In his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei—For the Indiction of the Year of Faith Pope Benedict outlined his reason for proclaiming the year: “Ever since the start of my ministry as successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. During the homily at the Mass marking the inauguration of my pontificate I said: ‘The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.’… We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden.”
Following the Holy Father’s instructions, the United States bishops came up with a number of initiatives. They include Archbishop Cordileone’s letter, a “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty,” which is “…essentially a call to prayer, penance, and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty in our country.” The letter lists five ways to participate, one of which is to attend just such a Holy Hour as the archbishop was leading. The other four are: to abstain from meat or fast on Fridays; to pray the rosary daily; to participate in the June-July 2013 Fortnight for Religious Freedom; and, for pastors, to include specific prayers for life, marriage, and religious liberty in the Sunday Prayers of the Faithful.
The first Holy Hour at St. Mary’s Cathedral was held in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the area in the cathedral where the altar of repose is located. At least 100 of the faithful were in attendance, including members of the Missionaries of Charity, recognizable by their habits. Other religious sisters, (including Sr. Mary Ignatius, who earned a moment of fame last year as “the texting nun” when a picture of her checking her smartphone at an anti-HHS Mandate Rally went semi-viral) were there. The chapel, an open space in the cathedral, has kneelers for about 40-50 persons. All were filled for the Holy Hour, resulting in at least as many of the faithful being forced to sit and kneel in pews in the cathedral’s nave. Unfortunately, given the architecture of the cathedral, the pews face more towards the main altar than the tabernacle, so that the faithful had to twist around in the pews to face the Blessed Sacrament and the archbishop. Given this configuration, and the number of the faithful who attended the Holy Hour, which may have been a surprise, the cathedral staff may want to consider exposing the Blessed Sacrament at the main altar for future Holy Hours.
At exposition, “O Salutaris Hostia” was sung. In addition to the presence of so many sisters, who are generally good singers, members of the cathedral’s superb choir were in attendance, and the hymn was beautiful. The reading was Deuteronomy 30:15-20: “Choose Life.” Following the reading, the archbishop gave a short homily, stressing that a respect for all life, a recognition of the unique condition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman producing children, and the respect for religious liberty are necessary conditions for a healthy society. He noted that it was no accident that that the founding fathers of the United States understood this, nor was it an accident that they thought that without a virtuous people democracy is not possible.
The homily was followed by a period of silent contemplation, then a recitation of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Each decade was preceded with a reading from the Gospel, followed by a reflection on the reading by Father John Talesfore, the cathedral’s rector. Archbishop Cordileone then led his flock in the rosary.
At Benediction, the faithful sang the “Tantum Ergo.” Holy Hour closed with the hymn “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.”