The opening Mass for World Youth Day begins approximately six hours from now, but despite the invasion of pilgrims and confusion in the streets of Madrid, one area that is very well-organized involves the priests who have come to WYD. More than 14,000 priests are expected to be in attendance, but more than just attending—they will be serving the millions of young faithful who have come to Madrid to celebrate their faith by celebrating the Catholic sacraments.
The credentials that the priests had to apply for online many months ago through the office of the archbishop of Madrid have been prepared and are currently being distributed to the priests in the various places they are staying—from schools, to parishes, to rectories and hotels. It consists of a photo ID with the word SACERDOTES—Spanish for “priest”—written in red capital letters across the front. Priests are expected to wear these and show them whenever conducting Catholic services throughout the week. Of course, most priests at World Youth Day are of the “John Paul II generation,” and typically dress in their clerical wear or religious habits, making it easy to identify them. It is the same for most of the religious sisters who are attendance. This is a generation that does not see a value in being religiously invisible to the Church and world around them.
Along with the credentials, each priest was given two small pages of instructions, one concerning the hearing of confessions and another about how to plan for concelebrating the final Mass with the Pope on Sunday, August 21 at Cuatro Ventos, the airfield outside of Madrid where World Youth Day closing events will take place. Regarding confessions, the archbishop of Madrid’s only instruction is that he has delegated authority to all credentialed priests to absolve the sin of abortion, which automatically incurs latae sententiae excommunication, normally lifted by the local ordinary and his immediate delegates. The leaflet to the priests states the following:
In order for all the faithful who attend the celebrations of the World Youth Day in Madrid to more easily reach the fruits of the divine grace, which will open the doors of a new life, the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid has given to all of the legitimate priests who are approved to hear sacramental confessions, and who are in the archdiocese of Madrid from the 15th to the 22nd of August, delegated authority to remit through the sacrament of penance the latae sententiae excommunication for the crime of abortion attempted to the faithful with perfect contrition, while imposing a suitable penance.
While it might not be expected that large numbers of the presumably fervent Catholics attending World Youth Day would have had recourse to abortion, a Dominican priest from France explained that most of the 50,000 pilgrims coming to Madrid from his country are not practicing Catholics. Recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation could be a very important part of their pilgrimage, and abortion could be a part of their past. He said that he thought most of the young Catholics he has met from the United States are “really Catholic,” but that overall it is a good thing that priests will have this capacity to absolve the sin of abortion while at World Youth Day.
Priests have also been advised in their credential packet that the Vatican, through the Apostolic Penitentiary, has granted indulges to World Youth Day pilgrims. The decree of August 2, 2011 states:
a plenary indulgence to all of the faithful that devoutly participate in any of the sacred celebrations or pious acts that take place in Madrid during the World Youth Day, as in its solemn conclusion, provided that, having received the sacrament of penance and being truly repentant, they also receive sacred communion and pray for His Holiness´ intentions. It will also be possible to receive partial indulgence to all the faithful that, wherever they are, raise prayers to the Lord with a contrite heart during the days of the World Youth Day celebrations so that it may boost the youth to charity and it may give them the strength to proclaim the Gospel with their own lives.
Confessions are a big part of World Youth Day. There is the official Reconciliation Park with 200 modern confessions set up in Retiro Park, called the “Feast of Forgiveness.” This is where priests will be available every day this week in a myriad of languages to hear confessions. But confessions are also heard in all kinds of venues and at all times throughout the week; most priests report being very busy with pilgrim -penitents. Confessions will also be heard throughout the night and early morning hours at the airfield after the papal vigil ceremony on Saturday.
The accredited priests are also welcome to concelebrate the final Mass with the Pope, but it will be an early call for them, even though the Mass does not begin until 10 am. They have been advised “in order to have access to their places for concelebration, all priests should be at the entry gate at 5 am with their proper accreditation, and alb.” Stoles and chasubles have been especially sewn for the papal Mass and will be waiting on the priests’ seats for them. They will be simple white, synthetic chasubles with a red World Youth Day cross printed across the front, and priests are welcome to take them home from World Youth Day. Arte Granda, a well-known purveyor of ecclesiastical items based in Madrid, was put in charge of producing all the vestments for the papal Mass.
Fr. Matthew Gamber, S.J. is blogging this week from World Youth Day in Madrid, where he is leading a group of 53 college-aged pilgrims from the United States.
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