Random Thoughts on an English Mass in Munich
For my spring break I have decamped to Munich to visit a colleague at Ludwig-Maximilliam Universitat. On Sunday, my wife and I went to an English language mass at the the Church of St. Boniface in central Munich. The mass is one of several English masses in Munich originally organized by Irish priests in the 1980s for Irish guest workers. The community has expanded since then, and now includes a variety of English speakers including filipinos and people from a number of African countries, predominantly Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. From the servers, lectors and other leaders it was clear that the Africans were the dominant group.
The mass itself was quite an experience. The priest was an expatriate Franciscan from Cincinnati who has been in Munich for 40 years. The music was Catholic “folk” music, but supplemented by an accordion–definitely a nice touch. Prior to mass we said the stations of the cross and it was amazing listening to the prolix, purple prose of St. Alphonsus Ligouri (“Oh my sweet Jesus, who didst suffer for my sins….”) in half a dozen accented versions of English.
The mass itself followed the old English sacramentary and I found myself stumbling on the responses all over again: my “and with your spirit” crossing over “and also with you.” Either the Irish have not yet implemented the reforms of the English liturgy, or this parish did not get the memo. (Or having spoken a bit with the priest, it may be that they have gotten the memo and ignored it.)
There were two collections: one for the upkeep of the Church and one for poor children. They did both simultaneously by the expedient of putting large pink piggy banks in the middle of each collection basket. I never did figure out which was for which.
The greeting of peace was a protracted affair, as the priest, the altar servers (4, two young boys and two teenage girls) and a handful of people I would call the “elders” of the community went around the Church greeting people, particularly visitors such as ourselves. Everyone around us, particularly the regular members of the community, was extremely open and friendly.
At communion the poor father behind us could not restrain his sons, who went tearing off to cut into the front of the line to be among the first to receive communion or a blessing from the priest. I wish my kids had showed such enthusiasm for the sacraments at that age!
After mass we were invited up to the “family room” for coffee and donuts. The filipinos made a giant bowl of stir fried noodles which was quickly demolished. (I managed to get a donut, or at least it looked like a donut hole. Tasted different though.) We chatted with the priest and then with one of the elders, who brought us the guest book to sign. Shortly after that, he interrupted the chit-chat to introduce a different visitor: “George” was recently arrived from Ghana, and though he had a job, he had not yet found a place to live. The elder pressed the other members of the community to offer him a temporary place to stay, and to consider if they could sublet a room to him “since he would be able to help with the rent.” As we were leaving, another elder stopped us to inquire if we would be back next week. When we said we were going home, he made us promise to come back the next time we were in Munich: a promise we were happy to make.
Visiting this English language mass at St. Boniface was a blessing. At the risk of a cliche, I found it to be Spirit-filled and joyful. I was impressed by the sense of community, and the ownership that the laity had in it: it really seemed like it was their Church. I was also impressed by their hospitality and their concrete sense of charity: I simply cannot imagine my pastor standing up, introducing a visitor, and trying to find him a place to live. As my wife trenchantly put it as we were leaving: “can we go here every week?” A good question.