Last Sunday, Rome was remarkably crowded, in a way that would rival those giddy days during the beatification of John Paul II. Throngs of German and Spanish Catholics came to honour the new doctors of the Church, which were proclaimed by Pope Benedict during the Papal Mass of Sunday 7th October.
Our golden tickets in hand, the next morning, at 8 AM, we joined the multitudes queuing to get into St Peter’s square for Mass. The front rows seemed to be full, but a quick prayer to St Anthony, and we found seats in the second row!
We were surrounded by St Hildegard of Bingen devotees, and there were quite a few people who had either physical disabilities or were thalidomide victims and had a special affection for the German saint who had been such an expert on medicine.
A number of luminaries were seated near us, including Karl Anderson, the supreme commander of the Knights of Columbus. Before Mass, the Rosary was recited in Latin, and I found it surprising that the absolute majority of the crowd, from the very young Germans to the youthful Spanish priests, knew the Rosary prayers in Latin. A rapturous chorus of Ave Marias and Pater Nosters filled the air.
Mrg Ganswein took a walk around the altar, inspecting it to see if everything was in order. The Pope appeared, in a royal-green gothic vestment.
Our Pope looked very content, and some might have said he looked tired, but in fact, it was that he looked relaxed and at ease. He’s spent seven years as Pope, and is well used to these high-pressure papal Masses, where he has to perform an exhausting range of tasks.
The Mass was Gregorian Mass XI. Many elements of the Mass fit in with Benedict’s teaching, as found in the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis that Gregorian chant is appropriate music for the liturgy. The introit, offertory, chant and Communion antiphon were sung in Latin, and the congregation and bishops from all over the world followed along in the books provided for the Mass.
Huge tapestries of St Hildegard and St John of Avila were hung on the front of St Peter’s Basilica, and when the moment came for Benedict to proclaim the new doctors of the Church, a hush came over the crowd. Cheers erupted from the multitudes of parish groups from Germany, who waved banners and clapped when Benedict gently announced Hildegard, the 12th century mystic, to be a doctor of the Church. It brought back memories of the Beatification of John Henry Newman during the Papal Visit to England. At the end, Pope Benedict gave a reflection in French, a favourite language of his, and his voice sounded incredibly strong and he spoke like a native. Shortly after the end of the Mass, I caught sight of the Pope mobile, that collected the Holy Father and drove him around the square, where he was welcomed with the hearty shouts of, ‘vive el Papa!’
Reaching the end of the Mass books that had been given us, I read the notice that we may get a Plenary Indulgence for assisting at the Mass. We have also had the honour of having been present at this Mass, which in time, will be remembered as a highlight of Benedict’s papacy. It was beautifully symbolic that our Pope raised one of the most dynamic female saints of all time, and also a fellow German, to the level of doctor of the Church.
This eye-witness account is in the current edition of The Catholic Herald, October 12th Edition.