It was a pleasure to be with my brother Benedictines in Munich – St. Bonifaz is a very friendly and welcoming community. (I was on my way from NPM in Louisville to the European hymn society meeting in Timişoara, Romania, about which more later.)
The old basilica from the 19th century is in Romanesque style. In Europe it has become a whole field of architecture to adapt huge churches to work for the small communities that now gather in them. In this case a wall was put up to divide off the back 1/3 of the basilica. The altar is in the center, the appointments are modern.
As much as I believe in modern art and architecture for the liturgy, as much as I oppose making the liturgy an escape from the real world, even I resist this “baldachino” of metal bars and shapes. It strikes me as cold, jarring, unattractive. The liturgy should somehow still feel like home, even when it engages modern culture. Maybe the piece would grow on me with time.
The Germans are hymn singers. And not just entrance, prep, communion and closing as we sometimes do. The centuries-old custom is to replace elements of the Mass Ordinary with vernacular paraphrases, sometimes quite loose paraphrases, in strophic form. (In former times the priest said the official Latin text simultaneously. Since Vatican II he sings with the community in German. The paraphrases are loose because the Church prohibited exact translations.)
Liturgiam authenticam (2001) supposedly banned such metrical Mass part paraphrases, but the German-speaking bishops, who are now revising their official hymnal, wouldn’t hear of it. The Vatican wouldn’t back down. Neither would the bishops. As Fr. Tony Ward told me – this was when Msgr. Moroney brought me along to show the second-last draft of the document Sing to the Lord to the Congregation for Divine Worship – the standoff was solved when Pope Benedict heard about it and said, “Well, whatever they do, I sure hope they keep Schubert’s Deutsche Messe – I’ve sung it since youth and it’s my favorite.”
And so we began Mass, a metrical psalm of 16th century Fr. Kaspar Ulenberg from the official hymnal Gotteslob. (Which word, BTW, has three syllables and means “God’s Praise” – not the two syllable rendition of one of our exchange students just arrived in Austria – “got-slob.”) Solemn procession with crucifer and incense. Female acolyte (hmmm, we don’t do that at St. John’s…). Choir of older gentlemen from the “Kolping” pious society. Strophic Gloria in parts – two brief stanzas that took about 45 seconds and at least mentioned “Glory” once or twice. Opening prayer recited.
All three readings for Sunday. That wouldn’t be newsworthy except that when the new lectionary came out, the German-speaking bishops allowed for just two readings on Sundays, I think to make room for Mozart and Haydn Masses with choir and orchestra. But in my experience the monasteries have tended to read all three.
No responsorial psalm – instead, the choir sang a Bavarian sort of religious folk song. In the first line of text I heard Christus – “Christ.” Charming, but…
Longish but highly engaging homily – congregation was attentive. Here and throughout, the people seemed engaged, attentive, outgoing, and glad to be with each other and their God.
Most of the congregation in the pews knelt for the entire Eucharistic Prayer, but many knelt only at the words of institution. Those in chairs stayed standing, which didn’t seem to bother anyone. Metrical Sanctus in parts, choir alone. Communion under both forms for all.
Nearly all attendees (except the monks) appeared to be 60 or 70 and older, with a small sprinkling of younger generations, one little girl and one or two guys who looked to be in their 20s.
And so the Lord’s Day was kept, the Word of God preached and the sacrifice of our salvation made present in the holy banquet.