I recently got back from a 10-day trip to Europe. It was a business trip, but I still had a tad of free time in the evenings.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s pretty easy to locate Catholic churches when you travel. If you go to Google and type catholic churches near <address>, you’ll get a map with various options, including links to each church’s website, if they have one. Some of the churches listed may not be Catholic, but you can sift through the list easily. Then, through the individual websites, you can find their mass times. I used this technique to find parishes in the four cities where I stayed: Berlin, Cologne, Paris and Toulouse. It was a great blessing to commune with our Blessed Lord in all these places. Finding churches everywhere reminds us of the catholicity (i.e. universality) of the Church. Psalm 139 also came to mind:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the masses I attended. With all the horror stories we’ve heard about the flakiness of the Church in Europe, I was shocked to see green shoots emerging through the ashes.
All masses were very reverent. Even on weekdays, they all had homilies and singing. The faithful sang along enthusiastically.
In Ottawa, we’re used to having cushiony kneelers. However, in the four European churches I went to, none had cushiony kneelers: two had bare planks of wood, with no cushion, while the other two had no kneelers at all. Yet the people kneeled. I found the symbolism quite striking. Gone are the old days when the Church was socially hip and the clergy were idolized as demi-gods. Today, the faithful that take the trouble to get to daily mass are a bunch of hard-nosed, lunch-pail, Grabowskis, willing to fight against a very hostile culture. Kneeling on a 2×4 or a stone pavement is a fitting lot for this generation.
And get this: in two of the churches (Berlin and Toulouse) the priest celebrated mass on the high altar, facing the Tabernacle. Or as the liberals among the brethren like to say, with his back to the people. Yes, even in Toulouse, where I attended mass at the University Parish at Saint-Pierre des Chartreux. Imagine that, a bunch of kids around 20 years old taking time on a Friday night to go to mass where the priest isn’t facing them and where they kneel on stones, singing chanted hymns, sometimes even in Latin! Good grief! What a refreshing blessing for my sore eyes! Oh, and did I mention that the kids were doing Adoration and confessions before mass?
Which brings me to my last observation: there was a surprising number of young adults in all four churches I went to. I’m not talking hundreds, of course. These were weekday masses for the most part, not World Youth Day. But they certainly made up about 20-25% of the attendance, not counting the University Parish in Toulouse, where it was more like 90%. I found this very surprising. In Berlin, a young woman even approached me after mass and asked if I wanted to join them the next day for their young adults retreat.
Good things are happening on the Old Continent! The seeds planted by John Paul II are flourishing and we’ll see plenty of good stuff in the years to come!