My “Almost An Emcee For The Pope” Moment
[NOTICE: The following essay contains a plethora of minutiae associated with the details of official Catholic worship, which the reader might find to be too arcane for their taste, unless one is into that sort of thing. You have been warned.]
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As (both of) my regular viewers know, I am the Senior Master of Ceremonies for the Traditional Latin Mass, at the parish of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. While a most rewarding experience in itself these past nearly-seven years, it occasionally leads to other opportunities. They do not always involve the traditional form of the Roman Mass, and I do not always mind that.
His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is the Archbishop of Manila, and de facto Primate of the Philippine Islands, a position he has held since December of 2011. He was given the "red hat" (that is, elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals) nearly a year later, making him the second youngest of the honorary clergy of Rome at the time, having then just turned fifty-five. He enjoys a reputation for a commitment to social justice, and solidarity with the poor in the Philippines, while opposing the Culture of Death, in particular the recently passed Reproductive Health Bill. Popularly known as the "Pope Francis of Asia," Cardinal Tagle was considered by many Vaticanologists to be "papabile" (Italian for "likely to be pope") during the most recent conclave in 2013.
PHOTO: Sal does her part to make Cardinal Tagle feel right at home for his birthday celebration the evening before the Mass. Photographer unknown.
Late last month, on the 28th of June, His Eminence was principal celebrant for the Annual Filipino Pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The following day, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, he celebrated a Pontifical Mass at St Columba's Church in Oxen Hill, Maryland, a parish whose members are predominantly of Filipino origin, and is the only one in the area with a regular Sunday Mass in the Tagalog language. I had offered my services to their pastor, Father Gary Villanueva, upon learning of the event two months earlier. In the middle of the week prior to the event, I was told that I would be co-emcee with one Jeff Bedia, a lay brother with the Oratory-in-Formation in Washington DC. We met on Saturday morning before the event, and went over the details.
Many devout Catholics who have a fondness for the Traditional Mass, would be surprised to learn that there is much in the way of codified or otherwise established ceremonial detail in the celebration of the reformed liturgy -- the "Novus Ordo Missae," that which was promulgated in 1969 by Pope Paul VI. The main instructional text for a Pontifical Mass in the "ordinary form" is the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (Ceremonial of Bishops), the English-language of which was most recently published in 1989 by Liturgical Press. It is also helpful to have on hand, the post-conciliar equivalent of Adrian Fortescue's classic work, namely Msgr Peter Elliot's Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite, 2nd Edition. In the final days before the main event, I read the relevant sections of both works several times over.
PHOTO: The author assists His Eminence with donning the vestments for offering sacrifice.
While not quite as elaborate or detailed as its Traditional equivalent, there is nevertheless much tradition behind the details of ceremony, the main challenge being that liturgical formation for priests and deacons has only become truly comprehensive (and more consistent with official norms, with an emphasis on the sacred) in the last twenty years or so, simply due to the still-ongoing nature of the post-conciliar liturgical reform. There are also the limitations that come from being a regular parish, as opposed to a cathedral, basilica, or monastery. As a result, a few details are often laid aside as a matter of expediency.
For example, the ideal is to have four deacons in a Pontifical Mass; a Deacon of the Word who reads the Gospel and the General Intercessions, and a Deacon of the Eucharist who assists the Celebrant at the altar. In addition, there can be two Assistant Deacons, who attend to the Bishop-Celebrant at the Chair. The First Assistant (to his right) assists with imposing of incense in the thurible, while the Second Assistant (to his left) assists with the miter and (where applicable) the crosier, or pastoral staff. In our case, there were only two deacons to perform their separate functions for the Mass itself, as would be the norm for a parish setting. This left the two Masters of Ceremonies to attend to His Eminence at the Chair, which is also acceptable.
And of course, you could forget about the celebrant processing in before Mass wearing the cappa magna.
The First MC has the primary responsibility of overseeing the choreography of the Mass, anticipating what is to happen next, and ensuring that the proper functionaries are ready to attend. At larger celebrations, a Second MC (yours truly, in this case) has the task of concentrating on those who wait on the Celebrant, whether bringing the thurible to the Chair for imposing incense, or the Acolytes bringing the water and wine to the altar. This allows the First MC to more easily attend to the Principal Celebrant, and the Concelebrants as need be. Upon looking into his bonafides, I learned that Jeff had more experience with pontifical events than I, and is well acquainted with His Eminence, so I was all too happy to take Second position.
Whichever form of the Roman Mass is celebrated, there can always be differences between what it says in "the book" and what happens in real life. It just happens to be more the case with the post-conciliar form, and here is where the experience of a Master of Ceremonies comes into play, one who understands the general principles of the celebration of Mass.
Ecce Sacerdos Magnus!
PHOTO: From the Heritage Mass by Owen Alstott: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill ...”
By the time His Eminence arrived in the sacristy, we had already briefed the young men who would serve; a Thurifer, a Crucifer, and two Acolytes bearing candles in procession. In addition, there would ordinarily be a mitre-bearer and a crosier-bearer. Walking behind the bishop in procession, each wears what resembles a white humeral veil around his shoulders, bearing the coat of arms of the prelate at its center, and which is known as a "vimpa." These servers will hold the accoutrement of the episcopal office when not being carried or worn.
For whatever reason, His Eminence chose not to wear his pallium, a yoke worn by a metropolitan archbishop over his vestments. And although as a cardinal, he enjoyed the universal privilege of carrying the crosier (pastoral staff) outside of his immediate jurisdiction, he eschewed that as well. So we only used one server as the mitre-bearer (or "vimp," some generic term I had never heard before) for the occasion. We found a white humeral veil to use as a vimpa, with the image of Christ the King embroidered upon it. Personally, I found this fitting, as it was mindful of a traditional processional hymn for a bishop, "Behold The Great High Priest."
The church was packed to the point of standing-room-only, with dozens of phone cameras, and even iPads (which can be rather conspicuous being raised above a crowd), to capture a grand moment for the local Filipino community. There were three priest-concelebrants and two deacons to attend to the liturgy, all processing in following a cloud of incense. As the Second Master of Ceremonies, I took up the rear. The choir led hymns in English, Latin, and Tagalog, including a polyphonic arrangement of Ubi Caritas that was reminiscent of Duruflé. (Note to self: Find out the composer of that motet.)
What’s In A Name?
The homily for the Mass was quite entertaining, and was about the call of Simone bar-Jona by Our Lord to discipleship. Would not a rough and unlettered fisherman be a rather poor choice with which to start a movement? It would seem unlikely for Simon, who then became Peter and at one point was called Satan, all this in a very short period of time, if not for drawing attention to how Christ did not come for the holy, but for the sinner. His Eminence said that if he were God, he would not appoint Peter as representative of the Church, but more likely Paul, the intelligent scholarly one who lived a life of humility. He said that if he were God, he will not place Luis Antonio Tagle in his position, nor the deacons or priests who were in attendance. He would more likely choose "a Chinese businessman who sells insurance," a quip that earned him his biggest ovation. (It's a Filipino thing.) And yet, their presence and their appointments were through God’s grace, every bit as much as Peter was "the Rock" upon which the Church was built.
Although he enjoys considerable religious and political influence as occupant of his nation's primatial see, he is also a mild-mannered, unassuming and personable man, who enjoys his connection to the faithful. This was most evident immediately after Mass, as everyone with a camera phone wanted his picture, and all at the same time. The vestibule was quite a madhouse for more than half an hour, before we finally had to repair to the sacristy, to put things away and join the reception.
It seems that I was "important" enough to sit at the head table with His Eminence and the rest of the clergy in attendance. The Filipino cuisine was very well prepared, and the good sisters brought their board of fare directly to those at the head table, instead of having them wait in line (which doesn't happen to yours truly every day). There was also a performance of traditional Filipino folk dancing by a troupe of four young ladies. Their first selection was a "Muslim dance" that was native to the southern region of Mindanao. The second was more common to the northern region of Luzon, a Spanish-inspired dance, featuring colorful "Maria Clara" gowns, and the holding of fans as if to communicate the language of courtship -- "fan language," as it is known.
Black Hat Meets Red Hat
As he was leaving, I had one chance to say something to him, up close and personal; either that or make a total fool of myself, or both. And so I did, while referring to his homily ...
"Your Eminence, if by some chance they ever decide to name you Peter -- well, call it being in the wrong place at the wrong time, if you will -- I will have a story to tell my grandchildren. Until then, I can only tell anyone who asks, that this is the closest I will ever come to emceeing for the Pope."
He was sufficiently amused, if embarrassed by the prospect of yet another "promotion," and mentioned his impending meeting with the Holy Father, no doubt to discuss the latter's upcoming visit to Asia next year.
And so it goes, a memorable day in the life of an aging altar boy.
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(Our thanks go out to Father Gary Villanueva, with the other clergy, the staff, and volunteers of St Columba's Parish in Oxen Hill, Maryland, as well as Jun Mararac of Waldorf, Maryland, who made notes of the homily. Unless otherwise noted, photos are courtesy of Roland Escalante Jr, and are used here without permission or shame.)