I like to flag a good practice when I see one. Here’s one from my time in Germany.
The week I arrived in Würzburg, there was a liturgy held in the seminary chapel for students from the university, followed by a simple supper with time to socialize. The event happens three times a year. The place was packed. Students were sitting on steps and standing in the back. A music group made up of students also worked hard to prepare, and they did a good job leading the music. The intercessions were read by different voices “planted” in the assembly. (How do I know they were plants? Each voice was crystal clear, they spoke without hesitation, and the number was right!) Singing of hymns was good overall, but it was really excellent on the chanted responses, which everyone knew by heart. Seminarians and the seminary leadership were also in attendance and mingled informally with the students.
During the third week of Advent there was also a “roraten Mass” hosted for students at 6:00 AM. This is an Advent custom I was not familiar with — an early morning Mass of the day in Advent, by candlelight. (True confessions: I forgot and slept through it! But when I went to the chapel later in the morning, there were candles everywhere… Clearly, the students came. ) Incidentally, nobody is afraid of fire there. The Sunday evening Mass at the cathedral is also held by candlelight, and people take lighted candles to their pews to read by.
Here’s the point. In today’s church, when there is so much anxiety about “aging populations” and a “dying church,” I must say it was lovely to see the students participate in liturgy without it being some sort of a “crusade” or an “agenda” or some other extraordinary thing. If there was a Big Hook out for vocations, I didn’t notice it. Nobody had to cajole them to come (the meal was nice, but they could have eaten at the cafeteria). They certainly didn’t look like they were doing it as part of a “movement” or as a statement that they belong to an ecclesial clique.
They just came. It was normal. How refreshing.
Back home, seminaries don’t easily open their doors, even for prayer. Seminary and university are separate worlds. This event would not have happened. I mentioned this to the rector at dinner, and he was genuinely surprised. “Why not?” he asked. “Of course they are welcome.”
As a bonus, here are some pictures of the chapel:
The chapel is very modern, a long rectangular room arranged as a series of triangles, a motif echoed by slats in the ceiling. Seating is choir style with each side angled in. I was a little dubious at first about the triangular altar, but the design seemed chosen to emphasize the Trinity which is of course an interesting thought. My patience with it was rewarded. In the celebration of Eucharist it worked quite well.
Balancing the vectors of force created by the angled pews and wooden slats in the ceiling, there is a massive, black, stone artwork set as a backdrop to the altar, out of which juts a gold cubic tabernacle, adorned with colored (precious?) stones. The bold design reminded me of Merovingian jewelry, but in a distinctly modern mode. The cross is glass, inlaid with relics.