Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

An Experience Not To Be Missed

By DEACON DENNIS DORNER, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Atlanta | Published April 24, 2008

 This trip almost didn’t happen. As of Thursday morning I had not received my ticket to the papal Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. We frantically called the papal visit office there, but they were evidently swamped with calls and never did return our call. Fortunately the ticket arrived at my home on Thursday afternoon.

Two tickets for the Mass were offered to the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Father Kevin Peek, the chaplain at Blessed Trinity High School, was the other fortunate recipient.

We arrived in New York just in time to miss the Holy Father’s motorcade as he headed to St. Joseph Seminary for vespers. Ducking into a restaurant a few blocks away, we were surprised to see the pope’s police escort started coming down the street right in front of the place we were having dinner. We quickly got up from our table, ran to the sidewalk and were able to see Pope Benedict in the back of his limousine as he passed. People all around were in a very festive mood, and signs in the windows of stores and restaurants all welcomed the pope to their neighborhood.

At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday we arrived at the Palace Hotel, the former chancery for the Archdiocese of New York and the designated location for all priests and deacons to gather and vest prior to the papal Mass. After donning our liturgical garb, we were ushered out the back of the hotel and through a swarm of New York’s finest on streets blocked to all car and pedestrian travel on our two-block walk to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Every ticket was individually coded for the bearer and gave the seat assignment. Imagine my surprise when I was seated in row 5 on the aisle with a perfect view of the altar and the center aisle for the procession.

By 8:30 a.m. the entire church was filled with bishops, priests, deacons, religious and, of course, the press and some fortunate special invitees. Ushers dressed in morning coats and white gloves were everywhere, as well as a huge phalanx of security.

At a little before 9 a.m., a great roar of excitement could be heard outside the Cathedral as the Holy Father arrived. To the delight of the entire congregation, he entered from the back of St. Patrick’s and came down the center aisle accompanied by the sound of cheers and applause. Promptly at 9:15 the procession began to gather right in front of our section, and within a couple of minutes our Holy Father passed right next to me, heading to the back of the church. He smiled warmly to everyone he made contact with. All those around me were stuck by how energetic he appeared.

As with all papal liturgies, the Mass was a beautiful display of the sacred. Representative of the diversity of the church, especially in the New York Archdiocese, readings and the prayers of the faithful were presented in different languages. The music also reflected this rich multicultural heritage.

Addressing the congregation of cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons and religious, the pope spoke of the need for unity and our responsibility for calling people to the light, the message of Jesus Christ.

He also continued his theme of hope that comes from our relationship with the Risen Christ, and he concluded with a reminder of how thankful we should be that through the celebration of the Eucharist we cooperate in building up the Mystical Body of Christ.

At the end of the Mass in what clearly were impromptu remarks, the pope expressed his gratitude and joy for the outpouring of love that he has felt during his visit to the United States. Once again the entire cathedral erupted in applause, affirming his feelings.

As the procession left the church the comments around me were all in the same vein—how incredibly fortunate we were to be present and celebrate this first-ever Mass with the Vicar of Christ in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Deacon Dennis Dorner is the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.