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Online Edition - Vol. 5, No. 1: March 1999

How to Give Holy Communion to 100,000+

New Standard Set for Order, Reverence in Large Masses

How can Holy Communion be given to more than a hundred thousand people? With grace, reverence, and dispatch ­ at least, if you are one of the 900-plus priests and as many volunteer ushers at the Papal Mass held at the Trans World Dome on January 27th during the Holy Father's visit to Saint Louis.

The crowd of 104,000 was called the largest-ever indoor gathering in the US ­ and the largest indoor Mass.

Seen from the upper levels of the dome the procession was especially impressive. During the Prayers of the Faithful, two lines -- the priests in white chasubles, the ushers in yellow vests -- formed silently along the sides of the oval floor. As the two lines merged after the Consecration, just before going into the stands, the ushers opened umbrellas of yellow and white (traditional papal colors). Each usher held the umbrella like a miniature baldacchino over a priest who carried the consecrated Hosts in a golden ciborium. Like the priests' chasubles, the ciboria were made especially for this occasion. (The priests were given the ciboria to use in their parishes.)

The visual effect was striking, and the symbolism required no explanation. The procession streamed smoothly through the entire dome, soon reaching even the uppermost sections.

At each "Communion station" the priest administered the Blessed Sacrament to the rows of people, who were instructed in which direction to move by other ushers.

The entire flawlessly executed plan for administering Communion to tens of thousands took exactly twenty-two minutes ­ reportedly two minutes longer than predicted by a Vatican official.

One seasoned reporter later remarked, "I have attended more than a dozen Papal Masses. Not one of them ­ with the exception of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome ­ had the majestic elegance, the beautiful music and the carefully choreographed Communion lines of the Trans World Dome Mass".

Some were surprised to learn that the priests and ushers who formed the procession had never rehearsed. One volunteer usher, a stockbroker, said that they were given their instructions about two hours before the Mass began.

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