(Posted May 26, 2008 Michael Matt’s introduction to “Good Grief?” by Solange Hertz in the March 31st issue of The Remnant was quite poignant – our adult sons and daughters cannot grasp the extent of the horrors inflicted upon the faithful when the Mass of the Ages was hijacked. Mrs. Hertz spotlights the tragedy in high definition, and time has failed to heal the wounds. If anything, the pain intensifies with the passage of the years. Sunlight is so much the more appreciated, however, after a long, dreary winter; and the Latin Mass in all of its heavenly glory, when viewed amidst the “devastated vineyard,” appears to be so much more resplendent, so much more miraculous.
Historic St. Patrick’s Church of New Orleans, Louisiana, celebrated its one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary on Sunday, April 27; and, while there has never been a time in its history when the Tridentine Mass has not been offered, I doubt whether anything in previous years could have surpassed in solemnity and majesty what transpired yesterday. It was magnificent beyond my capabilities to describe; if angels can weep, they surely must have shed tears of joy.
The parish was established in 1833, while the present structure dates back to 1840. It was built by Irish immigrants who wanted an English speaking church in contrast to the French which predominated a few miles away at St. Louis Cathedral. What was erected was a beautiful neo-Gothic edifice, which is even more magnificent today than it was in its pre-Civil War beginnings. There are three monumental murals behind the main altar which have been restored in much the same manner as the paintings in the Sistine Chapel. The stained glass windows are stunning with rich, colorful hues, one of which depicts Our Lady of Lourdes. Considering the fact that Mary appeared to Bernadette in 1858, this window must be one of the earliest depictions of the event. There are many beautiful statues including a large Pieta
strategically placed where one stands in line to enter the confessional. It would be the hardened heart that would fail to be saddened by the sight of the Sorrowful Mother holding the dead body of her Son and Lord. (By the way, it is best to come a bit early if you wish to confess before Mass – the lines are often quite long.)
So here we were in this beautiful church dedicated to St. Patrick, and little did we realize that we were going to be the privileged witnesses to the most beautiful Mass of our lives. The tremendous organ rang out, the symphonic orchestra played, and the choir…I must pause here. The choir is directed by Joe Hoppe, the tenor is Renee Toups who sings wonderfully every Sunday. The soprano is Sarah Jane McMahon, who appears regularly in New York in various operas and other venues, and who sings at St. Patrick’s whenever she is home in the New Orleans area. Her renditions of the Ave Maria are soul-stirring, and when one is returning to the pew after receiving Holy Communion with Panis Angelicus being sung like an angel…well, you understand.
The procession began with the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher, the Knights and Dames of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, the Heralds of the Gospel, and the Knights of Columbus. I really do not remember the exact order of entrance, but then followed more acolytes and altar boys than I have ever seen gathered in one place, at one time; deacons and subdeacons from Notre Dame Seminary; many priests; retired Archbishop Shulte; the celebrant and pastor, Fr. Stanley Klores; and His Excellency, Archbishop Alfred Hughes. (There would have been a third bishop in attendance, but Archbishop Hannan was ill and ordered by his physician to remain at home.)
The asperges followed, accompanied by the solemn chanting of Vidi Aquam and Psalm 117. Fr. Klores then vested and Mozart’s Coronation Mass began in all of its regal splendor. There were several different masters of ceremonies to coordinate the various activities and all went according to the script. (One of the seminarians joked afterwards that whenever he found himself out of place, he just genuflected towards the tabernacle, then to the bishop, and then solemnly found his way back to where he should have been. So, folks, if nothing else, there are seminarians at St. Patrick’s who are being schooled in the art of the genuflection.)
Archbishop Hughes preached the sermon and was effusive, as expected, in praise of the history of the church and its legacy to the entire city of New Orleans. He made one short comment, however, that the Latin Mass may restore the reverence that is sometimes lacking in the Novus Ordo. This may not be a cosmic observation, but coming from a Novus Ordo priest and bishop, it caused not a few eyebrows to arch and ears to perk up. I might also add that His Excellency knelt for the Canon, while receiving Communion, and remained so until the Eucharist was placed in the tabernacle. We were informed after Mass that the chalice and paten used was the one that had been presented to him by Benedict XVI during his recent trip to America.
There were several hymns that were sung during Communion, and I had been hoping that Panis Angelicus would be included – I was not disappointed; no other could have more befitted the occasion. Everyone was inspired and not a few handkerchiefs were used to dry eyes that had suddenly become quite moist.
When we are grateful to God, “Thank you” seems so inadequate; when we are repenting of our many infidelities, “I’m sorry” simply does not convey the totality of what is in our hearts. The Mass (mercifully for us) says it all. Our Lord’s Eternal Sacrifice (whether in cathedrals or tiny chapels) perfectly accomplishes the aims of worship: praise, thanksgiving, reparation, and supplication. The Father is always pleased with His Son AND with us in so far as we unite our prayers to His Eternal Prayer. I believe – no, I am certain – that by uniting ourselves to what transpired Sunday morning, our sacrifice was made acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. Heaven and earth embraced and we, in all of our sinfulness and pride, were made pleasing in the sight of the Divine Majesty.
Mass came to an end with Archbishop Hughes imparting his blessing to the kneeling congregation. The massive entourage then paused while the choir intoned a beautiful rendition of the Te Deum. The procession exited the church to the majestic, exuberant sounds of organ and choir. The huge congregation was numb with joy.
Before we take our leave of the Church, however, I would like to add one last observation: there is a sound that invariably emanates from various locations at different times during the Mass (often at the most solemn moments), and that is the wail of a crying baby. (Sometimes my own grandchildren, but that is another story.) There are many young couples with large growing families that go to St. Patrick’s, and this appears to be the common observation of all Latin Mass attendees. Tomorrow, these babies will be ten years old, and they, while not fully comprehending, will know that what they do on Sunday is vitally important. The day after tomorrow, they will be fourteen. Whether or not there is a genuine call to the priesthood, every boy will just naturally picture to himself what it would be like for
his parents to go to Mass with him being the priest at the altar. And if the Lord should plant the fragile seed of a vocation in his heart, it will be cast into fertile soil.
We then proceeded to historic Gallier Hall for a reception and brunch, but there were still more thrills to come. Fr. Klores had an exhibition of artifacts that he and St. Patrick’s have amassed over the years. He always wears such beautiful (and historic) vestments, and some of these were on display, including the rose colored chasuble that he wore on Gaudete Sunday during Advent. This particular vestment was about five centuries old and had actually been worn by St. Ignatius!
Afterwards, I spoke briefly with a retired physician who, in a few words, always has something extremely insightful to offer. She made the comment that God was worshipped this morning in New Orleans.