by Michael Silhavey
Having been assigned by Fr. Anthony to provide commentary on this final liturgy, I do so with a realization that many Pray Tell readers no doubt viewed the liturgy with Missal and worship aid in hand. Lead up to the Philadelphia liturgy was covered generously in other Pray Tell articles. It’s also true that by this point in the week, various blogs and Facebook comments have discussed a variety of issues including the presence of women liturgical ministers, musical performance and repertoire, and what the Holy Father said – and didn’t say – in the course of these liturgies. It’s hard for all of us not to view these liturgies through those lenses. I hope my comments are received as a springboard for further discussion among readers.
I watched the live stream from the USCCB and they are to be commended for providing coverage free of spoken commentary. Understandably, the networks feel the need to have commentary, but we should be thankful at least one outlet provided coverage without interruptions.
Providing the prelude music, and accompanying the choir, was the Philadelphia Orchestra. Throughout the week, I was intrigued by the solely orchestral repertoire that was chosen for the various liturgies. Certainly, the repertoire needed to be based on realistic instrumentation, budget and space. But I’m surprised that more classical music with religious overtones wasn’t chosen. Somehow Beethoven symphonies seemed out of place. It was odd that twice in the prelude the orchestral music was interrupted by spoken instructions for those assembled. Perhaps the microphones were simply shut off and the orchestra played on, but this was clearly a case of music serving the liturgy, not the other way around. A number of prelude pieces seem to have been cut, so I invite choir members and those present to weigh in.
Michael Joncas’ Exultate Justi was the processional. Like Christopher Walker’s Laudate, Laudate Dominum done in Washington, the piece utilizes a “populist classical” style. Somehow Latin becomes instantly accessible in these pieces. The processional just seemed to begin from the side of the sanctuary; no grand procession down an aisle. Concelebrants had been seated prior to this procession. I’m betting Fr. Joncas was a little than more surprised by the orchestration his piece received….more about that later.
As part of the opening procession, the Holy Father honored the official painting of the World Meeting of Families with incense. The painting was displayed in the sanctuary area and is the work of a local Philadelphia artist, Neilson Carlin. Seizing upon my guest commentator’s prerogative, I’ll offer the opinion that I wish a more contemporary image would have been created, rather than an imitation of older styles.
Perhaps it was my adjusting to his voice over the week, but I sensed Francis’ English was markedly relaxed and more comfortable as he began this liturgy. I’d like to think he gained confidence as the week went on and was buoyed by comments from host bishops and his own staff that his English was more than serviceable.
I now tread respectfully: we need to address some cantor issues. The cantors possessed lovely, trained voices, and were comfortable as animateurs. Their voices and presence made for comfortable viewing. But once again, we witnessed cantors taking both parts of the dialogues. There was no need to sing the Kyrie/Christe with the people. Some ten minutes later the deacon chanted the Gospel greeting without taking the people’s parts. To no one’s surprise, the scores of bishops, hundreds of clergy and thousands of faithful did just fine on their own.
The readings were effectively proclaimed (by two women lectors) in Spanish and Vietnamese. As seen at previously liturgies this week, the cantor sang the Verbum Domini – and the people’s response – at the end of the readings. This is something that needs to be explored more in American liturgies.
The psalm was Michel Guimont’s setting of Psalm 19, sung trilingually and ending with a choral verse. The melody of the refrain was no doubt sung at thousands of Masses across the US that morning, The familiar James Chepponis’ Festival Alleluia was used quite effectively. . .
Following the deacon’s chanted Gospel Reading, Pope Francis offered a “modest” Sunday Mass homily. While brief and delivered in low key style, the message was anything but subtle: do not be afraid of change. We must be open to change. God is in charge, not us. I couldn’t but help hear this as a precursor to the upcoming Synod of Bishops. And his advice to families? Some remarkably simple and touching words: Hug one another. Forgive. Speak nicely to one another. It’s also notable what he didn’t say. This was not the time to fret about societal threats to the family or to expound upon the definition of a family. No doubt, plenty of those issues were covered during the week.
Following the sung Creed (Credo III) the intercessions were chanted in multiple languages as has come to be expected at diocesan or international liturgies. While in English only, I did appreciate the brevity of Rick Gibala’s refrain. Could it be that in some liturgies our reliance on lengthy multi language refrains and a string of multilingual intercessions give the Universal Prayers too much weight in the balance of the liturgy?
The music at the preparation featured Norm Gouin’s and Andrew Ciferni’s Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom, the official song for the World Meeting of Families. Like most of the music sung to this point, the orchestration was politely over the top, befitting an outdoor liturgy and the grand festivity of the occasion. And it doesn’t hurt having the Philadelphia Orchestra as your accompanying ensemble. I enjoyed Gouin’s music and Ciferni had some wonderful turns of phrase and images in his text. I wish some of the false rhymes could be cleaned up; they can be stumbling blocks along the course of the hymn. The music seemed perfectly timed to accompany the liturgical action during the presentation of the gifts and preparation of the altar. (I’d like to think this coordination is due a Master of Ceremonies following the music and setting the pace of how the liturgical actions unfolds, but I’m happy to attribute it to the Holy Spirit. Or some excellent work on the planners’ part.) The organist is to be complimented for providing quality improvisations throughout the liturgy to accompany the actions. A representative group of the faithful presented the gifts.
Eucharistic Prayer II in Latin was used and Randall DeBruyn’s Mass of the Resurrection Amen concluded the prayer. The traditional Lord’s Prayer Chant and an arranged version of Agnus Dei XVIII were sung. As was the case all week, the Holy Father distributed communion to a small group and then was seated.
A small quibble from this Midwesterner to my East Coast colleagues: aren’t choral pieces best done at the end of the communion, as opposed to the beginning? I’d be in favor of more congregational music to accompany the procession. The congregational communion songs in the program were solid familiar pieces. Taste and See – the video of which was accompanied by a lovely shot of the Philadelphia skyline in the background – was cut off half way through the refrain so that an announcement could be made. Of course, Robert Kreutz’s and Omer Westendorf’s You Satisfy the Hungry Heart was programmed. The piece was written for the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, hence the tune name BICENTENNIAL. The original choral edition of the piece featured a two bar introduction quoting Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. (Happily, that intro is no longer used in publications!) While the arrangement was by Peter Latona, no credits seem to appear in the booklet as to who the orchestrator of the pieces in the liturgy. He or she deserves a salute, and some calls from film producers.
Archbishop Chaput was perhaps the most restrained and subdued of the host archbishops who delivered their remarks and thanks to the Holy Father. Archbishop Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, offered some remarks and announced that the next World Meeting of Families would be held in Dublin in 2018. Representatives from five continents came forward are were symbolically tasked with taking the Word with them as 100,000 copies of the Gospel of Luke were being sent to select cities on these continents. As the immigration has been one of the central themes of this visit, a family from Syria was welcomed and provided with financial assistance. This should be an inspiration for all parishes to adopt a family for resettlement. I’m proud it is done at my parish.
So what to make of the liturgy? To my mind, it somehow managed to be both modest and festive. Standard musical repertoire was presented in a most festive way. We may not have the Philadelphia Orchestra and a choir of hundreds in our music areas, but we all have those songs in our hymnals. There was a formality to the liturgy, but never a fussiness. Cultural and language diversity were present, but different parts of the country will agree if there was enough or not enough. Perhaps the still current trend of an all male acolyte corps is a 1970’s version of altar boys only in parishes. I sense in time more women will be used at these large scale celebrations, as is the case in my home archdiocese. Then again, should we not be thankful that our seminarians and future priests are getting some good lessons in art of liturgy through their service as acolytes?
Finally, one of the most anticipated moments of any Francis event are the “off the cuff” moments. Those assembled and viewing were not disappointed. Following the final blessing and dismissal, he purposefully grabbed the microphone in the acolyte’s hand. Clearly this was not planned. Without a script in front of him, Francis expressed his thanks and asked for our prayers, doing so in excellent English. And to emphasize his point, he said “don’t forget.”
All in all, “don’t forget” are some pretty fine words with which to end such a visit. I know that Pope John Paul’s visit to Chicago in the late 1970’s is still part of this city’s collective memory. I hope that in a similar way, the American Church will have a hard timing forgetting Francis’ visit. Let’s pray his words spoken to us take root and blossom.
Michael Silhavy is associate senior editor at GIA Publications and an alumnus of Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.