Liturgically, no week in the year has more consecutive feast days than this past week beginning last Monday with the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, followed by Tuesday's feast of the martyrs Saint Wenceslaus and Saint Lawrence Ruiz and his companion martyrs in Nagasaki, Japan, the Feast of the Archangels Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael on Wednesday, the Feast of that distinguished Doctor of the Church Saint Jerome on Thursday. Friday is, of course, the Feast of the newest Doctor of the Church - the Little Flower Saint Therese of the Child Jesus from Lisieux, France. Saturday we finish a string of six feast days with the Feast of Guardian Angels interrupted by the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time before we celebrate the Feast of one of the greatest and beloved missionaries in Church history Saint Francis of Assisi as we enter October - the Month of Mary and her Holy Rosary. One of the most enticing and beautiful aspects of our liturgy are the seasons and feast days when we are offered the opportunity to realize what the cycles mean and why we celebrate such feasts. This week runs the gamut from the first saints - the Archangels to one of the most recent, just canonized a few years ago by Pope John Paul II who has been as busy as ever in preparations for Jubilee 2000.
That's quite a week! And quite a month ahead - all kicked off with a festive celebration in St. Peter's Square this weekend. Sunday there will be a beatification ceremony and before that on Friday night there'll be fireworks as the Holy Father blesses and officially unveils the new look St. Peter's. We are now three months from the Jubilee Year 2000, in the double digits in the countdown. Big things are in store at the Vatican for the coming year as we all know and probably the biggest surprise for anyone who has seen St. Peter's magnificent basilica is the brown, graying, sometimes black facade of the centuries-old edifice and center of Catholicism. Well, get that picture out of your mind because what you'll see is a brand new look. You might call it the "White House on Vatican Hill" from recent pictures that illustrates a bright, light almost white exterior after the scaffolding was peeled away in time for today's celebration by the Pope who will bless the new look. Gone are the dark colors caused by smog, pollution from car, bus and truck exhaust, soot in the air and hundreds and hundreds of years of the faithful holding candles where wax buildup and smoke-crusted pillars turned the original look to a dull, dark, dirty look. It was about time St. Peter's got a face-lift and it is now finished just in time for the new millennium.
Some who have seen the "new look" decry the stark contrast and accuse restoration artists of making it too much like a Disney cell while forgetting history. Few realize the original design by Baroque master Donato Bramante in 1607 was bright with hues of pink and yellow. With the two-year restoration completed this week, it has now been restored to near its original look when it was completed during the reign of Pope Paul V in 1612. It has to shock many that the balcony frame where the Holy Father often addresses the massive crowds in St. Peter is actually highlighted with a different color. It is now very distinctive, showing light shades of green and red. Who knew? Also completed this month was the great square and the sweeping Bernini columns named for the architect Gianlorenzo Bernini who completed this immense project in 1666 during the pontificates of Pope Alexander VII and Pope Clement IX. These also were light and bright to match Bramante's color scheme and today we can see the blend and similarities. Many forget that marble came in colors, mostly pastels and whites, but definitely colorful.
The Vatican is not alone in its transition back to a more Renaissance look color-wise. All of Rome, in preparation for the millennium celebrations when millions are expected to descend on the eternal city, is undergoing a series of restorations from the Trevi Fountain to the Collisseum colors are finding their way in, replacing the dull terra cotta, ocher and other earth tones that were produced more from years of pollution than the original color they were. Now artists, who have meticulously studied the Baroque and Renaissance period, realize color was part and parcel of the architecture and art of those times. This became more than evident a few years ago when they completed restoration and cleaning of Michelangelo's brilliant frescoes in the Sistine Chapel - most notably the ceiling. Many accused the restorers of enhancing the colors and, in effect, making a travesty of the master's work. But they failed to realize that is how Michelangelo intended it to be - bright and colorful pastels that merely faded over the years.
The costs for this project were enormous and this editor is proud to say the Knights of Columbus played an important part in all of this. But then this great fraternity is an expert at this. Working with the Architectural Prefect of the Fabric of Saint Peter as early as 1984, they undertook the reality of a complete restoration of the facade of St. Peter's. Working in installments, most of this work has now been completed and the Knights have contributed greatly in financing this massive decade-long project. The Knights got involved because the structures of the Holy See on Vatican Hill represent and symbolize the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We can all be proud of our faith and proud also of the main church of our faith - St. Peter's in Rome. Some are appalled at the post-modern look, but it's really post-Renaissance and a shining example of true Baroque architecture - what the building was meant to convey in its lines and design by Bramante. Even St. Peter himself would be proud of the results.
Now the St. Peter's Square and Basilica have been transformed back to their original lustre and, like Cinderella, are dressed to the nines for the big celebration tonight when for the first time since anyone can remember a fireworks display will accompany the Pope's blessing as thousands will flock into the square and do a double take at the new look. If you're planning on a pilgrimage to Rome this year or next. We want to prepare you for the shock, a pleasant shock, but nevertheless a shock to the system so used to the old, gray/earthy look. You won't believe your eyes. Regardless of what some critics say, it's truly stunning and beautiful and a fitting tribute to a Church nearing its 2000th birthday. After all she isn't getting older, only better! One can see so much more detail and appreciate the intricate art and lettering on the facade of the magnificent, sacred edifice. Saint Peter and Saint Paul, both standing sentinel on either side facing out into St. Peter's Square, never looked better. As one tourist remarked the other day when he saw the new look, "For a Church about to turn 2000, she looks great!"