Gesturing toward the charcoal drawings spread across the table in his Northeast Washington studio, sculptor Frederick Hart explained his design for the processional cross that will be used in the mass on the Mall celebrated by Pope John Paul II next month.
"The corpus -- that's what you call the figure of Christ -- will be inverted [recessed] in the metal cross. And while the rest of the cross will be an unpolished, gun-metal gray, that interior figure will be highly polished. So when the sunlight hits it, it will leap out like a jewel."
Hart's cross, which at this point is just a charcoal drawing, will be created over the next few weeks as it is sculpted in clay, cast in plaster, molded in plastic, shaped in molten pewter and then polished.
Hart, who is better known for his stone carvings at the Washington Cathedral, is one of the many artists and craftsmen who will spend the remaining days until the pope's arrival here on Oct. 6 in workshops and studios, rehearsal rooms and auditoriums, as they build or polish objects or practice music for the pontiff's two-day visit.
The main focus of energy is the mass on the Mall on Sunday, Oct. 7, which is expected to attract between 500,000 and 1 million people and will be televised in this country. The mass is viewed by the craftsmen involved as the highlight of the pope's week-long visit to the United States. Most of the artisans are Catholic, and they say they view their work -- much of which is being donated -- as a great and humbling honor.
"It's very difficult for a non-Catholic to understand the almost personal relationship you feel for the pope," said architect Robert C. Smith, whose firm, Smith Segretti Tepper, designed the altar and furniture that will be used in the mass.
"It's not the kind of feeling you have for a president even if you like him. For one thing, he (the pope) is a foreigner and you never expect to see him."
For Hart and his colleague Darrell Acree, who designed the chalice (the cup used for the communion wine) and paten (the plate used for the communion wafers, or hosts), their instructions were fairly straightforward: The objects had to be simple, larger than normal, have an American flavor and not be too heavy.
They chose pewter because it was one of the first metals used in the United States, it is easy to work with, and because it isn't gaudy -- "the emphasis has to be on simplicity and humility," said Acree, an architect and designer who is an active member of St. Matthew's parish.
The inside of the cup and the bowl of the paten will be highly polished like the figure of Christ, in contrast to the dull finish of the rest of the surface. This symbolizes the spiritual emphasis, "that the inteior is more important than the outward trappings," as well as the "inner mystery," Hart said.
Meanwhile, in McLean, three Italian-born cabinet makers on the staff of the Arlington Woodworking Co., are making the massive pieces of furniture designed by Smith -- the "albo" or pulpit, the 10-foot-long, 15-inch-thick altar table, four candle stands, and the "presiding chair" in which the pope will sit during the mass.
Each piece is being made of solid red oak in a style the designer hopes is "simple and elegant." The style is angular and unornamented; pictures of the designs were not permitted because they want to preserve the impact of the creation.
"You have to have things this massive when you're coming in for aerial shots," said Ronald P. Renaldi, president of Arlington Woodworking, which was founded by his father. Renaldi, a Catholic with seven children, said his firm was doing the work "at cost."
"When I asked the men to do this job, I said, "This will mean working overtime, working weekends, to get it finished in time. I want to know if you are prepared for that and your families are prepared for that. They came back and said, 'yes.' We're all so honored to be doing something for the pope."
The details involved in assembling the elements of the mass range from figuring out what fuel will burn high and smokeless for the four flames around the altar to the bas-relief sculpture that will dominate the 22-foot-high reredos, or backdrop, that frames the altar platform.
At the same time, college choirs from five schools are practicing separately the six pieces of music they will sing together at a 500-voice chorale at the mass and about 1,000 other members of local parish choirs are waiting for the music they will sing as a mass choir leading the congregation's responses.
While Paul Traver of the University of Maryland, who will direct the chorale at the mass, tries to decide who to use in the 15-piece wind orchestra that was going to be made up of members of the National Symphony Orchestra before the White House preempted their services, Bob Smith will decide who will make the cushion for the chair that the pope will sit on.
The cabinetmakers, Louis Vella, John Vella, and Carmello Fiumara, have made alterations already. After standing in it himself, Smith decided the "albo" was three inches too tall, and he asked the cabinetmakers to change it. "These Italian fellows, they love these things they're working on," Smith said. "It's like they're talking about their children."
The liturgical vessels, the cross, the furniture, and the sculpture, will be saved and used again -- where, no one yet knows. The platforms will be dismantled. The cost is estimated by Smith at $200,000, including the value of donated labor and materials.
Only Rinaldi, so far, is not planning to attend the mass.
"With that crowd, I wouldn't go into Washington by Metro or any other way," he said. "Television is so great, it's hard for me to see why anyone would go through that traffic. I don't want to compare the pope to a football game, but just like a game, I think you'll be able to hear and see more on TV."