I attended this past Saturday (April 28) the Pontifical Solemn Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington DC. It was a very moving and glorious event. It began with intense and very loud organ music that was a cross between horror- movie type organ music and traditional church music. It was simultaneously frightening and solemn-an apt beginning to the sacrifice of the mass. Very hard to describe but it was very beautiful. Its intensity made the opening procession of all who would serve at the altar all the more solemn and reverent. It was a long procession. It was lead by a Knight in full costume (looked like Knight of Columbus) followed by monks in full monkish outfits and robes, followed by priests of various kinds, then the choral group in robes who would sing the Gregorian chants during the mass, then the altar servers including altar boys and then came the priests who would serve Archbishop Sample who came last and would actually say the mass (in Latin of course).
Before the mass people in the pews (and the pews were filled) were treated to some very beautiful choral music. The acoustics in this magnificent basilica were amazing! Try to imagine feasting your eyes on the great art (statues, niches, stained glass, marble altars, etc etc) that populates the sanctuary and the soaring dome overhead all while listening to beautiful medieval/renaissance chants, motets, and other choral pieces sung by superb vocalists and choral groups. There was even a live brass ensemble that played quietly and reverently along with some of the pieces.
Then the mass started. Two choral groups of monks and others sat at opposite ends of the altar chanting back and forth to one another-almost like a call and response pattern…all the while the priests chanted the mass up at the altar…
Archbishop Sample (of Portland OR) gave a very fine sermon and talk on the need for the church to allow both forms of the mass….each does not make full sense without the other, he claimed.
The entire mass was a total aesthetic experience-a religious experience in the best sense of the term. The surrounding art, the music, the solemn passionate chanting of the Latin mass, the perfectly choreographed ritual gestures by the priests up at the altar; the incense, the beautiful robes they were all wearing, the intensity of the religious fervor of the people in the pwes….it was an unforgettable experience! I thank God (and Pope Benedict) that we have not yet lost this great treasure of the Latin West. We should also thank the Paulus Institute for organizing the whole event!