Strangers in a strange Church

Last Sunday my fiancée and I were away from home – at least five dioceses* (or three countries) to be exact – so Mass was to be attended at an unfamiliar church in an unfamiliar language (well, at least partly). We opted for the Cathedral of St. Erik in Stockholm.

The cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Stockholm, which covers all of Sweden, and the seat of Bishop Anders Arborelius (who himself was in Rio when we visited his cathedral). It has been the cathedral since 1953, when Stockholm was established as a diocese, although it wasn’t consecrated until 1983.

As visits to other churches than my own, both in the Netherlands and in Germany, have made me a bit concerned about how the liturgy would be celebrated, I entered St. Erik’s with similar feelings. But, as it turned out, there was no need. The cathedral community and her priests understand liturgy and celebrate Mass as the Church requires. What they don’t do well, however, is architecture.

 St. Erik’s is divided in two parts. There is the original church, which is a perfectly fine 19th century building, with lots of woodwork, paintings, stained glass, statues and two altars. Much is made of the 1989 visit of Blessed John Paul II, and the cathedral is the proud owner of a relic of the soon-to-be saint. The patron, Saint Erik himself, is also in evidence, as is St. Bridget, patron of Sweden. No complaints with this part of the building, except that it contains a gaping hole.

There is no main sanctuary.

Instead, where the sanctuary once upon a time was, there is now a nicely arched entry into the second haf of the building: a standard hall-like structure of the style which suffices for a meeting hall, multifunctional school room or other spacious area where a large number of people can meet. But a space where the sacrifice of our Lord can become present? Not so much. The contrast between the two parts of the church is quite jarring. It is a sign of the power of good liturgy that it is able to transcend this contrast, but why someone once elected to remove a perfectly good sanctuary, designed to elevate the soul and make the sacrifice of the Mass visible to its deepest level, and replace it with a  brick room is anyone’s guess.

But not wanting to be a sour-puss, I’ll share some photos I took at the cathedral:

saint erik's cathedral

^The coat of arms of Pope Francis graces the front of the cathedral.

saint erik's cathedral

^The modern section of the cathedral, which does contain some positive elements: the tabernacle is impossible to miss, the altar has a Benedictine arrangement, and priests, deacons, acolytes and servers sit facing the tabernacle when not at altar or lectern.

st. eriks  cathedral, john paul ii

^A relic of Blessed John Paul II’s blood, in a chapel in the archway leading from the original church to the newer section.

st. eric's cathedral

^ From the old to the new: both parts of the church seen together.

Lastly, a church is also made up out of people. One of these was Blessed John Paul II. Another is the unknown lady who approached us and told us her story in Swedish (we were not able to follow it all). Her tears touched us, as did  her desire and hope for our future happiness. She gave us a tiny relic of the blessed Pope, a piece of fabric with his blood on it… **

*Seen from my home diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, these would be the Dioceses of Osnabrück and Münster, the Archdiocese of Hamburg, and the Dioceses of Copenhagen and Stockholm.

** And yes, it is official, containing an affidavit with Cardinal Vallini’s name and signature.

Advertisements

A very special church

During the school Christmas break we take the opportunity to go and visit places. Last week, my girlfriend and I spent a few days in a hotel in the south of the country, from which we visited various cities and towns. The stop for our first day was the town of Valkenburg, in the far south of the Diocese of Roermond (and therefore of the country as a whole).

There, to my surprise, a visit to a Christmas market in a former mine complex revealed a very special former church. During the reign of Napoleon, the Netherlands was annexed to the French Empire, and the Catholic priests were required to make an oath of allegiance to that empire and its ruler. Many refused to do so, and were either imprisoned or exiled for that. Many priests had to offer their Masses in secret, and the priests of Valkenburg and surroundings chose what is now called the ‘Velvet cave’ to use for a makeshift chapel. Baptismal fonts, altars and other requirements were cut out of the soft chalk of the mine and carefully decorated. The masonry and artwork is still preserved, as are memorials to priests who were imprisoned and exiled.

In later decades, more artwork and graffiti appeared, not least from American soldiers who used the caves to fight the German oppressors during the later stages of World War 2.

A photo impression:

Memorial for Father Servaas Widdershoven, parish priest in the area during Napoleonic times.
Saints Francis and Clara, perhaps?
A baptismal font that may still be used upon request. The text reads: "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" from Acts 19, 5
The sanctuary, with the former location of the tabernacle still very visible.
"And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers." Acts 2, 42
Saint Servatius, bishop of the first diocese in the Low Countries (Tongres) in the 4th century

 

Another popular saint from these parts is Saint Gerlac, a devout hermit who was fond of his pilgrimages.
"And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread ... He continued his speech until midnight. And there were a great number of lamps in the upper chamber where we were assembled." Acts 20, 7-8
List of priest of 'the canton of Valkenburg' who refused to swear the oath of loyalty to the French regime. Fr. Sewrvatius Widdershoven was imprisoned, while Fr. Joan Mathijs van den Eerdewegh was exiled to the Island of Ré, off the French coast near La Rochelle.

The place of the tabernacle

On Maundy Thursday, the day that the Church remembers the Last Supper and so the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria in the United States sent out a letter to all the clergy and faithful in his diocese. He writes about the location of the tabernacle in churches and chapels, and since tabernacles hold the Blessed Sacrament, their location will reflect the place of the Eucharist in our liturgy and faith.

I decided to share the letter in my blog, because the topic is not endemic to Peoria, or even the United States. Here in the Netherlands too, tabernacles are sometimes found in side altars or off to the side in the main sanctuary.

Emphases mine, to underline some points that are vital, in my opinion.

————

April 1, 2010
+Holy Thursday

Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious and Faithful of the Diocese of Peoria,

The Mass, of course, is our most important act of worship — the very source and summit of all we do as a Church. A profound reverence for the Reserved Sacrament is also intrinsically related to the Eucharistic liturgy.

The Reserved Sacrament must therefore be treated with the greatest possible respect, because at all times the Blessed Sacrament within that tabernacle, as in the Eucharistic Liturgy, is to be given that worship called latria, which is the adoration given to Almighty God. This intentional honor is incomparably greater than the reverence we give to sacramentals, sacred images, the Baptistry, the Holy Oils, or the Paschal Candle. The Sacrament is reserved not only so that the Eucharist can be brought to the dying and to those unable to attend Mass, but also as the heart and locus of a parish’s prayer and devotion.

There is a kind of bundle of rituals in our Catholic tradition with which we surround the Tabernacle. As we enter or leave the church, we bless ourselves with holy water, we genuflect towards the Tabernacle, we prepare for Mass or give thanks after Mass, consciously in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament. At prayers and devotions, during the Liturgy of the Hours, in any private prayer which takes place in a Catholic Church, we truly pray before the Risen Christ substantially and really present in the Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle.

These core Catholic convictions and their architectural ramifications have recently been reaffirmed by many Bishops in the United States. As bishop of this Diocese, I am also convinced that where we place the Tabernacle — and how we ritually reverence the Reserved Sacrament — is as important for the continuing Eucharistic catechesis as is all our preaching and teaching. With Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament at the physical center of our places of worship, how can He not also more firmly become the center of our spiritual lives as well?

After consultation with my Presbyteral Council, I am therefore asking that those few parish churches and chapels where the tabernacle is not in the direct center at the back of the sanctuary, that these spaces be redesigned in such a way that the Reserved Sacrament would be placed at the center. In some cases, this change can be easily achieved, but given financial and design restraints, plans for redesign may be submitted to the Office of Divine Worship at any time during the next five years. Monastic communities whose chapels are open to the faithful as semi-public oratories may also request a dispensation from this general regulation according to the norms of their particular liturgical tradition. There may also be some very tiny chapels where a change could be impossible. These requests should be submitted in writing to my office.

I would also like to remind everyone in our Diocese that at Mass, in accord with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Tabernacle should only be reverenced at the beginning and end of the liturgy or when the Sacrament is being taken from or returned to the Tabernacle. At all other moments and movements in the liturgy it is the Altar of Sacrifice that is to be reverenced. [Er… Yes, this is perfectly in line with the rubrics of the Novus Ordo, but it is so counter-intuitive once one is aware that Christ is truly present in the tabernacle. Outside of Mass I genuflect when passing the tabernacle, so not doing that when I’m performing my duties during Mass just seems… wrong.]

It is my conviction that Eucharistic Liturgy and Eucharistic devotion are never in competition but rather inform and strengthen our shared worship and reverence. May all in our Diocese grow in greater love and appreciation of the gift of the Eucharist.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C.
BISHOP OF PEORIA

Altar change

Yesterday at Mass at the cathedral, I noticed something different on the high altar. Mass took place at the St. Joseph altar to the side, so I was looking at the high altar from a bit of a distance and at an angle, but at first it simply seemed as if the veil in front of the tabernacle had somehow fallen down halfway. I looked again, and then noticed it was the middle of three altar cards!

Altar cards are used in the extraordinary form of the Mass, and contain prayers which the priest prays at various points. Would this be an indication that we would be having at the very least an ordinary form Mass ad orientem in the cathedral?

I asked Ad, the sacristan, about it afterwards, and he told me the altar cards were found in the safe in the sacristy and Fr. Wagenaar decided that they belonged on the altar instead. Of course they do, these are meant to be used, not to stored away.

But sadly, placement on the altar was to be their only intended use. No ad orientem Masses, let alone extraordinary form, at the cathedral. Not yet at least, for I remain optimistic.

I later heard the cards were back in the safe, since they blocked the tabernacle. In a way, that’s better, I think. If they are not going to be used, then why bring them out?