Monday, April 2, 2012

Seven years ago today, on April 2, 2005, Blessed Pope John Paul II died after almost 27 years as successor of St. Peter. He was 84.

I went into St. Peter’s Basilica today, to visit the late Pope’s tomb.

A Mass was being celebrated, in Italian. It ended with a hymn to Mary, the Salve Regina.

A Polish priest who stood next to me at the back of the congregation sang the words with feeling, and in a Polish accent, so that I felt I could, in a way, hear the voice of John Paul himself, whose devotion to Mary strengthened and guided him throughout his life.

The Polish priest, Father Jan Ligeza, a composer and a scholar of sacred music who has a parish in Jacksonville, Florida, in the United States, after the hymn ended, went to the altar and knelt for some minutes before the tomb of his fellow countryman.

(Above, Father Jan Ligeza, a Polish priest, kneels in prayer before the tomb of “Ioannes Paulus II” — Pope John Paul II — in St. Peter’s Basilica on April 2, 2012, the 7th anniversary of John Paul’s death in 2005)

I then walked with Father Ligeza through the basilica. By chance we met Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the archpriest of the basilica, as he was giving final instructions to workers preparing to clean the altar, and to dust and shine the baldacchino over the altar, in preparation for the Easter Triduum celebrations here later this week.

I was astonished to see the workers on the top of the baldacchino, perched precariously.

I had never before seen anyone on top of the baldacchino, and asked the cardinal how often this cleaning was done.

“We do it twice a year,” Cardinal Comastri told me. “Before Christmas and before Easter.”

If one looks closely at the pictures below, one can see workers on the very top of the baldacchino, the canopy that rises above the main altar in St. Peter’s.

The workers reached the baldacchino by being lifted up on a tall, motorized ladder, which was stabilized at its base by wide-spread red-painted steel legs that resembled the legs of a gigantic spider.

Next to the altar, workers were preparing special seating for the Holy Week liturgies…

…and shining the marble floor of the basilica with an enormous mechanized floor polisher.

So Rome is already preparing to celebrate a splendid Easter Vigil liturgy, though first must come Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the silence of Holy Saturday — a silence which seems in some way analogous to what often seems the silence of God in the face of the sorrows and injustices of this fallen world.

When the Easter Vigil liturgy, therefore, is celebrated on Saturday evening, and the darkened basilica suddenly is lit up with 5,000 or more candles, and the bronze baldacchino which rises over the altar then shines in the reflected light, we may thank the anonymous workmen who worked long hours to prepare for that moment.

I thought there was no better way to end this brief email than to give the text of the Marian hymn which was sung before John Paul’s tomb this morning.

Latin Text

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

V. Ora pro nobis sancta Dei Genetrix.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Traditional English Translation (North America):
(in the version used by Catholics in the United Kingdom and in the Anglo-Catholic version, the wording “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears” is used in the 5th line)

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
R. that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Here are links to three different sung versions of the hymn:

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