If you watched the mass on EWTN, you didn’t see the half of it. After a long subway ride and a several-block walk uphill in a freezing, blustery wind, I arrived at the basilica in the early afternoon (T-minus five hours or so), and the place was already jam-packed full of (mostly teenaged and young-adult) pilgrims. It was like being at Atlanta’s Dragon*Con, only it was Catholic and the pilgrims were wearing normal street clothes instead of anime costumes.
I bought a pro-life t-shirt and bracelet at the gift shop, met a group of Catholic graphic novel writers (as I said, it was much like Dragon*Con), then snagged a sandwich in the crypt-level cafeteria, where I shared a table with a Byzantine Catholic from Chicago. He was not in town for the March for Life – he was actually in DC on business – but he was pro-life and agreed with my assertion that the existence of legal abortion is merely a symptom of the increasing selfishness of our society.
After lunch, I decided it was time to go save a seat in the upper church. No chance. By the time I made my way up there, the seats in the pews had already been claimed and young pilgrims in matching sweatshirts (presumably, they dressed alike so they could identify each other in the crowds) were setting up camp on the floor. I went back down to the crypt level and saved a seat in front of one of the big screen televisions in the memorial hall. At T-minus 2 hours or so, I got to meet Fr. Pavone and shake his hand.
To my left, a group of pilgrims from Illinois congregated on the floor of the memorial hall. A couple from Buffalo sat to my right. Not only was the upper church at standing room only, but every single nook and cranny on the crypt level was full. All the little hidden shrines? Full. The crypt church? Full. The memorial hall? Full. I think ten to twenty thousand people showed up for this mass. It was insane. Some people passed out and had to be carried out on stretchers.
The opening procession took upwards of half an hour; the number of seminarians, deacons, priests, and bishops filing into the church was absolutely extraordinary. Unfortunately, my ankles and knees began to hurt after the first ten minutes, so I had to sit; thanks to my rheumatoid arthritis, I’m just not equipped to endure that much pageantry. By the way, Sub Spike, I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear that they didn’t stint on the “smells and bells” – and they used the long form of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Cardinal DiNardo’s homily focused on the need to present a united front to the larger culture. The cardinal also seemed especially pleased that so many young people were getting involved in the pro-life movement. I privately agreed with the sentiment.
I was very impressed with the team of Eucharistic ministers who were charged with the task of offering communion to everyone in the overflow areas. They were very swift and efficient (relatively speaking – it was still a very long mass). I was less impressed with the AV team, though. We couldn’t hear what was going on upstairs until they were half-way finished with the second reading, which I personally found very frustrating.
Still, even with the aforementioned technical bugs, this mass was a very worthwhile experience — though I think I’d like to return to the basilica on a quieter day so I can do some more exploring.