Cardinal Zen at St. Mary’sWashington DC

His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kium, SDB, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, graced the congregation of St. Mary Mother of God Church in Washington DC at the 09:00 Sunday morning Mass. His Eminence said the Mass, surely the first cardinal to say the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Mary’s in decades, and perhaps the first cardinal in the Archdiocese of Washington in 45 years.  He also said an 11:30 Mass in Chinese.

His Eminence spoke clearly and eloquently from the pulpit. In his homily, he spoke of the Tridentine rite of Holy Mass connecting us to the many centuries of Catholic faithful, and to the Latin language, the language of the Catholic Church, connecting us to all Catholics around the world. He did so especially in the context of the Church in China, asking for our prayers that the weak might be strengthened  and the strong sustained. He explained the conditions of the Church in China, particularly the mainland, and the oppressive role of the Chinese government in its relations with the Church, including illicitly appointing bishops.

His Eminence was born in Shanghai in 1932 into a devout Catholic family and fled to Hong Kong to escape Communist rule. He served as Bishop of Hong Kong, being elevated to the cardinalate in 2006.  He is widely respected for his work on political freedom and religious liberty and his criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.

The occurrence of the Mass was momentous, since no cardinal in the Archdiocese of Washington has openly celebrated such a Mass in decades.  We thought that possibly this was the first such Mass ever said in the Archdiocese of Washington by a cardinal (not counting the National Shrine, which is not a diocesan church). That, however,  is probably not the case, with our thanks to Rev. Fr. Daniel D’Alliessi, resident (from New York City) at St. Mary’s rectory and frequent celebrant at St. Mary’s. The Archdiocese of Washington is of comparatively recent origin, formed out of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1947, then under Archbishop O’Boyle. The Archdiocese was given Metropolitan status in 1965 and His Excellency elevated to the cardinalate in 1967. Possibly Cardinal O’Boyle said the TLM then, but in the interim 1966 missal. We have been further advised by the knowledgeable sacristan of St. Mary’s, Mr. Richard Costello, that the funeral Mass in 1963 for Jack Kennedy was said at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, which was a traditional requiem Mass celebrated by Cardinal Cushing of Boston.  Notwithstanding, the Mass said by His Eminence Cardinal Zen was an unexpected gift for which the congregation was truly grateful. We have Our Holy Father Good Pope Benedict XVI to thank as well for his beneficent liturgical direction.

To those outside the Washington region who may read this, St. Mary’s is the mother lode (the “source and summit?”) for the traditional Mass in Greater Washington. Even as many TLM’s are being said in the nearby Diocese of Arlington and as others are being re-established in Washington, St. Mary’s continues to thrive.  St. Mary’s was one of the earliest in the United States to acquire an indult—in November 1988. Originally granted by Cardinal James Hickey to his friend Fr. Aldo Petrini, who had previously offered the traditional Mass privately at Carroll Manor nursing home in Maryland(!), and expecting only a minuscule turnout of the faithful, 700 reportedly came, pouring out onto 5th Street. Fr. Petrini later related to his congregation that Cardinal Hickey was literally speechless on the phone (“there was silence on the other end”) when told of the overwhelming reception by the Catholic Faithful– a progenitor of things to come at the direction of the Holy Ghost.

St. Mary’s is also the home of the Altar of the Miraculous Medal, a treasure visible in one of the accompanying photographs here as beautifully restored by Pastor Alfred J. Harris. This altar, and St. Mary’s as well, were prominent during the Second World War, when  thousands lined the streets to come to the Monday noon Mass offered at the Altar of the Miraculous Medal– the number 10,000 has been mentioned. The Monday Mass is still said at 12:05 at St. Mary’s after a radio broadcast of devotions at 11:30, as has occurred for half a century or more. A wonderful opportunity for those in the downtown Washington area!

St. Mary’s has a 09:00 Sunday Traditional Latin Mass, which is a Low Mass (Missa Recitata) during June to August and then alternates as a Missa Recitata and Missa Contata (sung Mass) the rest of the year, all with post-Mass coffee hour in the school basement next door. Every second Sunday, September through May, an additional Missa Solemnis (Solemn/High Mass), also sung, is celebrated at 5 pm. On Friday of every week at 08:00 a.m., a Low Mass is said at the side altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus—in profound and reverent stillness and pregnant consciousness and participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  On every 1st Saturday, there is an 09:00 Low Mass and subsequent recitation of the rosary and benediction. On holy days of obligation and some other feast days occurring on weekdays, a 7:30 pm TLM is said. All are welcome to all these Masses, especially newcomers, (more) young families, and students.


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