Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., celebrates a solemn high Mass in the extraordinary form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 24. It was the first time in nearly 50 years that a Mass was held at the shrine in the traditional Latin rite according to the 1962 missal.
Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., celebrates a solemn high Mass in the extraordinary form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 24. It was the first time in nearly 50 years that a Mass was held at the shrine in the traditional Latin rite according to the 1962 missal.
More than 3,500 people crowded the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on April 24 to attend the first Traditional Latin Mass in decades to be celebrated at the high altar there.

Sponsored by the Paulus Institute for the Propagation of Sacred Liturgy, Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., offered the Tridentine Mass in honor of the fifth anniversary of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Close to 100 priests and seminarians assisted at the nearly two and one-half hour Pontifical Solemn High Mass that was sung entirely in Latin. Cardinal William Baum, the former archbishop of Washington, also attended the Mass which was celebrated with ancient chants and with pomp, splendor and majesty.

During the Mass, the faithful prayed that God would "look mercifully upon thy servant, Benedict" and asked that "by his word and example he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life."

Although the Paulus Institute has been planning the Mass for three years to honor Pope Benedict, it generated negative publicity in the last week leading up to the celebration. The originally scheduled celebrant, Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, was criticized for writing a letter in 2001 as the head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, praising a French bishop for not reporting an abusive priest to authorities. In response to the controversy, the Vatican emphasized that bishops are expected to comply with all civil laws that mandate reporting of sex abuse allegations and to cooperate in civil investigations.

On April 21, the Paulus Institute announced that in consultation with Cardinal Castrillon, it decided to seek another celebrant for the Mass. Later, Bishop Slattery was announced as the new main celebrant for the Pontifical High Mass. Members of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) were still deciding whether or not to protest Cardinal Castrillon outside the shrine, and did not do so after the choice of Bishop Slattery had been announced.

Also in recent weeks, Pope Benedict has been the target of criticism in the secular media for the priestly sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict's defenders have pointed out that the pontiff has played the leading role in strengthening the Catholic Church's child protection policies. In his April 21 papal audience, Pope Benedict noted that he met and prayed with eight abuse survivors during his recent visit to Malta. (See related story, page 4.)

In his homily at the National Shrine, Bishop Slattery did not speak directly about the controversy and the criticism of the pope, but he did not ignore it.

"We have much to discuss, you and I - much to speak of on this glorious occasion when we gather together in the glare of the world's scrutiny to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the ascension of Joseph Ratzinger to the throne of Peter," Bishop Slattery said in opening his homily.

Wearing white gloves and seated at the National Shrine's cathedra, the bishop delivered his homily in English.

Noting the "enormous suffering which is all around us and which does so much to determine the culture of our modern age," Bishop Slattery pointed to "the enormous suffering of His Holiness these past months" as well as the suffering of those who face poverty, abuse, neglect, disease and heartache. Such suffering, he said, "defines the culture of our modern secular age."

He added that "by the martyrs with their blood, by the confessors with their constancy, by the virgins with their purity and by the lay faithful of Christ's body, by their resolute courage under fire," the Church shows that Jesus is "our hope and our light."

"We must come to understand how it is that suffering can reveal the mercy of God and make manifest among us the consoling presence of Jesus Christ, crucified and now risen from the dead," the bishop said.

He added that pain and suffering "could dehumanize us, for it has the power to close us in upon ourselves such that we would live always in chaos and confusion, if we do not remember that Christ - our hope - has been raised for our sakes."

Bishop Slattery urged the faithful to turn to God in times of suffering because "He makes Himself most present in the suffering of His people." God's saving presence and infinite love, the bishop said "can never be overcome by the darkness, no matter how thick, no matter how choking."

He said suffering - "yours, mine, the pontiff's" - is "the heart of personal holiness ... It is the means by which we are made witnesses of His suffering and sharers in the glory to come."
"Do not be dismayed that there many in the Church have not yet grasped this point, and fewer still in the world will even consider it," Bishop Slattery said. "You know this to be true - and 10 men who whisper the truth speak louder than a 100 million who lie."

By accepting suffering and following Christ, Bishop Slattery said, the faithful will learn to be obedient.

"The lesson we must learn is obedience, obedience unto death. Nothing less than this," he said. It is only through obedience, he added, "will we come to recognize Christ's presence among us."

Because obedience is "the heart of the life of the disciple and the key to suffering in Christ and with Christ," Bishop Slattery added, "this obedience, it must be said, is quite different from obedience the way it is spoken of and dismissed in the world."

"For those in the world, obedience is a burden and an imposition. It is the way by which the powerful force the powerless to do obeisance. Thus for those in the world, obedience is a punishment which must be avoided," he said. "But, for Christians, obedience is always personal, because it is centered on Christ. It is a surrender to Jesus Whom we love."

Bishop Slattery, noting that the celebration and the controversy that preceded it has drawn much attention, offered advice to those at the Mass.

"If then someone asks of what we spoke today, tell them we spoke of the truth. If someone asks why it is you came to this Mass, say that it was so that you could be obedient with Christ. If someone asks about the homily, tell them it was about a mystery and if someone asks what I said of the present situation, tell them only that we must - all of us - become saints."

The April 24 Mass was celebrated following the last version of the Roman Missal used prior to and during the Second Vatican Council. It is different from the Novus Ordo published in 1970.

Limited use of this older form of the Latin Mass, called the Extraordinary Form, was allowed by Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2007 Summorium Pontificum ("Of the Supreme Pontiff") apostolic letter, allowed for the Mass to be celebrated universally.

Among the differences between the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass and the Masses commonly celebrated in this country are that the entire liturgy is sung in Latin, the priest faces the altar in the same direction as the congregation, he wears gloves for parts of the liturgy, and a blessing and additional reading of the Gospel are offered after the dismissal.

During the distribution of Holy Communion, the faithful came to the altar rail, where they knelt and received the Eucharist on the tongue. Many women at the Mass wore veils.

After Mass, prayers were offered to "always procure safety and defense" for Pope Benedict and "the flock committed to his charge."

Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyrian Church in Southeast Washington, assisted at the Mass.

"It was a spectacular Mass with a spectacular turnout and a wonderful experience of the diversity and beauty of Catholic liturgy," Msgr. Pope said. Noting the large numbers who attended the Mass, Msgr. Pope called it "a wonderful coming together of Catholics."

Carmen Arcaro came from just outside of Philadelphia to attend the Mass. She made the three-hour trip, she said, because "I was worried people would not be here to show their love for our pope."

"When I got to the basilica and saw how filled the parking lot was, I knew everything would be all right. I knew there were other people who love Pope Benedict and support him and want to pray for him," she said. "Despite what they say about the scandal, what I see here are people - especially young people and families - who have not lost the faith, who love the Church and our Holy Father."

Showing support for Pope Benedict brought William King, a resident of Crofton, to the National Shrine.

"Society has been throwing bricks at (Pope Benedict), but I am here to show my support for him," he said

One car in the National Shrine's parking lot, with license plates from Kansas, was decorated with a sign that said, "We love our Pope. Jesus is God, (He) heals and forgives."

Eddie Fuentes came from Northern Virginia to attend the liturgy because he was drawn by the Mass being offered in Latin.

"I speak Spanish. May people here speak English, but Latin is a language we can all speak together at Mass," he said. "It felt good to celebrate Mass with people who are speaking the same language even though we do not speak the same language" outside of church.

Paul King, president of the Paulus Institute, said in a statement before the Mass that celebrating the Mass "will be a historic event and a major step toward the restoration of sacred tradition. The richness of our Catholic tradition will be visible to all the world on Pope Benedict's fifth anniversary."