In sharp contrast with the Masses that Mexicans typically experience in their parishes, the pontiff's liturgy—including the Scripture readings—was sung in Gregorian chant and other solemn forms of choral music. Moreover, the central and holiest part of the Mass, the canon, was said entirely in Latin (my emphasis).
The pope celebrated before a large solid-block altar adorned on its front with an elaborate silver facade containing a traditional image of Jesus as the Lamb of God in the center. On each side were three large candles, and in the center a crucifix stood, facing the pope, with a small candle next to it. Although many bishops were present in the presbyterum, only two concelebrated with Benedict at the altar (my emphasis).
Although the solemnity and traditional style of the pontiff's Mass has become familiar to visitors to St. Peter's Basilica, the pope's way of worship is revolutionary in a land that has long succumbed to modern fashions in liturgical worship. In contemporary Mexico, guitars and entertainment-style musical forms have become common, and choral singing is confined largely to weddings and funerals. Latin has all but disappeared, embraced only by the country's small but growing traditionalist movement. Mass attendance is in sharp decline.
The venue in which the papal Mass was celebrated was also likely to send a message to Mexicans. Bicentennial Park is situated within eyeshot of the Christ the King monument, built by Catholics following the Mexican government's persecution of the Church during the 1930s and 40s. Benedict was brought to the site in a helicopter, which flew over the statue before landing close to the park itself. Following the Mass, he presented local Church officials with a mosaic depiction of Christ the King, to be displayed in the sanctuary of Cubilete Hill, where the statue is situated.
Submission to Christ the King
To the crowd of an estimated 650,000 faithful present at the park, the Holy Father gave a sermon recalling the importance of hope in times of distress (my emphasis), and invoking the kingship of Christ as foremost a spiritual phenomenon.
"In this monument, Christ the King is represented. But the crowns that accompany him, one of sovereignty and the other of thorns, indicate that his reality is not as many understood it and understand it. His kingdom does not consist in the power of his armies to subdue others by force or violence. It is founded in a greater power that wins hearts: the love of God that he has brought to the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he has given testimony," said Benedict.
Crowds surround the popemobile carrying Pope Benedict XVI as he arrives to celebrate Mass. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
"This is his authority, which no one can take away nor which anyone should forget. It is therefore just that, above all, this sanctuary should be a place of pilgrimage, of fervent prayer, of conversion, of reconciliation, of the search for the truth and the reception of grace. To him, to Christ, we ask that he reigns in our hearts, making us pure, docile, hopeful, and valiant in humility."
The pope also recalled the document Disciples and Missionaries of Christ, issued in Aparacedia, Brazil, during his 2007 trip there, which offers an approach to restoring a faith in decline and retreat in the face of modern culture and the rise of Protestant sects, and the Continental Mission, which seeks to implement the document.
"In Aparecida, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean have felt with clearness the necessity of confirming, renovating, and revitalizing the newness of the Gospel, rooted in the history of these lands 'from the personal and communitarian encounter with Jesus Christ, which raises up disciples and missionaries' (final document 11)," said Benedict.
"The Continental Mission, which is now being carried out diocese by diocese on this continent, has precisely the task of bringing this conviction to all Christians and ecclesial communions, so that they might resist the temptation of a faith that is superficial and routine, sometimes fragmentary and incoherent," he added.
The pope followed the Mass with the Angelus, prayed completely in Latin, and then a brief discourse on devotion to the Virgin Mary, and in particular the veneration of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, reminding the crowd that "to love her is to be committed to listening to her Son, to venerate Guadalupe is to live according to the words of the blessed fruit of her womb."
However, the pope also reminded the faithful of the danger of excess and superstition in the cult of the Virgin Mary and other saints, a problem often encountered in Mexico, quoting the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, that such devotion "does not consist in a sterile and transitory sentimentalism, nor in a vain credulity, but rather proceeds from a true faith, that brings us to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God and inclines us to a filial love towards our Mother and the imitation of her virtues."