martes, 29 de mayo de 2007

SOME GREGORIAN CHANT AND A LOT OF FRIENDSHIP

Thursday, May 24, 2007
By Harold Segura

Today, like everyday, we left the hotel at 7:15 a.m. in order to arrive at the Basilica 15 minutes later. The Eucharistic celebration —solemn, formal and with all the adornments that this kind of occasion deserves— starts at 8:00 a.m. How would I have liked to witness something similar to this when I was a child! But I, a neighborhood Catholic (I was a Catholic until I was 18)—the most impressive thing I could ever get was the mass before dawn on Easter Sunday, plus an occasional solemn mass like for the perpetual vows of a nun who was my mother’s friend, or the funeral of a priest who was my father’s friend. As far as hierarchical rank, I didn’t go beyond being an amateur altar boy at the Church of St. Francis in Cali, Colombia.

Between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. there’s time for the Cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons to go down to the basement to look for their liturgical vestments and get ready for the entrance procession. Everything happens in perfect order. There’s no room for improvisation. The chasuble, the bishop’s cap (red or purple, depending on the rank), the alb, the stole and the red liturgy book. At the Mass, everything is in full order. Well-read prayers, well-intoned Gregorian chant, homilies written beforehand, paused readers, everything in its place and every person where he or she ought to be. It looks as if they had rehearsed everything many times. I wonder—what to they do to achieve such perfection? For me—whenever I’m the minister for a solemn wedding, there’s always something that goes wrong. Either the young boy drops the rings, or the bride’s bouquet slips from her hands, or the bridegroom forgets what he’s supposed to say.

One hour later, when the Mass is over, we all go to the meeting hall. Once again we enter the ample basement of the Basilica. The vestments go back to their places, and so do the participants. By the way, the order in which we sit corresponds to rank and dignity—the Cardinals in front, the bishops in the middle, the priests and religious a little farther behind, and the experts and observers far into the back… and then journalists, theologians and advisor Bible scholars, all outside the hall.

Once in the hall, before starting with the program items, a prayer written by Benedict XVI for this Conference. There are four working sessions during the day. Between sessions, the required prayers—at 16:00 hours, fifteen minutes for the Ninth Hour; and at 19:30, half an hour for Vespers. Each of those prayers includes Gregorian chant, slow-paced hymns, read prayers, sung psalms and, in the afternoon, the lectio divina.

In the sessions of yesterday (Wednesday) and of today (Thursday), our work has focused on the redaction of the first draft of the final document. There are sixteen small working groups, each one connected to one of the seven Commissions (one Commission for each of the seven chapters in the outline agreed on last Monday). The methodology is quite creative and technical, but the time for producing the texts is short , which has made several participants uncomfortable as they feel that much is being asked of us while they’re giving us too little time. The fact is that today we already have the first draft of the whole document. We will read it and then, before the day is over, personal comments will be submitted.

But let us continue with each day’s work. The working day concludes at 20:00 hours, and then we go back to the hotel. All the hotels are modest. This city had never imagined it would some day host such illustrious visitors—I mean the Cardinals and Bishops. Thus, the five or six hotels could easily be classified, not according to the number of stars (I don’t think they would reach two or three), but according to the number of Cardinals staying there. For instance, I’m in a “three-Cardinal” hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all happen in an environment of kind fellowship. Conversations have to do with anything, and laughter comes easily. It is in the meals, in the car to the hotel, in the streets or in the hallways that ecumenical rapprochement emerges quite naturally. It has always been like that—ecumenism blooms easily when friendship is present.

(Paraphrase of John 15:15: “We will no longer call each other separated brethren, but friends, because a separated brother doesn’t know what is said about him when he’s not present; but we will call each other friends, because we all confess the same Father, who calls us to listen to his voice and to obey him.”)

Harold