I’d like to dedicate this post to all of the hours of sleep that selflessly and nobly gave their lives to make the events described below possible.
It all started with the papal audience on Wednesday morning. This event commenced at 10:30, and the gates didn’t open until 7:30, but people in the know informed my group of friends and me that, in order to get good seats, one had to arrive by 6:30 AM. So that’s what I did. Nothing, however, says “worth it” like having the pope pass within ten feet of you three times in one morning (we were right on one of the corners very close to the front).
I also got to catch up on some lost sleep while they were translating everything he said into just about every language known to man. And, I avoided the surprisingly common syndrome known as “death-by-four-foot-tall-octogenarian-Italian-lady,” which is a known menace at such events. So, it was without reservation a great morning. Significant portions of the rest of the day were spent visiting other churches, but none were particularly extraordinary.
Thursday morning, running on about two hours of sleep, I went to Mass at a little church called Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri, dedicated to the mother of Mary. Even though this city is filled to the brim with Marian churches, this one seemed fitting on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary. And, it offered a Mass at a good time (7:00) and was relatively close (right inside the Vatican walls). A picture wouldn’t add much, since there wasn’t much special about the church except for the fact that about 25 religious sisters of at least ten different orders were attending Mass. As far as experiences that let you know you’re immersed in holiness, there’s really nun better than that.
After a very productive composition lesson and Italian class (no adjective necessary.), I attended a lecture given by a visiting CUA economics professor about problems associated with human capital and barriers to entry in the labor market in developing nations. There was free food and drink, which was much appreciated. The talk itself was pretty engaging, but would have been moreso had I gotten more than two hours of sleep the night before (and perhaps without the food and drink, too…). Thursday was rounded off by drinks at a favorite local pub in celebration of a friend’s birthday. It was a nonstop day, but a good one. I slept well that night.
In this instance, “well” means deeply, because I woke up early to attend one of the best Masses I’ve been to in Rome thus far. This is fitting, because it was the Feast of Saint Cecilia, patroness of musicians.
This is the (amazingly beautiful) crypt of the church Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. I got to participate as one of two chanters in the Missa Cantata–extraordinary form Mass with all the propers and ordinary sung in plainchant. But there was nothing plain about it: Father Gray was amazing, of course; the other singer–who is the director of liturgical music at the NAC–was a very fine musician; the space was obviously excellent. This was one of the best Masses I’ve attended during my entire time here.
Right after this, I left for Norcia with my roommates for a well-needed guys weekend. What is Norcia, you ask? Nothing shy of the most beautiful place outside of Utah.
Norcia is not just beautiful because it resembles everything Middle Earth wishes it could be. Though that is a nice feature too. Norcia, birthplace of St. Benedict, is also the home of an amazing Benedictine monastery. There is nothing not to love about them. The community is incredibly young, vibrant, dedicated and reverent. They chant the liturgy of the hours in Latin extremely well, and intimately understand the value of doing so–standing in the dark, simple church immersed in this ancient, mysterious music that echoes with resonant profundity is a humbling and world-changing experience. We stayed in their guesthouse, which means we were invited to dine with them, and their food is simple but delicious (and all eaten in silence, which is quite a fertile opportunity for contemplation). And, though I don’t want to say “most importantly,” they also brew fantastic beer. The slogan for this ambrosia–taken from Psalms–is “ut laetificet cor,” meaning “that the heart might be made happy.” And it is.
So, Friday and Saturday were spent soaking in all these good things (and still not sleeping…). In its placidity and serenity, Norcia was the perfect antithesis to and respite from everything crazy and hectic (though wonderful) that Rome has to offer.
Such as seeing the pope again for Mass today! This required the same mind-numbingly early antics as the Wednesday audience, but was again completely worth it, as we got seats very close to the front, and he again passed right by us. This Mass, Christ the King, closed the year of Faith. And the relics of St. Peter were brought out in public for the first time, which was very exciting. And I got a plenary indulgence and fulfilled my Sunday Mass obligation without even having to enter a church! Seems odd, but I suppose it’s Rome.