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Friday, October 29, 2010
Our Multilingual Church
On a trip to Europe last month, during which we visited many churches, we heard a lot of beautiful music. Some of it was in English, and the context was surprising.
One Sunday morning we participated in Mass at the beautiful Peterskirche -- St. Peter's Church -- in Vienna. While still a large church by most standards, it was not so vast that it was hard to take it in as at St. John Lateran or St. Stephen's.
Near the entrance was a table full of brochures highlighting the history and the architecture of the church in several different languages. Obviously this was a church used to receiving tourists.
At the same time, though, it was a real parish church, populated that Sunday by local residents with lots of small children. Unlike many of the great churches in Europe that tend to be sparsely attended museums, gawked at by visitors for their art and architecture, this was clearly a living house of worship.
Since 1970 the pastoral care of Peterskirche has been entrusted to priests of Opus Dei, so a lighted icon of the personal prelature's founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, graced one of the side chapels. Instead of having extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist at communion time, a second priest came out to help distribute.
Several hours later we came back for a free concert. The choir looked and sounded wonderful. Both the men and the women wore black with accents of red -- red bow ties for the men, red scarves for the women. As we came in late, it took me awhile to realize that they were singing in English: "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," "Oh Happy Day!" and "Kumbaya" were among the songs, sometimes accompanied by clapping.
An American choir? No, it turned that they were German.
The current baroque Peterskirche was consecrated in 1733, but the first of three churches on that site was erected 1600 years ago, when Vienna was still a Roman camp called Vindobona. It is the parish's proud boast that Mass has been offered there every day since.
But I wonder how many times American Negro spirituals have been sung in the church?