Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Life... and the "Central Beatitude"

Later today sees one of the high points of the Stateside church's year as upwards of 15,000 pack into every possible inch of Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the traditional Vigil Mass for Life in advance of tomorrow's March.

Beyond the mega-liturgy -- customarily the largest gathering of the American bishops outside the bench's spring and fall plenary meetings -- the nation's largest church doubles for the night as one of the capital's biggest inns as the sleeping bags of room-less pilgrims from around the country take up practically all the lower level's open space. While the Life Mass has invariably drawn a standing-room house since its inception in 1976, in recent years the crowd's swelled to the point that satellite rites to accommodate the overflow have had to be planned elsewhere on the campus of the Catholic University of America, whose buildings have likewise taken in campers unable to fit in the "Shrine Hotel."

To kick off the annual series of events symbolizing the church's commitment to the unborn on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, yet again anchoring the hourlong procession of prelates, clerics and seminarians by the hundreds will be the bench's chairman for Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, nearing the halfway point of his three-year term in the USCCB's pre-eminent policy post, its holder always tasked with the celebrating and preaching duties for the Vigil Eucharist.

In a marked contrast to his predecessors in the pro-life chair, the first Southern cardinal's homiletic tone for the event has, to date, been less policy-heavy "State of the Movement" message (complete with a score of applause breaks) than a meditation on the spiritual underpinnings of the pro-life cause. And his style has tended to be more free-wheeling, to boot; more comfortable and evocative when he's working without a script, DiNardo essentially shredded his intended text for last year's preach once he ascended the Basilica's High Pulpit.

In that light, the Mass begins at 6.30 Eastern and fullvideo of this year's chairman's meditation will run shortly after delivery... but for now, here's an advance reflection culled from the archives -- a transcribed edition of the Houston prelate's early morning pre-March homily from 2008: