Holy/dead time

Saturday 26 September 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Pope St. Paul VI birth anniversary (1897) 

The heading of this column, dear readers, if read incorrectly, could mislead you. Far be it from me to cause confusion. To clarify, I added a slash between words. I’m not referencing time set aside for prayer in remembrance of the Holy Dead. No. No. I’m writing instead about “dead time.” We in the broadcasting industry use this expression to indicate the time in which someone is inactive while we are trying to film live action. Dead time can be costly when you’re paying top dollar in broadcasting fees. 

Msgr. Steve Avila, who oversees the weekly television Mass, knows this term well. What happens if, while the cameras are rolling, the priest celebrant just sits there in his chair for five minutes of silent meditation? Silence is a necessary part of the celebration of Holy Mass, of course, but in the media we call it “dead time.” In the case of a televised Mass, one could say it is holy dead time. It still gets cut out.

 Pope Francis is back in Rome following his six-day visit to the United States. He landed in Washington, D.C., on September 22. Besides Washington, he also visited New York City and Philadelphia. During the pastoral visit of Pope Francis, the secular and religious media covered his activities extensively. 

Now, the thing is, when you have all this live filming going on, you need at least one person (preferably more) willing and able to give a running commentary. In the case of the papal visit, the task of the commentator was to talk incessantly about what the pope was doing and why he was doing it — and just about anything else concerning the papacy. Above all, any commentator must be able to babble on unceasingly without ever taking a breath. Those of us in the trade call it “vamping.” Dead time is unacceptable. Nor should ignorance of the subject prevent us commentators from pontificating on the matter at hand — or, actually, any other matter that comes into our head. 

I’m glad I was not asked to be a commentator during the papal visit. I lack the wherewithal. Chit-chat is not my forté. Small talk is a real challenge for me. It takes an enormous amount of energy on my part. 

On the outside chance that I would be asked by some television network to give a running commentary during the papal visit (which, thankfully, I was not), I prepared in advance a list of irrelevant facts I could inject during dead time. You know me, dear readers. My motto is “Semper Paratus” (always prepared), the marching song of the Coast Guard.

But now I have an unused list of papal trivia. I’ve never had a thought that wasn’t published. Not to waste all that work, I’m passing it on to you, dear readers. In case you yourself should, upon occasion, experience an embarrassing loss for words, feel free to use my list during that awkward lull in the conversation. It makes no difference if you are on topic or not. You will impress everyone. I suggest you preface your statement by, “Well, did you know…?” 

Did you know that the first pope to change his name was John II in 533? His given name was actually Mercury, the pagan god. It was considered unseemly at the time for the pontiff to be known as His Holiness, Pope Mercury I.

Did you know that the only English pope was Nicholas Breakspear (Pope Adrian IV, 1154 – 1159)?

Did you know that the first pope to be officially called “pope” was Leo the Great (440-461)?

Did you know that Pope St. John XXIII was an army chaplain during World War II? I know a couple who received a papal blessing from Pope St. John XXIII. The pope signed it “John XXII.” It was the wrong numeration. John XXII died in 1334. 

Did you know that the successor to St. Peter, the first pope, was St. Linus?

Did you know that 60 popes have been non-Italian? This includes 15 Greeks, 15 Frenchmen, seven Germans, and one Argentinian. 

Did you know that an apostolic bull is a formal papal document on serious matters and that it gets the name from the bulla (Latin), the attached leaden seal embossed with the pope’s signet ring?

Did you know that each pope has his own distinctive signet ring and that it’s destroyed immediately upon his death?

Did you know that “Defender of the Faith” is not a title the pope takes but one he gives? It was first given to King Henry VIII, but then things turned sour.

Did you know that the Swiss Guard is composed of drafted Swiss soldiers on active duty?

Did you know the pope’s phone number? No? It’s +39.06.6982.

If you have any further questions on the papacy, just telephone the pope yourself. Leave a message. He’ll get back to you when he gets a chance. 

Now you, too, are prepared to serve as a papal commentator. You’re welcome.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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