Thanks to the largesse of some benefactors who funded our plane fare, Brother Maximilian Maria and I recently spent two weeks in Rome. The trip, like my last year’s solo pilgrimage, was part “business,” and part “pleasure.” For that reason, I referred to it as a “working pilgrimage.”
I regret to say that I was unable to make regular reports to our web site from Rome. This was partly do to our activity-rich schedule, and partly due to logistical problems that precluded it; it’s simply too hard to get an Internet connection in Rome, at least we found it so.
I’ve decided that, poco a poco, I will post some columns on the site showcasing some of the wonderful Roman churches we saw. First though, I would like to give one little snapshot among hundreds of mental photographs from our fortnight in the Eternal City. It is a picture of the encouragement we felt in the presence of young clerics and a few seminarians.
But it would be precipitous to portray this image without first supplying a background.
Part of our routine was daily Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at 7:00 AM, just after the Basilica opens to the relatively small groups of people waiting outside (among whom are many religious sisters). Just before that hour, when the security guards and other Basilica staff allow pilgrims to enter the Church, there is another line forming — a much more competitive one — in a certain wing of St. Peter’s. Here, clerical Vatican employees — who, with their Vatican credentials, can pass the Swiss Guards and other security beyond them — are lining up for the mad dash into the sacristy (specifically, here). The little crowd is composed of priests, bishops, and a few others, who enter with them under the rubric of servers. There must be some thirty of them awaiting the 6:55 or so opening of the sacristy doors. Everyone rushes in to vest, grab an acolyte and Mass provisions, and race for an altar while altars are still available. One Monsignor described it to me as a “rat race.” More than once, Brother Maximilian and I were part of that “rat race,” as we entered the sacristy entrance to serve the Mass of a priest friend of ours, who works for the Holy See. Nearly daily for two weeks, we assisted at his Mass at the altar of the Transfiguration. One day, when that altar wasn’t available (it’s first-come-first-serve), Father offered Mass at the Altar of Our Lady of Succor, which is underneath a twelfth-century icon of the Mother of God, and atop the relics of Saint Gregory of Nazianzen. This particular Mass was a Requiem, offered for a deceased friend of ours, under his Tertiary name, Brother Malachi Mary.
Of course, the Masses were in the traditional rite. And here’s the thing: Now, post Summorum Pontificum, a full half or more of the morning Masses in St. Peter’s are in the classical Roman rite! When our curial priest-friend was out of town for a couple of days, we “tried our luck” one morning and went from one altar to another in search of the traditional rite. Soon, we were at the Mass of a young Czech priest who works for the Secretariat of State’s Office. He had no server, so, not being shy, I jumped in and served. And it was an honor to serve Mass being offered over the body of Pope Saint Leo the Great at this magnificent altar, where one may observe in the altarpiece Pope Leo giving the business to Attila the Hun, with the help of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. (Read the story here if you’re not familiar.)
Every day, in close proximity to “our” altar, we could see a few other traditional-rite Masses.
After Mass every morning, we went for a light breakfast in a nearby coffee bar, which is filled with a few small crowds of clerics who, like us, have just come from Mass at St. Peter’s, and are about to begin their day in the office or in the classroom. On a couple of these days, we found ourselves with some seminarians, who talked of their desire to offer the traditional rite Mass, and how their convictions in this area were shared overtly or covertly by many fellow seminarians. In these conversations, the spirit of false ecumenism was seriously scorned, and adherence to all things traditional was made evident. These future priests speak the language of Jerusalem, and not of Egypt.
To quote a song I truly hate, but that aptly captures the thing I want to say: the times they are a-changin’!