Benedict XVI’s sermon at St. Patrick’s in NYC

Here is the text of the Holy Father’s sermon from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  My emphases and comments:

Keep in mind that the readings for this Mass will be from the Mass of Pentecost, a theme similar to that celebrated in Nationals Stadium.  The Holy Father is trying to help American’s look for a new "anointing" of the United States, with its special role in the world, by the Holy Ghost.   This is a Votive Mass for the Universal Church.

Keep in mind that this Mass is for priests and religious.  Backdrop: The Holy Father has already addressed issues of the scandals of a few years ago.  He has also called for love by Catholics for their priests.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you, who represent the Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women in consecrated life, and the seminarians of the United States. I thank Cardinal Egan for his warm welcome and the good wishes which he has expressed in your name as I begin the fourth year of my papal ministry. I am happy to celebrate this Mass with you, who have been chosen by the Lord, who have answered his call, and who devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness, the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church in faith, hope and love.

Gathered as we are in this historic cathedral, how can we not think of the countless men and women who have gone before us, [continuity with the past] who labored for the growth of the Church in the United States, and left us a lasting legacy of faith and good works? [legacy's must be respected] In today’s first reading we saw how, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth from the Upper Room to proclaim God’s mighty works to people of every nation and tongue. In this country, the Church’s mission has always involved drawing people "from every nation under heaven" (cf. Acts 2:5) into spiritual unity, and enriching the Body of Christ by the variety of their gifts. [true inculturation, so long as what the Church gives is logically prior to what the world gives] As we give thanks for past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America.  [There is the over-arching theme.] May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!

In this morning’s second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that spiritual unity – the unity which reconciles and enriches diversity – has its origin and supreme model in the life of the triune God.  [Interesting: a theological basis for a pluralistic society and Church in that society - even perhaps a political theory for a nation] As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as "a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit" (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4), is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. Here in this cathedral, our thoughts turn naturally to the heroic witness to the Gospel of life borne by the late Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor. [a great legacy of which New York's Church can ] The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life – our salvation – can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift.

This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: "Choose life!" (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and "institutional" to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.

I am particularly happy that we have gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as "a house of prayer for all peoples" (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. Archbishop John Hughes, who – as Cardinal Egan has reminded us – was responsible for building this venerable edifice, wished it to rise in pure Gothic style. He wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building up of Christ’s body in this land. [Continuity.]  I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.  [Remember that the Holy Father addressed, if I remember correctly, priests and seminarians in a book called Built of Living Stones. We are to be built up in a spiritual ediface, as St. Paul describes.]

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.  [Marvelous.  Simply wonderful.  I give you the chapter from Hawthorne's book here.]

This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, "from the outside": a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to "enter into" the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. [Yes... I find this to be true at times.] It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. [This is a rather strong comment about our society, I think.] You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. "O Lord, my God," the Psalmist sings, "when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 104:30). [Renew the face of the American Church!]  These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. [Life from death... another comment on our society, in a way.  This is not an entire condemnation of course, but an observation.  Life from death or from sterility is, in Scripture, a real sign of God's presence and favor.  It is also what sets Christianity apart from all other religions... creatio ex nihilo.] And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: "where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace" (Adv. Haer. III, 24, 1).

This leads me to a further reflection about the architecture of this church. Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God’s creation. [If the light image perhaps reflected a faith dimension, this will underscore the rational aspect of our faith and the Church.  Faith and reason in harmony.  Light fills a highly "articulated" space.]  Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly "geometer", compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose. Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God’s eternal plan? This requires, as we know, constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring "a fresh, spiritual way of thinking" (cf. Eph 4:23). It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life. Is not this ongoing "intellectual" conversion as necessary as "moral" conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church’s life and mission? [This is fantastic, folks.]

For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, [!  He mentions Vatican II and "disappointment" in the same sentence!] with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family. We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ! In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear "what the Spirit is saying" to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7). In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.  [We seem not to have been moving correctly toward that spiritual renewal in a terribly straight line.]

Was not this unity of vision and purpose – rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice – the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country? We need but think of the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Venerable Michael McGivney, [founder of the Knights of Columbus... recently the decree for his heroic life of virtue, an important step in a cause for beatification, was issued by the Congregation for Saints and approved by the Holy Father.] whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus, or of the legacy of the generations of religious and priests who quietly devoted their lives to serving the People of God in countless schools, hospitals and parishes.  [The KofC are in many ways similar the Catholic Verein phenomenon Papa Ratzinger would have known in German speaking countries.]

[This is where he touches the painful points.]

Here, within the context of our need for the perspective given by faith, and for unity and cooperation in the work of building up the Church, I would like say a word about the sexual abuse that has caused so much suffering. I have already had occasion to speak of this, and of the resulting damage to the community of the faithful. Here I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents. I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular Church and religious community, and a time for healing. I also encourage you to cooperate with your Bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant the Church in America a renewed sense of unity and purpose, as all – Bishops, clergy, religious and laity – move forward in hope, in love for the truth and for one another.  [It is appropriate that he speaks only of ]

Dear friends, these considerations lead me to a final observation about this great cathedral in which we find ourselves. The unity of a Gothic cathedral, we know, is not the static unity of a classical temple, but a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven. [Upward!  Transcendence!  The "vertical" focus of worship!] Here too, we can see a symbol of the Church’s unity, which is the unity – as Saint Paul has told us – of a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose. Here too we see our need to acknowledge and reverence the gifts of each and every member of the body as "manifestations of the Spirit given for the good of all" (1 Cor 12:7). Certainly within the Church’s divinely-willed structure there is a distinction to be made between hierarchical and charismatic gifts (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). Yet the very variety and richness of the graces bestowed by the Spirit invite us constantly to discern how these gifts are to be rightly ordered in the service of the Church’s mission. [Both orders must be respected.] You, dear priests, by sacramental ordination have been configured to Christ, the Head of the Body. You, dear deacons, have been ordained for the service of that Body. You, dear men and women religious, both contemplative and apostolic, have devoted your lives to following the divine Master in generous love and complete devotion to his Gospel. All of you, who fill this cathedral today, as wells as your retired, elderly and infirm brothers and sisters, who unite their prayers and sacrifices to your labors, are called to be forces of unity within Christ’s Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning’s Gospel, into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

So let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple [as I mentioned above...] which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world. If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!

Dear brothers and sisters, in the finest traditions of the Church in this country, may you also be the first friend of the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the sick and all who suffer. [The Holy Father is speaking very much from the point of view of Spe salvi, but do not forget his encyclical Deus caritas est.  Faith is authentic when it also tends to works of mercy, and works of mercy must have the proper starting point.] Act as beacons of hope, casting the light of Christ upon the world, and encouraging young people to discover the beauty of a life given completely to the Lord and his Church. I make this plea [!] in a particular way to the many seminarians and young religious present. All of you have a special place in my heart. Never forget that you are called to carry on, with all the enthusiasm and joy that the Spirit has given you, a work that others have begun, a legacy that one day you too will have to pass on to a new generation. Work generously and joyfully, for he whom you serve is the Lord!  [The Holy Father's motto was "co-workers of the truth".]

The spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, [an apt metaphor for the Church in the modern world] yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God. As we celebrate this Eucharist, let us thank the Lord for allowing us to know him in the communion of the Church, to cooperate in building up his Mystical Body, and in bringing his saving word as good news to the men and women of our time. And when we leave this great church, let us go forth as heralds of hope in the midst of this city, and all those places where God’s grace has placed us. In this way, the Church in America will know a new springtime in the Spirit, and point the way to that other, greater city, the new Jerusalem, whose light is the Lamb (Rev 21:23). For there God is even now preparing for all people a banquet of unending joy and life. Amen.

Truly amazing.

I am struck by the use of the Gothic architecture.

Medieval architecture is distinguished by its "articulation", its division into balanced defined parts or sections.

"Articulation" comes from the Latin word artus, "joint", as in the knuckle or your fingers or joints of your limbs.  Think of St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote in "articles".  Ancient and medieval teachers would organize their arguments and present each point while holding up a hand, palm outward, and pointing to the joints of their fingers as they delivered their points.

In a sense, the articulation of a gothic structure reveals the same organization of thought.  It is highly rational, which gives structure to faith.  Pope Benedict has been very interested in the question of the priority of faith and of reason and how they fit together.  This sermon reveals decades of deep reflection on this relationship of faith and reason.

The Holy Father has articulated a foundation for a new view on the part of clergy for the Church in the United States and their vocations for and within it.

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20 Responses to Benedict XVI’s sermon at St. Patrick’s in NYC

  1. jane says:

    PERFECT Mass!!!! The music is profound. The Ave Maria at the Presentation of the Gifts…who wrote it? I have tears for that piece.

  2. Matt says:

    What a mytic!

  3. Legisperitus says:

    I just missed the consecration. Was it “for all” or “for many”?

  4. jane in memphis says:

    I wonder where I can get a program of the actual music and artists…the ‘program’ I have is incorrect…thank goodness! In my version we were to listen to “Let Us Break Bread Together!” I do hope someone makes a recording of the service…Love the tenor! Help, anyone…

  5. Unless I am mistaken, that Ave Maria was by Franz Biebl.

  6. An American Mother says:

    That is indeed the Biebl “Ave Maria”. Composed rather recently, but firmly grounded in traditional Catholic music.

  7. jane in memphis says:

    oops! I was looking at the program for Yankee Stadium…sorry guys.

  8. DVM says:

    The Pope’s architectural comment is poetic … but odd if not just plain wrong. Is he planning to renovate St. Peter’s?

  9. Martha says:

    “…to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear “what the Spirit is saying” to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7). In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council,…”

    Please, believe me when I say I don’t want to be a party-pooper, a wet blanket, but in the end, are people left with a choice to have Mass A, baseball-stadium-flavor; Mass B, High N.O Cathedral style; Mass C, the Tridentine Mass, the Mass described as the most beautiful this side of heaven?

    Until our Holy Father speaks clearly, with the thunder-voice of heaven, there will be no unity.

  10. DVM says:

    Actually, Gothic architecture was criticized in the Renaissance for its lack of unity and clarity of articulation. The Pope’s comment struck me as odd–a bit of a throw-back to 19th century thought on the subject.

  11. Coletta says:

    Beautiful! I am even more deeply in love with God in His Church.
    Thank you, Father, for your blog and comments.Please pray for me.

  12. An American Mother says:

    Well, we had to listen to “I Am the Bread of Life”, but I have no complaints. No complaints at all. That was a SPLENDID Mass, and the music really could not have been better. The Biebl was sung perfectly (much of it goes into 8 parts). I didn’t catch which Palestrina they sang, but the choir went seamlessly from the lush choral sound of the Biebl to the articulated sound of the Renaissance polyphony. The Beethoven “Hallelujah” from The Mount of Olives is rather difficult, and the choir and orchestra handled it with complete aplomb.

    I figured that the musicians in NYC would not let us down, and they came through like champions. Very worthy music, beautifully sung as an accompaniment to the Mass, not as a performance.

  13. avecrux says:

    “We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ!”
    This – from the Holy Father’s homily – would be a very good quote to use when reintroducing worship ad orientem.

  14. Habemus Papam says:

    Disappointments and division followed Vatican II. We can only move forward together if we turn our gaze together to Christ. This is the heart and soul of this Papacy. The Pope is trying to focus our attention on Christ Crucified whethwr that be in the OF or EF, Latin or vernacular. He has taken on a herculean task in attempting to heal the divisions and while he could or should be more authoritarian he is steering the Church in the right direction. There’s a great deal of frustration following the Washington DC Mass and hopefully that was a watershedd H.H. dislikes these JPII style extavaganzas anyway.

  15. Limbo says:

    “Well, we had to listen to “I Am the Bread of Life”, but I have no complaints. No complaints at all. That was a SPLENDID Mass, and the music really could not have been better. The Biebl was sung perfectly (much of it goes into 8 parts). I didn’t catch which Palestrina they sang, but the choir went seamlessly from the lush choral sound of the Biebl to the articulated sound of the Renaissance polyphony. The Beethoven “Hallelujah” from The Mount of Olives is rather difficult, and the choir and orchestra handled it with complete aplomb.”

    I am glad you liked the music but the Mass was not SPLENDID ! You’ve been bubbling away in the warm fry pan too long.
    It was Novus Ordo, it was not Ad Orientum and was not said in the language of the Church ! NO ONE that I could see knelt for Holy Communion and very few received Holy Communion on the hand – SPLENDID – NO.

  16. Mark says:

    I wonder what the Holy Father will preach about on Pentecost Sunday this year…

  17. John K says:

    Thank you with all my heart for your great service, Father Z! I am able to follow the events in the US from halfway around the world thanks to you. I am sure I speak for everyone when I offer my profound gratitude. My take on the mass on Thursday and the much improved one at St. Patrick’s is that perfection can never be attained here below, but at least we can come to a close approximation. The musical side of the mass is not the most important part of course, but lends itself to a prayerful environment, and what Fr. Z says sometimes about “baby steps” springs to mind (or as they say in China, “man man lai”, “slow slow come”). If there is still room for improvement, it will come with the proper overall orientation setting the standard. Aiya, there’s no pleasing some of you people! (For my part, I would choose a different place to pick nits, namely with a distressing proclivity towards putting apostrophes into plurals I’ve been noticing too much here, but I’m a grammar nazi I know.)

  18. Limbo said:


    I am glad you liked the music but the Mass was not SPLENDID ! You’ve been bubbling away in the warm fry pan too long.
    It was Novus Ordo, it was not Ad Orientum and was not said in the language of the Church ! NO ONE that I could see knelt for Holy Communion and very few received Holy Communion on the hand – SPLENDID – NO.

    *sigh*

    So the Holy Father was bad because he, the Vicar of Christ, celebrated the Ordinary Form of the Mass? And because he celebrated facing the way he’s celebrated every televised Mass I’ve seen him celebrate? And because he didn’t slap people for not kneeling or receiving on the tongue?

    Gracious! St. Cyril talked of the importance of making your hands a throne for the Lord at Communion, and while I understand that abuses were present and the practice was banned, it is important to also note that it is not some newfangled way to do things. (Note that I say this as someone who prefers to receive on the tongue after genuflecting – something I bring up only so you understand that I know exactly Who I receive at Mass, not so that I can demonstrate to anyone that I’m some kind of saint.)

    Like it or not, Limbo, the Ordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, indeed, valid. And that the Holy Father offers Mass this way ought to be enough to prove that for anyone. This was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful Masses I’ve been blessed enough to see.

  19. Limbo says:

    I did not say the Holy Father was bad !! I said the Mass was not splendid.
    I have been to enough ‘splendid’ Masses to know what one is, you obviously have not.
    This is of course not you fault and can be rectified very easily. All you need to do is look up the websites of the Fraternity of St. Peter or the Insitiute of Christ the King Soverign Priest (both Vatican approved) and find out when and where the nearest Traditional Latin Mass is in your area and attend it.
    Then you will know what a ‘splendid’ Mass really is.
    The Holy father is aware of the beauty and depth of the Mass according to the Missal of 1962 otherwise he would not have written extensively about it as a Cardinal nor would he have issued his Motu Propio ‘Summorum Pontificum’ last July making it more freely available to the priests and faithful. I have great compassion and sympathy for the present pope and on this matter.

  20. Limbo,

    I’m glad you clarified. As far as splendid goes, I do think that it is completely possible for a Mass in the Ordinary Form to be so, which I think was shown rather well yesterday at Saint Patrick’s. You are right that I haven’t been to a Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I don’t live anywhere near where one is celebrated (at least in communion with the Church, at any rate).

    I did watch the Extraordinary Form on EWTN (the first one they televised), though. It has great splendor and beauty, but the Ordinary Form is quite capable of having both when celebrated with care and reverence. Both forms can (and do!) nourish our souls.