A Full Cathedral, a Pontifical Mass and the Triumph of the Cross

Thursday, September 14, 2017, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the 10th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, is a day that will not quickly be forgotten by those who attended the Solemn Pontifical Mass that took place that evening at the Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You may have been there yourself, as so many were. Or, you may have tuned in to EWTN’s live broadcast of the event. If you were not able to make the trip to Philadelphia or watch it live, you can still watch the video here.

The Mass was celebrated by his Excellency Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary to the Archbishop of Chicago, assisted by the following:

Assistant-priest: Fr. Robert Pasley (Rector, Mater Ecclesiae Church, Berlin, NJ)
Deacon: Fr. James Bartoloma (Chancellor of the Diocese of Camden)
Subdeacon: Fr. Gerald Carey (Pastor, Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Strafford, PA)
Deacons-of-honor: Msgr. Charles Sangermano (Pastor, Holy Saviour Church, Norristown, PA) and Fr. Jason Kulczynski (Pastor, Holy Martyrs Church, Oreland, PA)
with instituted acolytes and altar servers from Mater Ecclesiae Church, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

The musical program was directed by Mr. Peter Richard Conte, who also directed the music at the first Mass of Father Magiera, FSSP, which took place at the Basilica in 2005. The program featured a live orchestra and included:
Mozart’s Missa Brevis in C Major, K. 220 (“Sparrow”)
Elgar’s “Ecce Sacerdos Magnus”
Monteverdi’s “Adoramus te, Christe”
John Blow’s “Salvator Mundi”
& Gregorian chant

The Cathedral was full of faithful from various cities and regions, all converging on the beautiful edifice to hear the Mass that was being held to celebrate the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. The Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter clarified that the Latin Mass was never abrogated and hence the clergy needed no permission to celebrate it.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was the feast celebrated that day, and such a feast offered great occasion for meditation on the meaning of the Cross of Christ. The glory and the mystery of the Cross were illuminated eloquently in the powerful homily that Bishop Perry preached, in which he touched on the Love of God for us, the expression of this Love in the Cross, the reality of suffering as a part of love and life, and the ultimate purpose, beauty and divine power in that suffering.

“The Cross is proof of the persistent, tenacious Love of God, a Love that is unexplainable in Its completeness but real in Its presence, proven through the use of human gestures, human language, and human agony,” Bishop Perry said. “As we adults have come to know, love means little unless it is purified in pain. That’s the paradox.”

Bishop Perry further illustrated this mysterious concept of suffering with an apt analogy. He explained that the oyster, a hard-shelled mollusk with a soft interior, has to open its hard shell on occasion to breathe. In so doing, sometimes a grain of sand enters and gets stuck inside the shell, causing a great deal of pain to the soft oyster. But, Bishop Perry explained, instead of becoming hard, tough and callous, the oyster responds to this pain in a much different way. It sometimes creates translucent layers over the grain, creating a beautiful, rare, and valued thing, a pearl. “A pearl might be thought of as an oyster’s response to suffering,” he said.

He continued, “All of us have experienced or will experience hopelessness. Such grains of sand are a part of everyone’s life, and the challenge of the pain and disappointment we confront is not to sink into self-pity or to deny our sadness, or passively accept the role of victim, but to accept the reality of our suffering and transform it into pearls of generous compassion, humble growth, selfless consolation, and deeper service for the cause of Christ. That’s how we Christians can handle it.”

He offered a choice to his listeners. We can, he explained, choose to view our crosses with the eyes of faith. “It is a choice I must make, you must make. It is an option I must choose, you must choose.” He acknowledged that it is not always easy to do so, that sometimes the difficulties of life make this option a grave challenge. “But I believe it’s God’s grace that enables you and me to see life’s distressing moments with hope.”

The Mass concluded with the veneration of relics of the True Cross as a most beautiful conclusion to this singular occasion.

For an acolyte’s-eye view of the Mass, we turned to Mr. James Griffin, an instituted acolyte of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter who regularly serves at the Cathedral-Basilica on feast days and assisted as one of the bishop’s bearers for Thursday’s Mass.  He told us a bit about what it was like to serve with the Bishop.

“Since I’ve been formally instituted as an acolyte by my bishop, service at the altar of God is part of a regular, lifelong ministry for me,” he said. “Nevertheless, it was an immense privilege to attend to the bishop as one of his “familiares” (chaplains, like members of his “family”). Our duties actually began even before the bishop entered the church, since at a pontifical Mass in the traditional rite, the “familiares” pray the seven penitential psalms and other preparatory prayers with the bishop in his private chapel. Here and throughout the Mass, my role was to hold the book open for the bishop to read from.”

Mr. Griffin told us more about how the plans for the Mass came together and how Bishop Perry came to be involved. “Bishop Perry visits Philadelphia often to minister to the African-American parishes of the city,” he explained. “I met Bishop Perry at an event in this area over a year ago. I was very impressed with his homily, and knowing that he liked to celebrate the Extraordinary Form around the country, I gauged his interest in doing a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum in a year’s time. After discussions with the Cathedral-Basilica, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sent Bishop Perry an invitation to celebrate a Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form here for that occasion.”

Mr. Griffin was the promoter of the event, and spent the months leading up to the Mass writing and calling various clergy and lay leaders to let them know about the Mass. The faithful certainly turned out in force. Mr. Griffin explained that since this was a regional celebration of Summorum Pontificum, several buses came in, including one from Holy Innocents, Manhattan and one from FSSP Scranton, which also stopped at FSSP Allentown and the Philadelphia Carmel on the way.

He told us more about why this project was particularly important to him. “I was motivated to get the faithful of Philadelphia excited about a 10th anniversary celebration of Summorum Pontificum because I vividly remember how my interest in liturgy awoke when I watched the EWTN broadcast of the FSSP’s solemn Mass at Mother Angelica’s shrine in Hanceville, Alabama on the effective date of the motu proprio: September 14, 2007.”

It certainly was a night to remember. The Mass was one of celestial beauty and ceremony that was a fitting act of thanksgiving for the gift of the Latin Mass and the Holy Father’s assurance of its freedom and its valued place in the life of the Church. May the gratitude expressed with such beauty and grandeur that night in Philadelphia instill itself in our hearts, that we may be ever mindful of the immense gifts of God.

Our thanks to Mrs. Allison Girone (full album here) and Mr. John R. Symons & Mrs. Saveria Symons (full album here) for their photos of the event.

September 28, 2017