I settled into my seat and began to take in the athmosphere. The Roman diocesan choir were practicing under the baton of Mons Marco Frisina accompanied by a little portable pipe-organ. (I kid you not!) I'm not sure quite what to make of Mons Frisina's music - I think it's better than most of the modern church music out there but I'm sometimes dubious about his choice of soloists. The place filled up much more quickly than normal - I think the fact that Corpus Christi was so much earlier than normal this year helped. Those students and priests studying in Rome haven't yet entered into the examination period and the weather was not quite as hot as it has been for previous Corpus Christi celebrations. There was, of course, the novelty of the new Pope too.
The various seats reserved for prelates filled up more slowly. Every now and then a Monsignor or Bishop would arrive whilst the Vatican MCs walked the seminarians from the Seminario Romano through the ceremony. At about 20 to 7 the seats reserved for the curia began to fill. The explaination is simple. A coach service is laid on from the Vatican to the Lateran for those who work in the curia. It amuses me no end to think of all these monsignori, bishops, archbishops and cardinals finishing their day's work, changing into their best cassock and getting aboard a fleet of buses like so many schoolboys on an excursion. I was slightly surprised to see the likes of Cardinal Ruini and Sodano show up in choral dress. 'Aren't they going to concelebrate?' asked a friend. I checked the booklet. Nope, no concelebrants. The Holy Father is going to say the entire Mass himself. This was something new for me - a Papal Mass without concelebrants. I was also surprised at the number of (permanent) deacons around the place in matching dalmatics.
'Is that her?' I asked my friend.
'Stampa, Ingrid Stampa. Ratzinger's secretary.'
This was another novelty. Previously we would have spotted Archbishop Dziwicz, Pope John Paul's right hand man amongst those assisint him. Now Benedict's right hand man is a woman and sits with the other members of the Papal family who take care of the Holy Father's personal arrangements.
At about 7pm the Swiss Guards appeared, the choir began to sing, and the Pope emerged from the Lateran basilica preceded by processional cross, thurible, servers and deacons. Everyone stood up and there was a round of applause. Applause for Benedict is a much more restrained phenomenon than it was for his predecessor. It's not that we respect or love him any the less. However, one simply understands that whilst the ailing JPII seemed to draw strength from the reaction of the crowd, Benedict is much more business-like. He incensed the altar as my friend whispered to me that we'd probably never seen John Paul fit enough to incense the altar.
The Mass proceded as normal. One or two people stood up after the second reading, and fidning themselves alone sat down again. It wasn't quite time for the Gospel acclaimation. First there had to be the wonderful Corpus Christi sequence the Lauda Sion. I think this is my favourite sequence. A friend once told me that the words (thank you St Thomas!) and music came straight from Heaven and it's hard to argue with him. (English tranlsation here)
After the Gospel the Holy Father spoke very powerfully about the Eucharist sanctifying the city. Zenit summarises as follows:
In his homily, Benedict XVI made a comparison between the Holy Thursday procession, in which the Church "accompanies Jesus in his solitude, toward the way of the cross," and the Corpus Christi procession, which "responds symbolically to the Risen One's mandate" to evangelize.It's a very Ratzingarian (is there such a word?) homily. He likes to draw scriptural parallels and is very Christocentric in approach.
"We take Christ, present in the figure of bread, through the streets of our city," the Holy Father said.
"We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness," he added. "May our streets be Jesus' streets! May our homes be homes for him and with him! May his presence penetrate our daily life.
"With this gesture, we place before his eyes the sufferings of the sick, the loneliness of young people and the elderly, temptations, fears, our whole life."
At the offertory we were presented with another Benedictine novelty. The bread for consecration was held in ciboria by the dozens of deacons I mentioned previously. This I had not seen before. Normally at the very large Vatican litugies dozens of ciboria are held by the priests and deacons who are to distribute communion (there would not be space enough on the altar). This time, however we had the Bishop of Rome surrounded by the deacons of the city - a very evocative reference back to the history of the Roman Church.
After communion the Holy Father changed out of his chasuble and into a white cope. This is something that John Paul was unable to do in recent years. He knelt on a prie-dieu and incensed the Sacrament as the procession formed up.
(To be continued)