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Liturgy at the Basilica: An Inside Look

At Mary’s Shrine, pilgrims and visitors can encounter Christ through His Blessed Mother, the Word, the Sacraments, and Devotions. What goes into planning and preparing for over 2,500 Masses held each year at the Basilica? Take a glimpse into the roles of two individuals who are vital to the daily operations of the liturgy at the Basilica: Joe Basalla (full-time) and Victor David (part-time). As liturgy assistants, they manage the scheduling of the priests for Masses and Confessions, as well as over 300 liturgical volunteers that serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Lectors, and altar servers. In the first segment of a two-part interview, they share their thoughts about liturgy – at the Basilica and in the Catholic Church as a whole.

Victor David (left) and Joe Basalla (right)

How long have you worked at the Basilica, and what brought you here?

Joe: I have worked at the Basilica since July 2019, but before being a full-time employee I volunteered at the Shrine as an altar server during my four years at Catholic University. I was primarily drawn to the Shrine by the liturgy, which offers a foretaste of heaven to all who join us for Mass.

Victor: I recently completed my fourth year as a Liturgy Assistant. I began volunteering at the Basilica in 2010, when I began undergraduate studies nearby at the Catholic University of America.

What preparation goes into the six Masses that happen at the Basilica each day?

J: I think our visitors and pilgrims would be amazed at the time and effort that goes into coordinating all our Masses. Each Mass requires priests and volunteers to be scheduled. Most of this work is done using an online software now, but it still requires a volley of emails and phone calls to ensure that each Mass has a celebrant, a server, a lector, and, if needed, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Additionally, our Sacristan Sisters work diligently to ensure that all the vessels, books and vestments are properly prepared for all our Masses.

Liturgical volunteers at the Basilica

Beyond our regular schedule of Masses, additional help is recruited to help with feast days, ordinations, religious professions, and the numerous other liturgical celebrations which occur here. Victor and I work in tandem for these events to ensure that all the volunteers know exactly what to do – whether we’re handing out informational packets or running rehearsals.

V: For a typical Mass, we make sure volunteers are present and know which role they are going to fulfill. We help lectors if they have a question about pronunciation or need reminding of announcements to make. We make sure there are enough altar servers for the liturgy and help the master of ceremonies (if not one of us) with planning for communion. For larger Masses, we may need to rehearse a special procession or create packets of notes for those involved.

Out of all the liturgical celebrations you have been involved in, which were most impactful to you and why?

Holy Thursday at the Basilica
Holy Thursday at the Basilica

J: I think the most impactful liturgical celebration I was involved with was the Trinity Dome Dedication Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. At the time I was a volunteer, but to be able to say that I served the Mass which completed the Upper Church of the National Shrine is such a special privilege. I still think about that day each time I pass under the Trinity Dome.

V: Holy Week has always had a special place for me. It begins with the triumphant feeling of Palm Sunday, followed by the symbolism of foot-washing on Holy Thursday. Then there’s the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, and the Easter fire lights the darkened church at the Easter Vigil. Finally, Easter Sunday breaks forth with exuberant alleluias in the culmination of our journey through the mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Throughout those holy days, we are reminded of the central tenants of our faith – that by Christ’s death, heaven is opened to us, and we are redeemed.

Why is the liturgy so important in the lives of Catholics today?

J: The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the liturgy is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. As Catholics, we believe that in the liturgy, we encounter the true presence of Jesus Christ through the Eucharist. This is what makes our liturgical celebrations relevant and meaningful in every time and place: our intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

V: Liturgy can truly enhance our spiritual life and bring each of us closer to God. The Mass raises our prayers and joins them to those in heaven. At communion, we believe we receive the true presence of the Lord. In receiving Him, we are sent forth to be a witness of God’s love to all we meet and wherever we go. Thus, the Mass nourishes our spiritual hunger and inspires us to go forward to spread the Gospel.

A Conversation with Basilica Organist Andrew Vu
A Guide to the Luminous Mysteries at the Basilica