Mass Appeal

More than 46,000 people attended Pope Benedict's papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., on April 17. Benedict is on his first papal visit to the United States this week.
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

"S o do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat? or 'What are we to drink? What are we to wear?' . . . "

-- Matthew 6:31

But what are we to eat? What are we to drink?

Doughnuts and coffee, of course. It's the loaves and fishes of church life, and not at typical Nationals Park price points: A mere two bucks for two fresh cinnamon-powdered doughnuts and a lo-ooo-ng line of Catholics seeking coffee in the ethereal pre-dawn light before Pope Benedict XVI's arrival for Mass at the stadium yesterday. You can get Nutri-Grain bars or muffins, too, but go easy. Remember the days of fasting before Mass? Offer it up.

And what are we to wear?

The pope is all for layering, as usual, in his sharp, Holy Spirit-red vestments of satin -- handmade in the Netherlands and gifted to him by the Archdiocese of Washington just for the occasion. (That's what you do when the pope visits; the usual swag for the clotheshorse pontiff who has everything is more clothes. In turn, he gifted Archbishop Donald Wuerl, after opening prayers at Mass, with a red chasuble embroidered with the Vatican's insignia. Stop it, you two.)

But what are the rest of us to wear? Something sensible, of course. All Catholics know this. It's the ultimate wear-your-good-jeans-to-Mass event, but bring a windbreaker, or a cardigan. Is it really so wrong to consider the lilies of the field and decide that 46,000 Catholics just look Catholic? Talking about you, Kathleen: denim jumper, tights, loafers, headband, cute bob, as if you'd just stepped off a page from that old "Growing Up Catholic" book. And you, Tom -- get the $32 Vatican-yellow Benedict polo shirt, and wear it to Queen of Heaven next Sunday, and get the $20 "Property of Benedict XVI" athletic tee, for the gym.

And the schoolgirl look. Let's just say this now: If you have a "thing" for that, you probably just ought to walk over to a D.C. police officer and ask him to escort you away from the stadium. This is not the "pretend" teenage Catholic schoolgirl look of Gwen Stefani videos and last Halloween. We mean the genuine creature. They are everywhere, in short skirts and knee socks and rolling their sleepy eyes at everything -- and then alertly erupting into a giggle fit when a bunch of rosy-cheeked Gonzaga boys stroll by.

Which reminds us: Confession! Yes! Forgive us, fathers, all 100 or so of you hearing confessions before Mass, has it really been the 10th grade since our last confession? Past the ground-level concessionaires, on the Nationals Park plaza, there's a big white tent, under which priests are on call to unburden you of your sins.

The periwinkle-habited sisters of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of MatarĂ¡, an Argentina-based missionary order, have volunteered to direct confession traffic, making sure the arriving busloads of faithful are in the fastest lines for penance -- "Only about a 15-minute wait at this point," one of the sisters promises, beckoning us, handing us a brochure from the archdiocese on "How to Make a Good Confession." Under an "examination of conscience" checklist, it doesn't look good for your correspondent. Did I take the name of God in vain? Did I miss Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation? Did I hate or quarrel with anyone, or desire revenge? Did I get drunk? Did I take illicit drugs? Did I willfully look at por--

Sister, we are going to have to come back later, after another cinnamon doughnut.

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