The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. is the largest church in America and among the 10 biggest in the world. It officially seats approximately 3,500.
Every one of the pews on Saturday, April 24 was full with several hundred people standing in the back of the Great Upper Church.
The first traditional Latin Mass in 45 years was offered as a Pontifical High Mass by Tulsa Bishop Edward Slatery, with around 100 priests, brothers and seminarians serving as ministers. Dozens of laymen served as torchbearers, acolytes and all the other various positions necessary to offer the grand liturgy.
The Mass at the National Shrine was billed as celebration for the pope. Young priests from all over came in cassock, surplice and beretta to process with a bishop and William Cardinal Baum, retired archbishop of Washington, in a mass for Benedict’s fifth anniversary. The basilica shrine’s choir under the direction of Dr. Peter Lotona, sang Palestrina’s “missa’Tu es Petrus” as the ordinary setting of the Mass, with corresponding motet, as well as Joao Lourenco Rebelo’s “Panis angelicus,” Thomas Tallis’ “sacrum convivium” and Jean Lheritier’s beautiful paschal piece, “surrexit pastor bonus.”
A group of 16 men, under the direction of the very talented composer and conductor Richard Rice, comprised the complete proper of the Mass in Gregorian Chant, as well as the responses (including the pontifical blessing), dismissal and a prayer for Benedict, “Oremus pro pontifice.”
The local priests, Monsignor Charles Pope, Monsignor K. Bartholomew Smith and Father Paul Scalia each had ministerial duty. Dozens of priests from the area signed up to distribute communion. The sacrament was given using the alter rail and over a dozen side chapels, fitted with kneelers for the occasion.
There have been bumps and obstacles for sure, but several thousand Catholics — many of whom only knew the Novus Ordo service — traveling to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for a three-hour traditional Mass is something that is the direct result of Pope Benedict’s liturgical actions, prayers and fervent dedication and persuasion of so many traditionalists who have pragmatically and militantly advanced the cause to this point.
— Wallace Beaudoin, Dickinson