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November 19, 2006

On This Rock

I haven’t posted in quite a while, mostly owing to spending nearly five out of the last ten weeks in Germany. I made two trips on business, one in the latter part of September for about 10 days, one in October for nearly three weeks. It is taking me some time to get back in my normal groove.

I had never been to Germany before; the truth is, I hadn’t really had much desire to go there, but I’m glad I had the chance and I found my time there interesting. The German people were almost universally friendly and helpful, I seldom ran into the stereotypical, gruff, unfeeling, Prussian type. Language was a bit of a barrier, but even then, most Germans, especially in the restaurants, spoke at least a little English, and with my fledgling attempts at German, we managed to survive. Of course, the beer was excellent. I became a real devotee of Heffe Weisen, a wheat beer that, I’m told, is the only beer served cold in Germany. Oh yes, then there is the Autobahn. You haven’t quite lived until you’ve driven at nearly 200 kph and been passed by a big Audi or Mercedes as if you doing 55 on the Interstate here in Colorado.

The cultural state of Germany is one of contrasts. There is little visible sign of faith anywhere, except . . . The exception is that Church bells in nearly every town ring on the quarter hour, day and night. Churches, in fact, are, in most towns, among the most prominent landmarks.

I attended Mass, the first Sunday I was there, in a German parish in Vierheim, there being no English masses available. The church itself was, I guess, at least 200 years old. Inside, the ceiling seemed so high as to be invisible with great stone columns reaching to heaven. There was an altar piece, the first one I have ever seen, that I thought looked like something from the 17th century, and the pews were nothing more than wooden boards stretched over straight wooden frames. This was a church built in a time when worship was serious business. The parish did have a modern sound system, Bose, I believe, as one concession to the twentieth century, if not the twenty-first.

The congregation seemed, as you might expect, nearly as old as the church. I don’t believe there were more than a few present under the age of 45 and perhaps only one family with children. The priest was close to, if not actually upon, the age of retirement. It was very noticeable, however, that everyone dressed more formally than we are used to here at home. Nearly all the men wore jacket and ties, if not suits, and the ladies skirts and dresses. I wish we could re-establish that custom in my parish. I will also say that the Church was nearly full. I thought that a good sign.

The Mass, an anticipated Mass on Saturday afternoon, did not seem to follow the order that I am familiar with. There were hymns. They were not, mind you, the tasteless treacle that we get so often in the States, but stately, tradition ones, inserted at odd places, for example after the opening prayer. There were only two readings, one from “Isaias” and one from the Gospel. During the Creed, one section of those in attendance, about a quarter of the people, very pointedly remained seated. I don’t know what that was about but I wasn’t comfortable with it. Also, perhaps because of the age of those in attendance and the austere design of the pews, there was little kneeling, only during the consecration and just after.

In spite of the atmosphere of antiquity of both man and building, there was one hopeful sign. Assisting at Mass was a young deacon, perhaps just newly ordained. He was the one show of youth in the entire celebration of the Mass and, I thought, just where it needed to be. I could not help thinking of Jesus words to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18 ESV) It seems as long as there is the barest presence of the Church anywhere, she will not be overcome. Even when things seem bleakest, in a parish that would seem be facing extinction in the very near future, there is found a sign of renewal and new life to carry on the Truth. We will not be abandoned; the Church will not be overcome.

Posted by ronmoffat at November 19, 2006 7:34 AM

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