Photo credits: Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco ( http://sanctatrinitasunusdeus.com) and Roseanne T. Sullivan
On June 20, 1921, noted architect Ralph Adams Cram gave an address titled "The Test of Beauty" to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard University. During his address, Cram lavished praise on the Pontifical Mass (Missa Pontificalis in Latin), which is an elaborate form of the traditional Roman Catholic Mass that has seldom been celebrated during most of the past sixty years. A convert from Unitarianism to Episcopalianism, Cram is perhaps best known for his design for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He was also a prominent member of the Anglo-Catholic movement, and he wrote and spoke extensively as an ardent advocate for Gothic architecture. In spite of the fact that he never became a Roman Catholic, he was an equally ardent admirer of Catholic liturgy. Cram was so renowned in his field that he wrote the article on "Gothic Architecture " in the 1909 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia.
In his peroration at the end of his address at Harvard, Cram posed this rhetorical question, "What was the greatest synthesis of beauty, made operative through art, that man has ever achieved?" He went on to summarize the main premise of his talk in his answer, "The answer is very simple: it was a Gothic cathedral of the thirteenth century during a Pontifical High Mass. . . . Every art raised to its highest point was here brought into play in one place and associated in absolute union with the greatest beauty of thought, emotion, and action that have ever been the possession of fallen man. . . . And all were for the exposition and realization of the supreme beauty of spiritual things; the durable love of God for His children through the Sacrifice of Calvary, eternally renewed upon the altar, and the veritable presence of His Spirit through the miracle of the Mass."
On Sunday September 14, 2014, on the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross according to the 1962 liturgical calendar, more than four hundred worshippers filled the pews of Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco for a historically resonant liturgical event, when San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrated the first Pontifical Mass held in that city for close to sixty years.
The Pontifical Mass was celebrated on that balmy September evening in that beautiful church at the northwest tip of the San Francisco peninsula very much the same way as Pontifical Masses were celebrated around the world before the Second Vatican Council. Star of the Sea Church is a parish church that was finished in 1917 using the best materials the working-class parish could buy, during Cram's lifetime, and while it is not a cathedral and its arches are Romanesque rather than Gothic, it was an appropriately lovely setting for this modern-day Pontifical Mass.
The Pontifical Mass was to celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the seventh anniversary of the implementation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which affirmed that ceremonies and rituals like the Pontifical Mass are still valid and an important part of the Church’s rich heritage. The Mass, which was advertised as "one of the treasures of the faith," was coordinated by the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco with music by the Golden Gate Catholic Boys Choir.
The elaborate gestures, the large number of ministers, the multitudinous details of the vesting of the celebrant and of the ministers, and the order of the ceremony, all were followed according to how they are spelled out in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies) from 1916.
The Pontifical Mass is the Mass of a bishop, and all the highly regulated, complex details of this Mass are fraught with meaning. Taken together, the details are designed to make up a system of visible, material signs that point to the invisible, spiritual realities of a bishop’s office. As is true about how we come to understand many important things, we don't grasp the importance of something as complex as a Pontifical Mass without having been taught what it means. The goal of this post is to explain some of the rich meaning of what occurred that night.
Why is it called a Pontifical Mass?
It is not commonly known, but the adjective "pontifical" does not refer exclusively to the pope. A cardinal, archbishop, bishop or abbot is also referred to as high priest, or “pontiff.” The celebrant of a Pontifical Mass is said to be “pontificating.” The related term “pontificals” refers to all the vestments and ornaments the bishop wears and uses when he pontificates at the Pontifical Mass.
A Pontifical Mass at the Throne represents the summit of the Roman liturgy. It is the paradigm for the Roman Rite. As Canon Olivier Meney of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (who assisted at the Mass) recently explained, “The Low Mass is a reduction of the Solemn High Mass, which in its turn is a reduction of the Pontifical Mass at the Throne.”
In contrast, in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, which is the form almost exclusively celebrated since Vatican II, the Pontifical Mass seems no longer to be seen as a model for all Masses. Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who was largely responsible for the new Mass that was promulgated in the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI, has been quoted as saying that the low Mass of a priest is now the normative Mass.
Elaborate vestments and liturgical items, such as those worn and used during the Pontifical Mass, are not, as some mistakenly think, a form of vain clerical dressing-up, but on the contrary, they are rich in symbolism. The truth is that in ceremonies like this, the individual is minimized, while the power of the priesthood is emphasized. If we understand and meditate on the symbols, they can lead us to think more deeply about the role of the priesthood as it was instituted by Jesus Christ.
Before being vested during the Pontifical Mass, the bishop takes off the vestments he usually wears as a prelate of the Church. He then is clothed ceremonially with vestments that stand for the full power of the priesthood, which belongs not to himself, but to his role as a bishop.
What does “at the Throne” mean?
At Star of the Sea, Archbishop Cordileone celebrated a Pontifical Mass at the Throne. The term “at the Throne” is used when a Pontifical Mass is celebrated within the jurisdiction of a bishop or archbishop. During the Mass, the celebrant sits at a throne at the altar.
If a bishop celebrates a Pontifical Mass at a cathedral or church outside of his own jurisdiction, he either celebrates "at the faldstool" (a faldstool being a portable folding chair) or "in choro" (in choir).
The privilege of "Pontificating" on the Throne is only allowed to all Cardinals outside of Rome, to the Pope's Apostolic Nuncios and Legates in the territorial jurisdiction they are assigned, and to Bishops and Archbishops within their Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions.
Because the archbishop was visiting Star of the Sea and did not celebrate at his cathedral, it was necessary to construct a temporary throne on the gospel side of the altar. The archbishop’s shield was mounted behind the chair with a gold-embroidered baldachin (canopy) above it.
Why all that vesting at the Throne?
One unusual and elaborate aspect of the Pontifical Mass was the ceremony called “vesting at the throne.”
Before the start of the Mass, the pontificals were laid out on the altar. Servers ceremoniously removed each of the pontificals in turn from the altar, and waited in line to present them to the archbishop. Sacred ministers helped vest him.
The vesting ceremony is rich in symbolism of the bishop’s humility. It reminds the bishop and everyone present of Christ’s words to St. Peter after His Resurrection to indicate how Peter would die, when He said that one day Peter would not be able dress himself and go where he wished but that someone else would dress him and lead him.
The ceremony is so powerfully evocative of humility that one bishop said that first time he was being vested for Pontifical Mass, “he felt like a lamb being dressed for slaughter.”
|Vesting with the amice|
When the celebrant is divested of the vestments he wore when entering the church, he is symbolically stripped of the trappings of the world and loses his personal identity. When he is then subsequently ceremoniously vested in the pontificals, one after another, the bishop is clothed in the new man of which St. Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians and is covered from head to foot in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ.Amen, amen I say to thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. – John 21:18
If so be that you have heard him, and have been taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus: To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth." – Ephesians 4:21-24.Bishops at Pontifical Mass wear the vestments of a subdeacon (the tunic), deacon (the dalmatic), and priest (chasuble) all at once because in the bishop, as medieval liturgist William Durandus wrote, “the degrees of all the Major Orders are most eminently present.”
Each pontifical has its own prescribed prayer. For example, as he was being vested in the buskins (liturgical stockings), the archbishop prayed the following prayer.
How long since the last Pontifical Mass in San Francisco?
Beginning when His Grace was installed as Bishop of Oakland in 2009 and continuing after his appointment as Archbishop of San Francisco in 2012, he has celebrated Pontifical Masses in several other locations around the archdiocese: at the Oakland apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in St. Margaret Mary Church in 2009 and 2011, and at St. Monica Church in Moraga to celebrate the official opening of the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a new foundation of the Discalced Carmelites in the Diocese of Oakland in 2012. For several years, the archbishop has also celebrated Pontifical Masses on the last day of the Napa Institute's Conference at The Meritage Resort in Napa. His Pontifical Mass on September 14, 2014, was the first such Mass Archbishop Cordileone celebrated in the city of San Francisco.
Fr. Mark Mazza, former Star of the Sea pastor, was asked recently if he knows the date on which the last Pontifical Mass was previously celebrated in San Francisco. Fr. Mazza replied, “The reformed Mass with its new order would not appear until 1970 in the United States,” but, in the United States, changes to the Mass began at the end of November 1964, on the First Sunday of Advent. For this reason, Fr. Mazza added, “I would presume that the last Solemn Pontifical Mass using the 1962 Missale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum was in 1964, now over fifty years ago.” Fr. Mazza added that since even before the Second Vatican Council, Pontifical Masses “were not always that common,” the time elapsed since the last Pontifical Mass in the city could easily have been closer to sixty years.
How did this event come about?
The planning for this year’s Pontifical Mass began almost exactly a year earlier. During a dinner on September 13, 2013, which Fr. Mazza and the members of the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco hosted at Star of the Sea for Archbishop Cordileone, the Traditional Latin Mass Society asked the archbishop if he would celebrate a Pontifical Mass at the parish. Eventually the date was fixed to be the Sunday of the weekend of the archbishop's pastoral visit to the parish this year, which occurred September 13 through 15.
What does it all mean?
Beauty existed, and was infinitely desired, and within certain limits was supremely achieved under paganism, but with Christianity it was given a new content and a new function. The passion for perfection remained, but it was how a new perfection revealed in Christ; the joy in labor and creation remained, but it was now a new joy, for it was irradiated by the motive of worship and of sacrifice. -- Ralph Adams Cram, "The Test of Beauty."
If art is, indeed, as I have said, one of the really great agents of civilization, the Church is preeminently the place where its work may be made most effective. . . . Each art is fine in itself, but a great and beautiful church, living with pictorial and sculptured decoration, where the sublime, appalling mystery of the Christian Faith is solemnized through the assembling of all the other arts — music, poetry, drama, and ceremonial —- in one vast, organic work of art built up of every one of them raised to its highest level of possibility, and all fused in one consummate opus Dei, this is in simple fact and in plain speech, the greatest artistic achievement, the most perfect proof of man's divine nature thus far recorded in the annals of humanity. -- Ralph Adams Cram,"The Artist and the World."
For Cram then, the meaning of the Pontifical Mass on September 14, 2014 would be found in the synthesis of all of the beauties of the church, the ceremony, the vestments and the music, each of which contributed to the creation of an act of sublime worship expressing our love for God.
In his homily, Archbishop Cordileone reminded the mass goers to keep in mind that the beauty of the Pontifical Mass should not be an end in itself. Alongside of the love of God that is fostered during the celebration of the Eucharist in such a reverent ceremony in such a beautiful setting, our love of our neighbor must also be fostered.
Following are some excerpts from Archbishop Cordileone's homily:Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets. -- Matthew 22:36-40
Our spirituality and stewardship are the practical way we live our Christian faith in the world. Our faith is not to be left inside the walls of this beautiful church. We are all awed and inspired by the beauty of the ceremonies here in the celebration this evening. . . .. We all love this liturgy, but if it doesn’t make a difference, it becomes nothing more than a neat hobby. A neat one. But a hobby. It is meant to transform us into a deeper love of Jesus Christ.
Here we experience the beauty of Jesus Christ in the beauty of the Church’s liturgy so that we might recognize the beauty in those in the world around us, in those who are poor. Sharing those gifts with them, in works of charity, works of justice. We have ample opportunity here in our community. Here in this parish, right across the street, is a very good and powerful ministry to women who find themselves in crisis situations. Mothers with young children or expectant mothers. Sharing our gifts. Understanding their needs. [We need] to see the beauty of Jesus Christ in them and to lift them out of their moment of crisis, out of their own fear, so they might encounter the Jesus who we encounter here and who we share with them.
|The poor are found right outside the front door of the church|
You can view the complete homily here and see many more photos of the Pontifical Mass here, thanks to the work of the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco.
1. "The Test of Beauty" an address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard University on June 20, 1921. By Ralph Adams Cram. Harvard Graduates' Magazine, Volume XXX. 1921-1922. Copyright 1931. The Riverside Press Cambridge, Mass.
2. You can look up unfamiliar terms in a glossary for all the ornaments and vestments that is in the Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies, along with instructions for the order of the Pontifical Mass and the titles and roles of each of the sacred ministers. By Rev. Aurelius Stehl, O.S.B. Published 1916 by St. Vincent Archabbey Press, Latrobe, PA. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in details of the Pontifical Mass.
3. Here is an example from the history of Star of the Sea parish of the "no-expense spared" mentality that Catholics of modest means used to have when it came to building parish churches. "The statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, each costing $500, were made of pure Carrara marble in Italy and shipped to the United States at great expense." -- "The History Of Star Of The Sea Schools." By Sister Mary Dorothea Quinn, 1958. The statues were purchased at that great price in 1917.
4. Additional information about the official costumes of prelates is available online at Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church: According to Roman Etiquette” by John Abel Nainfa. Published 1909 by John Murphy Company, Baltimore. This is another fascinating read.
5. Simple pictures of the alb, stole, maniple, cincture, and chasuble are available in coloring book format at ”Learning About Priest Vestments (Free Printable e-book and Activity)” at Catholic Inspirations. Web. Retrieved September 24,2014. Also useful is this site, which presents information about the vestments, from the book, Mass and the Sacraments by Fr. John Laux, M.A. Benziger Brothers 1934. And last but not least, here is a reprint of a Catholic Extension book called "Father Peter Cutouts" that children (and maybe some adults) could cutout and color to learn (or relearn) the vestments and articles used during the Mass (free subscription required for access).
6. During a Pontifical Mass, a bishop may wear a cappa magna (great cape) when he enters the church. If so, the cappa magna is removed before the Mass begins and put on again after the Mass is over. Archbishop Cordileone did not wear cappa magna on September 14. Some people criticize the cappa magna’s rich fabric and extraordinary length as a wastefully expensive example of the most extreme sort of ostentatious, effeminate, clerical finery. This blog from the Daily Telegraph of London spoofs those who react with hostility to the cappa magna, but it also has spectacular photos of cappae magnae worn in the past and in the present day by dignitaries such as Pope Pius XII, Cardinal Spellman, Pope St John XXIII (when he was Archbishop Wotyla), and Cardinal Pell.
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|Cardinal Raymond Burke wore a Cappa Magna for Institute of Christ the King Ordinations in St. Louis in August 2014|
7. The ministry of art, pp 135, 136. By Ralph Adams Cram. Copyright 1914. The Riverside Press Cambridge.
8. The prayers for vesting of the pontificals are given in an easy to read format at the New Liturgical Movement in The Pontifical Vesting Prayers of the Usus Antiquior December 29, 2011 web (retrieved September 24, 2014).
9. Star Community Home for women in crisis situations is a project of Catholic Charities CYO that is located in the former convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet at Star of the Sea. Archbishop Cordileone is the Director of the Star Community Home for Women's Board of Directors.