Opening Mass of 50th Eucharistic Congress

On 10 May 2012 the Opening Mass for the 50th Eucharistic Congress was celebrated in an open-air venue of the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, Ireland. The Mass for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ was broadcast live by RTÉ (the Irish National Radio and Television Network), in the United States and other parts of the world by EWTN (the Eternal Word Network), and in Canada and other parts of the world by the Salt and Light Network. I would invite readers of the Pray Tell blog go to the Salt and Light network’s You Tube video of Opening Mass. I think it would be of value to reflect on how the OF can be celebrated on an occasion of high festivity with sensitivity to the heritage of the Roman Rite, people of multiple languages and cultures who have gathered on a unique occasion, and the inculturation of the Rite in Ireland. I would invite comments especially in three areas: the music chosen, the visual environment, and Cardinal Ouellet’s homily

Musical Program: The vocal participation of the faithful was certainly encouraged by the printed programs that were prepared for the participants and the directions given by the director of the schola, Fr. Paul Kenny. Random close-ups of the participants showed a significant number of them joining in the singing. It would be interesting to know how many of the pieces chosen were long familiar to Irish church goers and how many were new, perhaps even commissioned for this service. The heritage of Roman Rite liturgical music was well-represented by the chants and polyphony sung by the Palestrina Choir of the Dublin Pro-Cathedral (“Lauda Sion,” the facultative sequence for the feast; “Credo III”; the Missal chants at the beginning of the Eucharist; the chanting of the Preface). Irish composers were clearly in evidence: Columba McCann’s joyous processional “Let the People Praise You, O Lord”; Ephrem Feeley’s sturdy setting of the “Glory to God” and the pleading “Lamb of God” from his Mass of St. Paul; Liam Lawton’s lyric setting of Psalm 116; Fintan O’Carroll’s ringing “Celtic Alleluia”. I wasn’t able to discover the source of the intriguing concertato on “O Sacred Most Holy” that served as the concluding music.

Perhaps surprising might be the amount of music from recent French tradition: a Taizé “Kyrie” as the response to the petitions in multiple languages of the Universal Prayer; Eucharistic Acclamations from Lourdes in which the congregation sings acclamations (e.g., “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts,” “Alleluia,” or “Amen” to various phrases of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Doxology respectively). There was also some Irish-inspired (flute, harp) instrumental during the Presentation and Preparation of the Offering.

Visual Environment. Both the altar and the surrounding visual materials of sanctuary area reproduce the reordering of the Chapel of All the Saints of Ireland at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. These mosaics are the work of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, S.J., and the Atelier Centro Aletti. The apse mosaic centers on Christ holding open the book of the Scriptures at the text “I am the Good Shepherd.” At the right hand of Christ we see the Blessed Virgin gesturing toward her Son, with a representation of the façade of the basilica of Knock inserted above that gesture. Behind Mary is St. Patrick, Patron of Ireland; St. Columbanus, Irish missioner and founder of the monastery of Bobbio; and Blessed Columba Marmion, Benedictine monk and spiritual writer. At the left side of Christ we see John the Baptist, also gesturing toward Christ and, with Mary, forming the deesis or “intercession” iconographic pose. Behind John is St. Oliver Plunkett, martyred in England in 1681 and declared a saint in 1975; St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland; and Fr. Ragheed Ganni, a student at the Irish College who was murdered after celebrating Mass in Mosul on 3 June 2007.

Cardinal Ouellet’s homily. The papal legate offered a rich teaching homily, beginning with an acknowledgement of the circumstances in which the Irish church finds itself at this point in its history, confronting these “signs of the times” with a message from each of the three Scriptures that had been proclaimed. What might be of special interest to the readers of Pray Tell, was the Cardinal’s decision to offer a catechesis on the Missal translation of the Precious Blood shed “for many” meaning Jesus’ sacrifice intended and sufficient as salvific for all, although we cannot tell who will in fact actualize this offer of grace.


  1. In terms of the congregational singing, I was listening to a program on the Catholic Channel of XM Radio, from the Vatican where there was an interview with those organizing the various liturgies. One person said they had a novel way of encouraging the Irish to sing since evidently this is not their custom at Mass to sing, although they have a very strong secular singing custom. What they planned to do was to “sprinkle” various choirs throughout the assembly “incognito” to encourage the congregation to sing as well as having the programs and the rehearsals. So rather than one massive choir performing, many choirs were “dotted” as this person said, throughout the congregation.

  2. One part of the visual environment that I suspect was unplanned was the large number of empty seats in the arena. While a gathering of 12,500 people seems huge, it was not particularly large for Ireland, and it was certainly far fewer people than planned for, and it reduced to tears an Irish priest friend of mine. It certainly, however, was a powerful sign of the need for Irish Catholicism to begin again–one of the key symbolic elements of this whole week.

  3. Hmmm- in the video “Random close-ups of the participants showed a significant number of them joining in the singing.” And various rehearsed choirs were “dotted” throughout the assembly. I wonder if pan shots rather than ‘random close-ups’ would have shown much general participation? The firm and widely-held conviction (among professional musicians) that God prefers the sound of impressive music to the sound of the voices of all participants singing familiar and beloved songs usually leads to unsingable music at this type of liturgy. But I’ll bet the Celtic Alleluia was sung well by “the many”!

  4. I, too, noticed the large number of empty seats in one section of the arena. I have to confess that I thought it might have been similar to mistakes I have seen at cathedral liturgies where many pews have been roped off for a particular group (e.g., clergy, confirmandi) and when they don’t come a great gap shows up before the mass of the faithful. I’ll have to ask my contacts in Ireland to see what they think. Since the Closing Mass will also be broadcast this coming Sunday, it might be interesting to see if the seating pattern changes.

    1. The RDS, where the congress is being held, could have held up to 24,000. Less than 50% of that number were present. Hardly that many priests expected!
      Croke Park where the final Mass will be next Sunday can hold 80,000. It will be interesting to see how many turn up. Tickets for this Mass are now being sold in supermarkets across the country.
      If someone doesn’t buy what you are selling you need to look at the product, to see why it does not appeal to the customer.

  5. I also noted, with dismay, the chunk of empty seats (although it is helpful to know that they were reserved for clergy).
    I have a couple of comments;
    There were many things I liked about the music – that the organ was not the ONLY instrument used – that the Eucharistic acclamations had a “refrain”, making participation easy for the diverse congregation – that there was care taken to rehearse, showing that congregational participation was important and expected. The balance of the choir’s amplification was not always what I would have wished for, but that is something we have all experienced before!
    I truly loved the iconography environment. I think it gave the right amount of reverence to the celebration and called to mind saints particular to the host country.
    I thought it was interesting that Cardinal Ouellet felt it necessary to expound on the translation of “for many” in the Institution narrative. I think it is not perceived that way by English speakers – to the ear, as it is prayed aloud, it SOUNDS like Christ poured out His blood for many, not all.
    Thank you for calling attention to this celebration!

  6. Happy to see women among those exercising various roles in the liturgy and the use of albs rather than the cassocks & surplices that have become more and more de rigueur at pontifical liturgies in the U.S.

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