The “Misa Multitudinaria” at Madison Square Garden

by Ronald Krisman

A liturgical assembly of more than 20,000 persons celebrated the Eucharist on Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Pope Francis presided. I wish I could have been there in person. But even through the medium of television I experienced the Mass as a reverent and prayerful liturgy.

Pope Francis’ homily in Spanish was the highlight for me. He masterfully, but very simply, reflected upon the readings from Isaiah (9:1-3, 5-6) and Matthew (5:38-48). The readings were from the Lectionary’s Masses for Various Needs and Occasions: For Peace and Justice. Pope Francis told his hearers that they have come as pilgrims and see a great light, Jesus Christ, God-with-us. Jesus walks among us, gets involved in our “pots and pans.” No one can separate us from his love. So, go out and show that God is in our midst as a merciful father who himself goes out morning and evening to see if his child has come home. God walks with us. He frees us from our anonymity and selfishness. God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities.

The responses by the assembly were strong throughout the Mass, both in speech and song. The mic’ing of the song leader was, thankfully, at a low volume, so that her voice did not dominate, as was the case the previous evening at Evening Prayer in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Many of the people’s spoken responses were not given in the participation aid, but that presented no problem. Most people seemed to be quite comfortable with the 2011 English translation. But having English and Spanish translations of the Latin preface in the booklet may have been helpful to most in the assembly.

The liturgical music was well planned and executed. The assembly sang with gusto the hymns “All Creatures of Our God and King/ Oh Criaturas del Señor” (LASST UNS ERFREUEN), “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” (HYFRYDOL), and “Now Thank We All Our God” (NUN DANKET). Jennifer Pascual’s setting of Psalm 85:9 and 10, 11-12, 13-14 had a simple response that the assembly easily picked up. The third verse, sung by the choir, was a nice touch. A Lamb of God in Spanish and an “O Saluaris Hostia” by the Puerto Rican priest, Abel di Marco” were sung by the choir during the Rite of Communion, as was the Gregorian chant “Beati mundo corde.” The distribution of communion took less time than the music planners had estimated so the final stanza of “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” in a new arrangement by Robert Hobby, was omitted, as was the entirety of Cesáreo Gabaráin’s “Pescador de Hombres,” also in a new arrangement and orchestration. It was good to see the liturgy ruling how much music was appropriate, even though it might have been desirable to hear completely the new arrangements.

I especially appreciated the moments of silence after the homily and after communion. And it was great to have a deacon of more advanced age chanting the Gospel!

Social media was all a-Twitter after the Mass with “Mo Rocca, the former Daily Show correspondent and current CBS Sunday Morning reporter, delivered the first, or Lector, reading at the Mass.” So TV commentators are not the only ones who misspeak at times when it comes to Catholic liturgical terminology. As to the question, why an actor was doing the reading, I imagine Mo serves as a reader in his parish, just as Helen Hayes served as a reader at a papal Mass in New York 36 years ago.

The liturgical ministers were well prepared for their ministries. I wish some female altar servers had been used.

The only elements of the liturgy I have some questions about are the three acclamations during Eucharistic Prayer II. The prayer was offered in Latin, as were the three acclamations. I do not think that the “unity of the eucharistic prayer” necessarily demands that the people’s acclamations be in the same language as the rest of the prayer. After all, the Church encourages the singing of Latin chants for the acclamations even when the rest of the prayer is prayed in a vernacular language. Translating into Latin Richard Proulx’s well-known “Holy, Holy” from his Community Mass did not seem to me to be completely successful and the use of the chant “Mortem tuam annuntiamus” from the Latin Missale Romanum was not musically congruent with the two Proulx acclamations.

Fr. Ronald F. Krisman is a priest of the Diocese of Orlando. A former Associate and Executive Director of the USCCB Liturgy Secretariat (1982-1994), he serves as a canonist and in parish ministry in his diocese, and also as Editor for Bilingual Resources for GIA Publications, Chicago.



  1. I too was struck by the all-male presence in NYC–and not just the army of all-male altar servers. The lturgies in Washington, DC seemed a lot more diverse (especially a Woman with Down Syndrome! Bravo!). I’ll admit I’m only catching about 50% of the celebrations, but it seems like DC’s liturgies were planned by someone entirely different.

  2. The deliberate and unnecessary exclusion of women from tasks as simple as carrying a candle is always a powerful symbol for me of how far we have yet to go in ritually acknowledging women as equal members in the Body.

  3. Taking up Ron Krisman’s point about the superabundance of pieces programmed during Communion, this happens at almost every episcopal ordination and other large diocesan liturgy in the US that I encounter. Too many pieces, no flexibility, except to omit what you don’t have time for.

    Quite apart from wondering why people cannot judge how long the distribution of Communion is going to take, I find myself constantly asking why those responsible do not make greater use of Taizé pieces, which can easily be extended, or Psallite pieces such as “Live On in My Love” which can easily cover the whole time of the distribution of Holy Communion. There is other music out there, too, which does the same kind of thing.

    What we should be looking for are pieces which will unify the time of distribution, not a succession of disparate items.

  4. I was delighted to hear “Now thank we all our God” as the recessional. It is familiar to Catholics in many parishes, and it was sung briskly. However, page 27 of the booklet neglects to mention the hymn’s author, Martin Rinkart, 1586-1649. The circumstances of his composition, inspired by Sirach 50, add a special power to this song.

  5. Regarding the role of women in that Mass – I’d like to point out that three significant lay musician roles were performed by women – the cantor, and (behind the scenes, not on camera) the music director Jennifer Pascual and the schola director Jennifer Donelson, not to mention the countless women in the choir and orchestra. There was a time when those roles would have been done exclusively by men, too. Just sayin’…

  6. Confusing to me…Eucharistic prayer in Latin…OK I get it.

    Pope then speaks in English with the words leading to the Our Father…That’s nice.

    And then in an arena loaded with English speaking people who could have thunderously prayed in words they understood and speak on a regular basis, the wisdom of the liturgists continued in Latin, sung Latin, and the full and active participation for the Our Father dropped…no mouths were moving, just listening. I know some were cheering the Latin Pater Noster but the people I saw just watched.

    Then the Pope speaks in English again. Go figure.

    1. @Ed Nash:

      Perhaps it was owing to the mic’ing of the choir that assembly responses on the broadcast seemed to be so full. Your presence and experience at the Mass, Ed, adds a dimension which was not evident in the broadcast. How would you rate other spoken and sung responses of the gathered assembly?

      I too found the English-Latin-English-Latin Lord’s Prayer and Doxology a bit strange. We had a former bishop of Orlando who wanted the Lord’s Prayer sung in Latin at all diocesan stational Masses and at all confirmation Masses. But the embolism and concluding doxology were always recited in English. That was even stranger than what happened at the Garden.

  7. The responses were as good as they could be but probably best in sections of known Catholics. The Mass in Philadelphia had surprisingly voiced responses that could be heard and the Our Father was in English.

    If I was a composer, I would hate to have one of my songs be picked for the last one in a Papal Mass Communion set. The ultimate of hitting the cutting room floor.

    1. @Ed Nash:

      Thanks, Ed.

      As to the music during Holy Communion, I echo what Paul Inwood wrote at #4. These large papal Masses spend a lot on music commissions and arrangements. In my opinion the first commission should be used for a psalm setting (preferably) or a refrain-verses hymn, either of which uses several languages and has a great number of verses to be sufficient to cover all or most of the communion procession. This would be so much better than the current “musical medley” approach.

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