'Dominus Vobiscum' - People from throughout the diocese and beyond filled St. Hedwig Church, Trenton, for the Solemn Pontifical High Mass that Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated Nov. 27.  The Mass was part of the diocese’s observance of the Year of Faith and was also celebrated  on the feast of the Miraculous Medal. A Pontifical Solemn High Mass, which can only be celebrated by a bishop or the pope, has not been celebrated in the Diocese of Trenton in more than 40 years. Craig Pittelli photo
'Dominus Vobiscum' - People from throughout the diocese and beyond filled St. Hedwig Church, Trenton, for the Solemn Pontifical High Mass that Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated Nov. 27.  The Mass was part of the diocese’s observance of the Year of Faith and was also celebrated  on the feast of the Miraculous Medal. A Pontifical Solemn High Mass, which can only be celebrated by a bishop or the pope, has not been celebrated in the Diocese of Trenton in more than 40 years. Craig Pittelli photo

The beauty, reverence, splendor and awe of a traditional Latin Mass was reflected in its highest form in the Diocese of Trenton Nov. 27 as Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated a Solemn Pontifical High Mass in St. Hedwig Church, Trenton.

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The Mass, which was celebrated on the feast of the Miraculous Medal and drew well over 800 people from throughout the diocese and beyond, was part of the diocese’s observance of the Year of Faith. Father Brian Woodrow, diocesan liaison to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, noted that the Mass also marked two historic moments in the life of the Church of Trenton -- it had been more than a half a century, since the implementation of the Second Vatican Council, that that the Pontifical Solemn High Mass had been celebrated in the diocese. It also marked the first anniversary of the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in St. Anthony Church, Hamilton, under the direction of Father Woodrow.

One year ago, Bishop O’Connell responded to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 call to make the Extraordinary Form of the Mass more available to the faithful. The bishop appointed Father Woodrow as the diocesan liaison to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, and it has been Father Woodrow’s responsibility to introduce that form of the Mass to parts of the diocese that do not already have it available.  Masses in the Extraordinary Form in the diocese have been celebrated in St. Anthony Church (of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton) since Nov. 27, 2011, which was the first Sunday of Advent last year.

Meaning and details of the Mass
Explaining a Solemn Pontifical High Mass, Father Woodrow said that it is celebrated by a bishop or the pope and that it is the model and highest form of the Mass that can be celebrated.

The Solemn Pontifical Mass “is the Mass in its most complete, majestic and ritualistic form,” said Father Woodrow. “It is Christ’s beautiful bride, the Church, offering her historic and timeless devotion to our Lord and Savior with our shepherd at the helm.”

Amidst the grand setting of St. Hedwig Church with its high altar, the sacred music was provided by several invited choral groups. The Westminster Kantorei Choir, under the direction of Dr. Amanda Quist, sung the Ordinary of the Mass, (William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices ) while the Mater Ecclesiae Schola Cantorum, from Mater Ecclesiae Parish, Berlin, chanted the Mass Propers.  The Traditional Latin Mass choir from St. Anthony Church led the people’s responses and offered several musical selections.

About 20 minutes prior to the start of the Mass, Bishop O’Connell entered the church wearing the “cappa magna,” which is a 35-foot long cape that represents the earthly glory that he has as a ruler in the Church. The bishop, who was accompanied by a server, spent several minutes in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament before proceeding back into the sacristy to vest for Mass. His vestments included the amice, alb, cincture, stole, maniple and chasuble. The red zucchetto (skull cap), pectoral cross and the miter represented his authority as the bishop, and the ring symbolizes that he is wedded to the diocese. Underneath his chasuble, the bishop also wore the vestments of the subdeacon (the tunicle) and deacon (dalmatic) to show that he has the full authority of Holy Orders. Liturgical gloves were also worn to symbolize purity from sin and the performance of good works.

Once vested for the Mass, the bishop entered the church again where he joined in the grand procession and began the celebration of Mass. Assisting Bishop O’Connell in the sanctuary were priests from the Diocese of Trenton, as well as visiting priests from other New Jersey dioceses. The priests served in various liturgical roles such as deacon, subdeacon, assistant deacon of the throne , assistant priest, master of ceremonies of the throne, master of ceremonies of the altar, subdeacon of the cross and sacristans.

The many altar servers present hailed predominantly from parishes throughout the Diocese of Trenton while the girls who participated in the entrance procession were members of the Maidens of the Miraculous Medal.

The Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated in Latin with the priest facing toward “liturgical east.” This is typically where the high altar, tabernacle and crucifix are situated. In the Traditional Latin Mass, the celebrant offers the prayers to Almighty God on behalf of the people, who are invited to actively participate by uniting their prayers to those of the Celebrant who is offering the sacrifice.  Sacred silence is also noted in the Traditional Latin Mass, particularly during the canon.

‘O Mary, conceived without sin…’
Centering his homily on the feast of the Miraculous Medal, Bishop O’Connell recounted how devotion to the Blessed Mother through the Miraculous Medal traces back to July, 1830. The Blessed Virgin Mary, through a series of apparitions to St. Catharine Laboure, a young, French novice in the Daughters of Charity in Paris, France, requested that the medal be struck with an image that shows the Blessed Mother standing on a globe with rays of light streaming from her outstretched hands. Around Mary is the inscription: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us, who have recourse to thee.” On the reverse side of the medal shows a large “M” with a bar through it and a cross over it. 

According to St. Catherine Laboure, the Blessed Mother said that, “Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.”

Bishop O’Connell acknowledged that while the story itself seemed miraculous enough, the story did not end with the visions. He then said that with the approval of the Church, medals were struck, as Catherine had described, and were distributed throughout Paris. Almost immediately, those who wore the medal began reporting miracles and great graces.

Even though it has been more than 180 years since the Marian apparitions, Bishop O’Connell reminded the throng in St. Hedwig Church of how millions of Miraculous Medals have been distributed all over the world, “with millions of favors received by those who have worn them through the intercession of the Mother of God – and our Mother, Mary.”

Although it might be difficult for one to fathom the concept of a medal as being miraculous, Bishop O’Connell said “the Miraculous Medal is, indeed, a miraculous witness to the miracle that the true faith and the power of prayer work in our not so miraculous, everyday lives.”

“The Miraculous Medal is not a superstitious, magical, good-luck charm. The medal is the profound realization that God works miracles – the same kind of miracles that Jesus worked in the Gospels – just for the asking in faith,” said Bishop O’Connell.

Beverly Sce was many of the Mass-goers in St. Hedwig Church who remarked on having a long-time appreciation for the Traditional Latin Mass, and regarded the opportunity to witness a Solemn Pontifical High Mass as being a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Noting that although she is a resident of Yardley, Pa., and a member of St. Ignatius Parish, there, Sce said that she regularly attends the Traditional Latin Mass in St. Anthony Parish because it brings back memories of the Mass she grew up with in her childhood and because “I love the reverence and prayerfulness of the Mass.”

And now to have attended the first Solemn Pontifical Mass in the Trenton Diocese with Bishop O’Connell, she said, “This was really a wonderful gift.”