In an effort to complete this series prior to Sunday’s Canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, I’m posting an extra, early post this week…
Throughout the Liturgy of the Word, the wind continued to blow from the East, warm and steady and the pages in the book of the Gospel continued to turn as the book lay open on JPII’s coffin. What a fitting send-off. This man’s words, rooted in the Gospel, fanned the flames of Truth and Charity in the hearts of us who saw him, heard him, or read him.
After the Gospel, Joseph Cardinal Raztinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, delivered a beautiful homily, capturing the sentiments of the crowd well: “our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude.” Cardinal Raztinger’s homily highlighted the trust that John Paul II placed in the Gospel, in the words of Christ. “’Follow me.’ The Risen Lord said these words to Peter.” Each paragraph of the homily began with those words – “follow me!” John Paul the great, followed and was a witness to the hope that only comes from the Gospel, from a close relationship with Christ.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist began and we were cognizant that there were hundreds of thousands of people in the piazza and we were a hundred yards outside the piazza. Though there were hundreds of priests concelebrating the Eucharist, we most likely would not receive communion. One of the seminarians simply said, “just pray.” Pray we did and instead of a spiritual communion, the Body and Blood of our Lord, borne by scores of priests, came to us. Walking down the center of the Via and toward the east end of the street, priests stopped at spots along the barricades and ministered communion to the faithful until they ran out. And yet it seemed no one around us, nor as far as I could see, was left waiting for communion. All were fed.
In Italy, no one lines up for Holy Communion so it was a logistical mess to receive the host and return to our spots, but I returned to Sara who was kneeling on the cobblestone via and knelt next to her. I looked around at the thousands of others with us who had all received Communion and the magnitude of the Church, the body of Christ, impressed me like it never had before. Theologians say that if we could truly see what happens at every Mass, we would see Heaven on Earth. On the day of the funeral of Pope John Paul II, whether we stepped up and touched Heaven or whether heaven leaned down to us and gave us a kiss, the presence of Christ was tangible.
With a very emotional and intense distribution of the Holy Eucharist over, Cardinal Ratzinger stood and summoned the crowd to prayer, “Pregiamo.” Let us pray. The crowd rose to pray and at the same time the Jumbrotrons showed a picture of the coffin of JPII. The Book of the Gospels, with its pages stirred by the wind, was now shut. End of Story.
I don’t know if it was the reaction to that image, or a reaction to the miraculous Holy Communion we’d all just received, but a wave of applause rose from the crowd. I’m not one to applaud ever during Mass but I found myself applauding for no easily expressible reason. Cardinal Ratzinger was shown on the Jumbotron as he stood looking out over crowd and the expression on his face was one of awe. He made no attempt to stifle the spontaneous expression of thanks and joy from the crowd, he just stood and let the applause go. One of the seminarians I was with grinned at me, shook his head, and shrugged his shoulders. All I could think about were his words earlier, “It’s the Holy Spirit, Man!” It was one of the most powerful expressions of prayer I’ve ever experienced.