Stadium Mass comparisons

George Weigel, whose syndicated column appears in many Catholic newspapers, had an essay April 8 in The Sun in Baltimore in which he opined how new Nationals Park in Washington “is simply not in the same league — either figuratively or literally” with Oriole Park at Camden Yards in his native Baltimore.

“One you’re inside, the (Washington) park’s connection to the city simply disappears; sitting just above the Nats’ bullpen on opening night, I could just as well have been in Reston (Va.), Hagerstown (Md.) or Omaha (Neb.), judging from what I could see,” Weigel wrote.

Camden Yards, he continued, is “far better integrated into the cityscape, far more redolent of real baseball — as distingushed from the `entertainment experience’ — and far more intimate (how Nationals Park has 7,000 fewer seats and manages to feel much bigger is a mystery).”

That may be an apt comparison. The Orioles have been playing ball at Camden Yards for 16 years, while the Washington Nationals haven’t even played 16 games in their new home for fans to pick a favorite.

But what about the stadiums’ suitability for a papal Mass? Surely Weigel, as the official biographer of Pope John Paul II, was able to snag a ticket to the late pope’s 1995 Mass at Camden Yards, just as he had to have been on hand at Nationals Park for Pope Benedict’s April 17 Mass there. I left a message April 18 on his phone at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where he’s a senior fellow, seeking his comment. He hasn’t returned my call.

Granted, Weigel has been busy providing papal-trip color commentary on NBC, its New York and Washington affiliates, and its MSNBC cable outlet to return calls. So in the absence of his perspective, I’ll offer my view, having been privileged to be present at two papal Masses in large stadiums.

Nationals Park is, from all appearances, a fine place to take in a papal Mass. My seat was in the press box — one of the highest above home plate of all Major League Baseball parks — but when your assigned seat seems to be just one seat to the third-base side of home plate (never mind that Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in deep center field), you can take in the entire spectacle.

The half-inch-thick glass panes stayed closed throughout the Mass, which muffled somewhat the crowd noise, and the only audio piped in to the press box was Pope Benedict’s homily. That, and the fact that writers had to write what they were seeing as they were seeing it makes for an experience not quite as prayerful as one would like.

I was also at the Silverdome in the Detroit suburbs — where the Detroit Lions used to play football– in 1987 for the papal Mass there. Like in Washington, I was responsible for feature-story contributions. But my outpost was not the press box but a seat in a 1,500-voice choir. My seat was on the 50-yard line. Just my luck that Pope John Paul celebrated Mass from the 20.

Being closer — and among — a Mass assembly twice the size of the Nationals Park Mass was a near-unimaginable thrill. It’s a wonder the choir could enunciate properly what with all of the faces frozen in permanent smiles. And, there’s something to be said about your first papal Mass. Maybe the thrill decays after the first dozen or so.

In any event, given that pro football games routinely run longer than three hours, and that major league ballgames hover around two hours and 50 minutes on average, a two-hour papal Mass is a blessing in more ways than one!

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