And is about religious-cultural stuff — you have been warned! 🙂
I went to my first English-speaking Mass this morning at “St Kilian’s,” or the parish center for the English-speaking Catholic mission in Munich. (St Kilian was another wandering missionary who came to Bavaria in the 7th century from Ireland.)
The building also houses the parish centers for the Slovak Catholic mission, the Vietnamese Catholic mission, the Portugese Catholic mission, and the Frankophone Catholic mission. The English mission center is on the fifth floor. It’s a pretty functional space, just a main room for celebrating Mass, with a kitchen, an office/sacristy for the priest, and a Sunday school room for the kids. There were about a dozen people attending this morning, most of them African, Indian, or Southeast Asian. The main priest, Fr Cletus, was Indian, and there was a visitor priest from Africa concelebrating as well. I met a few of the women afterward – there was a small lunch, with really good soup made by one of the women from the Philippines – and learned that one of the families with small children was French. Another woman was Canadian, married to a German. And finally, though I didn’t introduce myself, a younger man who did the readings and an older man who played the guitar were both Irish, to guess by their accents.
I mention all this just to explain that, by the time we got to the Gospel reading, I was already reflecting on the odd intricacies of history and culture that brought us all together in that room. And toward the end of today’s Gospel, it reads:
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
And I was already thinking about this passage in terms of post-Christian Europe, and the growing strength of traditional Christianity in the non-Western parts of the world — but also thinking, oh Kristen, how Eurocentric of you. I’d been kind of dwelling on it already this weekend, partly because of my trip to Freising yesterday, when I went down into the crypt of the old cathedral and saw the tomb and the relics of St Corbinian, an 8th century missionary to Bavaria. Thirteen hundred years ago he and others from Ireland, England, and Francia (not to mention Byzantium) had come into the lands along the lower Rhine and the Danube to spread Christianity among the people of the countryside. And Christianity stayed and seeped in and transformed the people for over a thousand years, but for a few centuries it’s been on its way out.
I guess this idea stuck out to the priest, too, because it’s what his homily ended up being about. (The first homily in a month I could understand!) He talked about the fact that most of the people in the room could attribute their presence here at Mass, one way or another, to European missionaries or colonialism (though he didn’t use that word), and yet most Europeans themselves no longer practiced the faith if they held it at all. And I could include myself in that group (of non-Europeans), in a way, because my Christianity originally came to me by way of European religious dissent and expansion, and the whole separate history of the American Great Awakening. I’m not Catholic in a long line of continuity the way that many Germans or Europeans are. He said that we should pray carefully about the idea that God has “given away” the Kingdom to others, because it was forsaken by the first, and to remember that we are only the stewards of what we’ve been given by others who came before us.
Anyway — it was interesting and thought-provoking to hear someone talk about this from the perspective of a non-European serving his ministry in Europe. I’ve heard lots of Americans, both Protestant and Catholic, talk about “the end of Christianity in Europe” and the development of the “Global South” and things, but never in this context. Everyone there both recognized the state of things in Europe and, one way or another, didn’t fully identify with it, because of where they came from or because of the simple fact that they were here at Mass.
But you know, after all, Europe wasn’t the only greenhouse of Christian civilization in the middle ages — for centuries, Christianity was just as at home in northern Africa, parts of India and China, and of course the Middle East. So really, the oddest thing about being together in this room wasn’t that we were all Catholics celebrating the same liturgy and receiving the same Eucharist, but that we were all speaking English!
And ironically, the most Western, culturally monolithic aspect of the whole thing was the music. It was, mmm, very 1970s-inspired. (The amusing thing about some corners of the Catholic world is that I can hear more of the evangelical praise-and-worship music of my childhood there than I can in any evangelical church in 2011. We sang Majesty, for goodness’ sake!) And the “settings” for the Gloria, Kyrie, and other sung parts of the ordinary included approximately two words each of the actual Gloria, Kyrie, etc. That is now very difficult for me in a way it might not have been four years ago. Luckily I have lots of opportunities for Mass in Munich, and if it’s not in English, well, most people did it that way until about forty years ago. But it was nice to meet some new people and I’m sure I’ll go back every so often.