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Online Edition: May 2010
Vol. XVI, No. 3
Pentecost

Bishop Slattery Celebrates Pontifical High Mass at National Shrine

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

“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”.

With these words, Bishop Edward J. Slattery, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, began his homily at a Pontifical High Mass (extraordinary form) to honor the fifth anniversary of the elevation to the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. The Mass, held at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, on April 24, was the first Solemn High Mass to be celebrated at the National Shrine in more than forty years.

Other dignitaries present included Cardinal William Baum, who was archbishop of Washington, DC (1973-80) before his two decades of service at the Vatican (Prefect, Congregation for Catholic Education, 1980-1990; Major Penitentiary, 1990-2001). More than 3500 people reportedly attended the Mass, as well as nearly 100 priests and seminarians. Priests from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, an order dedicated to the extraordinary form, assisted.

The Mass was sponsored by the Paulus Institute for the Propagation of the Sacred Liturgy, organized by Paul King of Bethesda, Maryland, to support Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict’s 2007 document on Mass in the extraordinary form. The Paulus Institute had been planning the event for three years. The celebrant was to have been Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, who was president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei from 2000 until his retirement in 2009, and was also Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy from 1996 to 2006.

A few days before the Mass, however, the cardinal was criticized for a letter he had written in September 2001 congratulating a French bishop “for not denouncing” an abusive priest to the civil authorities. The cardinal’s letter was posted on a French web site April 15. An intense controversy ensued.

Two days before the event, a notice that Cardinal Castrillón would not be the celebrant appeared on the Paulus Institute’s web site, noting that “this action will help maintain the solemnity, reverence and beauty of the Mass” honoring Pope Benedict XVI’s fifth anniversary as pope. Bishop Slattery valiantly stepped into the breach.

Bishop Slattery’s homily did not refer directly to clergy sex-abuse, nor to sharp media criticism aimed at the Catholic Church and at Pope Benedict’s role in handling these cases. But this context made the Oklahoma bishop’s observations about the redemptive aspects of suffering united in Christ especially compelling and timely.

“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”, Bishop Slattery said.

This enormous suffering which can take on so many varied physical, mental, and emotional forms will reduce us to fear and trembling — if we do not remember that Christ — our Pasch — has been raised from the dead.… Jesus is our Pasch, our hope and our light.

He makes Himself most present in the suffering of His people and this is the mystery of which we must speak today, for when we speak of His saving presence and proclaim His infinite love in the midst of our suffering, when we seek His light and refuse to surrender to the darkness, we receive that light which is the life of men; that light which, as Saint John reminds us in the prologue to his Gospel, can never be overcome by the darkness, no matter how thick, no matter how choking.

Our suffering is thus transformed by His presence. It no longer has the power to alienate or isolate us. Neither can it dehumanize us nor destroy us. Suffering, however long and terrible it may be, has only the power to reveal Christ among us, and He is the mercy and the forgiveness of God.

The mystery then, of which we speak, is the light that shines in the darkness, Christ Our Lord, Who reveals Himself most wondrously to those who suffer so that suffering and death can do nothing more than bring us to the mercy of the Father.

“Obedience”, Bishop Slattery continued, is “the heart of the life of the disciple and the key to suffering in Christ and with Christ.… For those whose lives are centered in Christ, obedience is that movement which the heart makes when it leaps in joy having once discovered the truth.… Suffering then, yours, mine, the pontiff’s, is at the heart of personal holiness, because it is our sharing in the obedience of Jesus which reveals His glory. It is the means by which we are made witnesses of His suffering and sharers in the glory to come”.

Bishop Slattery’s complete homily is accessible on the Diocese of Tulsa web site: www.dioceseoftulsa.org/article.asp?nID=1451.

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