Benedict XVI Visit

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

April 17, 2008


            In my first parish there was an elderly lady who always stopped on her way out of mass to give me her evaluation of the liturgy. If she liked it she said, “That was Catholic!”

            The night before the papal mass, I didn’t feel much like going. I was tired from a cold and allergies. But I figured that if the 81 year old Successor of St. Peter could come all the way across the Atlantic to visit us, the least I could do was go 50 miles up the road to say hello. I am very glad I did. It was Catholic!

            This was not my first papal ceremony. I was in Washington in 1979 when a young John Paul II arrived like a rock star and celebrated Mass on the Mall. As a seminarian in Rome in the early 1980s, I saw many a papal liturgy. Later as a student priest, I assisted with communion at papal masses. Twice I have been to World Youth Days. But seeing the Pope is always a thrill.   

            My parishioners were very excited. We had 175 tickets distributed by lottery. When we boarded the busses at dawn, they were chatty. I was sleepy. On the way up we said the rosary.

            I woke up at the stadium. It was the music that got me going.

            The sight lines from my seat in left field were poor. The canopy over the altar platform blocked my view of the jumbo TV. I could barely see the Pope between the heads in front of me. But the sound system was great. The choirs were just to my left. So I was more present with my ears than my eyes.

            The music was perfect. It was a mixture of styles and tempos. It ran the spectrum of liturgical music from Gospel to Gregorian chant, meringue to Mozart. Its variety reflected the diversity of the Catholic Church in America.

            In Washington, DC, we have a large African-American Catholic community. The gospel choir started us off with the great spiritual “Plenty Good Room in My Father’s Kingdom.”  They were right. There was plenty good room for every race, nation, people and tongue.

            Even though Pentecost was a few weeks away, the liturgy was basically Pentecost. There  were lots of Holy Spirit songs, including several versions of “Veni Creator Spiritus” (Come Holy Spirit). I love that prayer, especially the part about “renewing the face of the earth.”

            The best rhythm was at the preparation of the gifts when the choir sang in Spanish, Ven Espiritu Santo” by Jaime Cortez.  It had a complicated Afro-Caribbean Latin drum beat. Even an aging Irishman like me could not sit still. I did my “white boy” dance.  

            As the bishops entered the choir sang “Ave Verum” by Mozart. I always cry when I hear it. This time was no exception.

            The Pope entered the stadium to the great German hymn Grosser Gott, known to us as “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” Everybody sang. With 46,000 voices, the Spirit was definitely “in the house.”        

             After communion, Placido Domingo sang Panis Angelicus. The stadium fell silent. Priests around me welled up with tears. At the end people applauded. Even the Holy Father stood and gave Domingo an ovation and blessing.

            The Pope struck exactly the right tone in his homily. He was encouraging and correcting, pastoral and probing. His mention of the victims of child abuse by the clergy was necessary. It was an important step toward healing an open wound.            The fact that he spoke in Spanish, as well as English, was an appropriate recognition that the U.S. Catholic Church is increasingly Latino.

            When I walked out of the stadium, I was transformed. Even the weather was perfect.

            I thought of that elderly lady from my first parish and said, “That was Catholic!”