Basilica (about a football field away from the altar), and could see the people who were making the speeches, the homily, etc.
I have never seen such a ceremony. Before the readings began, after the Opening Prayer, a board of priests came forward and inspected the document which appoints Wuerl Archbishop of Washington, using certain criteria, and approved it. Then, the Papal Nuncio read the official letter from Pope Benedict XVI himself to Archbishop-elect Wuerl, telling him of the appointment. The Nuncio then turned and asked the Archbishop if he accepted the Archdiocese of Washington, to which (thank God!) Archbishop Wuerl replied, in far more beautiful words, "yes".
I could talk about the incense, the beautiful vestments, the profound humility of the priests, and the overpowering majesty of the Shrine forever, but I will spare everyone my ecstacies. Allow me this comment alone: the beauty of the Mass, if at all possible, even enhances the experience of receiving Christ Himself in Holy Communion. My heart was beating so hard I thought it would burst, and I was overcome beyond words, simply kneeling in silence. I could not even bring myself to say anything in human words to the Divine Lover – they seemed so…insignificant.
Of course, it was also a very special day for me because it was the feast day of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. From day one of the college search so many years ago, St. Thomas has been my special companion and guiding light. Through his intercession I chose my school, choose my classes, discern whether what the teacher is saying is faithful to the Magisterium or not, and move throughout the day in the Ivory Tower. Between his intercession and the intercession (and yes, friendship!) of Blessed Miguel Pro, I do not think I would have made it this far in college and continued to progress in spirituality.
Fr. Fisher's comment via email after Mass, in response to my comments on his cassock:
It was a great Mass and a large crowd! Glad you could come and be a part of history! (Yes, everyone was in their best outfits yesterday – even the Shrine priests!)
Afterwards, I went down to the Memorial Hall. A unique sight awaited me: the entire Hall was black with priests, with little dashes of red and purple where Cardinals and Monsignors were. I think I saw every priest there that I have ever known: Fr. Joe (Jenkins), Fr. Vu, Fr. White, Msgr. Hughes (in attendance of Cardinal Rigali as his chaplain), Fr. Dixon (Holy Rosary), Fr. Rossi, Fr. Ray, Fr. Fisher (my spiritual director, looking very sharp in his cassock), Fr. Joe (Holcombe), Fr. Pritzl, Fr. O, Fr. Schaeffer, as well as many other priests who say Mass at the Shrine daily but I sadly don't remember their names. I actually got to say hello to Fr. White and Fr. Ray, and Fr. Baer found me in the crowd. I heard my name shouted as I walked by a group of young priests, and there was Fr. Baer. When asked how my first week without him went, I replied deadpan: "Tragic…simply tragic." He is very happy in his new parish, and I am very happy for him.
I couldn't find Fr. Joe!!!!
Did I see any lay person that I knew at the Shrine yesterday? Let's see…the Deceasaris clan was in attendance (or a least a good number of them), (new principal!) Mr. Showalter, the Vernon Griffiths, and the Piazzas. I also ran into – who else? – Lazslo. For some reason I always run into him in the oddest places. He looked at me, surprised, and asked: "What are you doing here?" I smiled and replied: "Laz, I think I should be asking you that question – you're a Protestant!" He chuckled and mentioned something about inter-faith relations.
Before the Mass I was accosted outside the Shrine by a reporter. Although I thought that my minutes of fame were lost, Fr. Joe happened to have caught the clip on television (they didn't use all of what I said). If you would like to see the screencaps, they are at his site. They also caught him on film!