Honoring Mary in the ‘Mass of the Americas’

A Dec. 8 Mass at San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption honored our Blessed Mother as both the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

(photo: Register Files)

On Dec. 8, San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption celebrated a “Mass of the Americas” especially commissioned to honor our Blessed Mother as both the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

EWTN broadcast this historic Mass live.

“The Mass of the Americas is a simultaneous tribute to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (the patroness of the United States) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (the patroness of both Mexico and all the Americas),” wrote Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone ahead of the Mass.

The Mass is written in Spanish, English, Latin and Nahuatl, the Aztec language that Our Lady of Guadalupe used in speaking with St. Juan Diego, whose feast day is Dec. 9.

“It is in the high sacred music traditions of the Church, yet incorporates traditional Mexican folkloric hymns to Mary, especially La Guadalupana,” added Archbishop Corileone. “The Mass of the Americas thus embodies the way Mary, our Mother, unites all of us as God’s children.”

The Mass was the first new Mass commissioned for the cathedral since the installation Mass in 1971. The archdiocese’s own Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship helped to bring this Mass, the idea of Archbishop Cordileone, to fruition. The institute’s award-winning composer-in-residence, Frank La Rocca, composed the music, and the institute’s professional 16-voices choir, the Benedict Sixteen, served as the chorale.

The Mass was composed for choir, organ, bells, string quartet, guitar and marimba, and the results were a splendid blend of Catholic traditional sacred polyphony and traditional Mexican Marian hymns, especially La Guadalupana. The traditional roots and local elements intertwined beautifully.

The close dates honoring Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe were evident in the prelude to the Mass, as Aztec dancers in native costume and headdresses entered carrying a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe with Juan Diego, displayed before her, gazing at his Mother.

The entrance hymn was a chorus of voices and guitars. Following it was a hymn with a melody echoing traditional Latin hymns and styles, complete with bells and organ.

From the opening greeting from Archbishop Cordileone in both Spanish and English, the Mass continued to mix both languages, with a heavy emphasis on Spanish. Latin elements acted as “grace notes” at times, too.

The Gloria in Excelsis Deo sung in Latin flowed with an affecting combination of traditional classical elements and the beautifully moving strings accented by a classical guitar.

The readings alternated between Spanish and English, and so did Archbishop Cordileone in his homily. Uniting both, he said, “All of us in this family of faith claim her as our most Holy Mother. She is with always as our most Holy Mother.”

Indeed, Mary was honored in the preparatory hymn, a serene and peaceful Ave Maria in a new musical setting that ended with a soprano soaring above the chorus.

Composer La Rocca is well tuned into the Western European music tradition, which accounts for the sacred melodies in the Mass and in the ways they reflect the sacred traditions of music for worship.

For the offertory, the bearers of gifts were dressed as our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego as reminders of the overall theme.

The Sanctus was another of the lovely melodies. The strings, especially violins, added tranquility and beauty.

The Amen was marked by the strum of a gentle guitar much in the style of classical Spanish guitar. Spanish was the language of the Our Father, sung by a soprano cantor and joined by the congregation.

Calming and reverential in melody and song, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) in English was led by a baritone’s “Have mercy on us” alternating with the chorus, as the stings well augmented the plea of the prayer.

In the Agnus Dei, too, La Rocca’s music and adaptations supported the worship.

The rendition of the Communion hymn, Lord, When You Came to the Seashore / Pescador de Hombres was stirring and soul-lifting. This hymn, which was a favorite of St. John Paul II, who could sing it by heart and knew it in the Polish translation as Barka, was written by Father Cesáreo Gabaráin, a Spanish priest and well-known composer of liturgical songs especially meant to evangelize.

Another soul-lifting surprise came with the meditation hymn after Communion, sung by a soprano accompanied by the marimba. The marimba was chosen for the Mass because it’s an instrument native to Central and South America. Soprano and marimba, later joined by soft strings, made for a meditative hymn, combining native notes with Western tradition.

The closing hymn, with discreet organ and bells ringers, was followed by a lively hymn in Spanish. The composer joined Alma Redemptoris Mater and La Guadalupana, tying the themes of the Mass together in song.

Our Lady, pray for us!

The “Mass of the Americas” will be celebrated on an international cathedral tour, including at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedrals in Dallas and Tijuana. More information or for questions about bringing the Mass to a cathedral or mission near you, contact Rose Marie Wong, [email protected].