National Catholic Register


Massive Masses

Papal Liturgies Need Massive Preparation, U.S. Liturgist Says


February 24-March 1, 2008 Issue | Posted 2/19/08 at 1:50 PM


Msgr. Anthony Sherman is the associate director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship. As such, he is overseeing coordination of the liturgical events as part of Pope Benedict XVI’s April visit to Washington, D.C., and New York.

Msgr. Sherman is a member of the American Academy of Liturgy and the Catholic Academy of Liturgy. He holds a master’s degree in theology from the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

He recently spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake from his office in Washington.

What is your role for the upcoming papal visit?

I am the liturgical coordinator. Anything that has to do with an official liturgy when produced by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., or New York comes to us and then has to be worked up into what will become the papal Sacramentary or Missal. It will be revised by Msgr. Guido Marini, the Pope’s master of ceremonies, who makes suggestions and changes. Then it will be put into a book that’s about 130 pages, which the Pope uses for his journey.

When did all of the liturgical planning begin?

It began shortly after Thanksgiving and became very intense. Contacts were made with Msgr. Guido Marini in January and other contacts will take place to seek approval of content. Msgr. Marini may even come and visit to see what each place looks like.

What are the major challenges in planning these events?

The major challenges for the dioceses are trying to get these liturgies together. There are huge questions — things such as where will the Holy Father, bishops and priests vest, and where will the entourage that accompanies the Holy Father, which is about 30 people, stay, and how will they get from place to place.

When you have a Mass in a stadium, you have to build an altar area. They have to figure out what this space will look like. Whoever has been chosen to be the reader, you have to determine where they’re supposed to be, and the Secret Service has to clear you for that.

There are many logistical questions and the masters of ceremonies have to take care of these to make sure everything works. At Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, for Pope John Paul II’s 1995 visit, there were 45 masters of ceremonies. No single person can keep everything together in such massive places.

For example, someone has to be responsible for the people who are carrying the gifts up to the Holy Father. That’s easy in a parish, but when you’re in the middle of Nationals Stadium that’s much more difficult.

How many liturgical events are you planning for?

The events which we define as liturgical include: evening prayer with the American bishops at the National Shrine on Wednesday, April 16, the Celebration of the Eucharist at Nationals Park on Thursday, April 17.

While it hasn’t been finalized, it’s been suggested that it will a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit.

On Friday, April 18, there will be an evening ecumenical prayer service at the Church of St. Joseph (in Manhattan). On Saturday morning, April 19, there will be Mass at the Cathedral of St. Patrick with priests and religious. On Saturday afternoon, he will meet with young people with disabilities at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. On Sunday, April 20, there will be a prayer service at ground zero, and the closing Eucharist at Yankee Stadium.

Not only will that be the fifth Sunday of Easter, but it will also commemorate the bicentennial anniversary founding of five dioceses — Baltimore, Boston, Louisville, New York and Philadelphia.

Is there an overarching theme that will tie the events together?

Yes, the theme of hope is taken from the Pope’s recent encyclical. That theme begins to take on different aspects at each of the different celebrations. The theme at Nationals Stadium is: “Make All New in Christ our Hope.” The theme for the ecumenical prayer service is: “Christ Our Hope for Unity.” The Saturday celebration of the Eucharist’s theme is: “Saved by Hope.” The prayer service at the seminary’s theme is: Christ, Our Hope for All God’s Children.”

At the meeting with youth and seminarians the theme is: “Christ’s Disciples on a Journey of Hope.” At Ground Zero the theme is: “Christ Our Hope for Peace,” and the theme at the closing Eucharist is: “Christ, Our Easter Hope.”

How many others are involved in the planning?

I deal with one person in each diocese. Each diocese needs to have a huge group of people for these events. They usually form big committees.

Each needs masters of ceremonies who will take care of the bishops and priests. They have to get together hundreds of priests and deacons to help with Communion. There are many logistical questions, for example the challenge of distributing Communion to 60,000 people.

How is that handled?

Depending upon what arena you’re in, they’ll set up individual sacristies. From those, you might place hosts that are already consecrated.

The Holy Father will have a couple hundred ciboria that will be consecrated and led by priests to their particular station. Usually, the security for these events is quite tight. You can’t have people roaming all over the place. It takes quite a bit of liturgical planning.

When we had the Celebration of the Eucharist at Aqueduct, a number of hosts were left over and had to be transported to parishes in the area where they were placed in tabernacles and used on Sunday.

Will there be much difference between the Mass celebrated in D.C. and the Mass celebrated in New York?

Not from what I can see. Obviously, based on the readings, what he says within those will be different, but ritually they will be very much the same. It’s the basic Roman liturgy.

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.