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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Easter Vigil at St. Lawrence Old Catholic Cathedral, Prague 2010



I spent this year's Holy Week in Prague, Czech Republic. This was the first time I actually celebrated Holy Week apart from Cornerstone Old Catholic Community, a diasporadic Old Catholic community I serve as priest in Minneapolis, MN (USA). I was honored to celebrate the Great Easter Pascha with our Old Catholic sisters and brothers in the Czech Republic, and specifically the congregation of St. Lawrence's Old Catholic Cathedral in Prague. I was flabbergasted when Josef, my host during my stay in Prague (and now friend), told me Bishop Dušan (the Old Catholic Bishop of the Czech Republic local Church) invited me to concelebrate with him and other priests at the altar for Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil Mass. I never expected this to occur, and my heart was moved by the pastoral love, compassion, and hospitality Bishop Dušan extended to me.

I want to emphasize, make clear, and be as transparent as possible about this invitation extended to me by the Czech Old Catholic Bishop. Meaning, this was an act of hospitality and an expression of care towards my personhood and priestly ministry by Bishop Dušan. He knew who I was and that I was ordained in the independent Old/Catholic movement in the U.S. I want to emphasize and be lucidly clear that this was not an official act of "recognition" concerning the "validity" of my priestly orders -- a constant obsession the independent Catholic groups in the U.S. seem to have in attempting to substantiate and give reason for their existence. Rather, it was an act of pastoral love, understanding this to mean an act of relating and reaching out to another centered in compassion, a most authentic Christian understanding of the Greek word agapé. Thus, Bishop Dušan's invitation to me confirmed not my own validity (if I were to think so individualistic in this way, I would have totally missed the grace God set before me), but rather the significance and authenticity of living out the faith of the eucharistic nature of the local Church I write about in my book. Bishop Dušan's invitation to concelebrate was nothing more than a gift and I received it as such. For this I am a thank-filled person!



This picture was take by my new friend Jayden -- an American who has lived in Prague for a couple of years teaching drama in an English-speaking school in Prague. I was introduced to him by our mutual friend Michael Bayly. I was processing with the rest of the concelebrating priests to the Easter Vigil fire outside in front of St. Lawrence Old Catholic Cathedral. It was a beautiful cool Spring evening. Here are some more pictures of the assembly gathered outside and Bishop Dušan blessing the fire and lighting the paschal candle.







The procession into the cathedral was magnificent, and I loved listening to the exsultet in Czech...the cantors were above the congregation towards the back on the second level where the pipe organ is stationed. The exsultet was a combination of formal chant and contemporary singing with guitar and all...a moving experience to state the least!!! Ever since I can remember as a child, my favorite part of the Easter Vigil was when Christ's resurrection is proclaimed, all the lights in the church switch on (darkness to light in almost an instant) the assembly begins singing the Gloria with joy, bells ring, candles galore are lit, and the waft of incense is everywhere, awesome!





Seven adults and one baby were baptized at this Easter Vigil. The adults also received the sacrament of Confirmation and First Communion.









Although the entire Easter Vigil liturgy was in the Czech language, I felt in my heart like I was finally home. Put another way, this liturgy was not "like" the Catholic Easter Vigil I grew up knowing, it was the Catholic Easter Vigil I grew up knowing. Elain Ramshaw poignantly states in her book "Ritual and Pastoral Care" that pastoral care indeed extends to the liturgy (or what she labels as the rituals) of the local Church. Further, if these rituals are to have any meaning to persons, it must resonate with them, it must be familiar to them. Familiarity, heritage, culture and customs all culminate in how one expresses and experiences the liturgy. If it is intended to touch and move the deepest recesses of one's heart, it needs to take into account and exude a familiarity of the ritual tradition one resonates with from childhood. This is not only pastoral care for the individual, but for the community at large that craves such a familiarity, so to be able to relate to it, so to really get the feeling of belonging! This is what I felt that evening at the Easter Vigil, a feeling us Old Catholics do not always get living in the Diaspora of the Union of Utrecht and apart from the independent Catholics -- the great wilderness of not belonging, but striving to do so by relating to the Episcopal Church, USA in mutuality without sacrificing the progressive (Vatican II-like) Catholic heritage and liturgy our local community cherishes. This is a very challenging endeavor for Cornerstone Old Catholic Community because it lives in a context where denominationalism, uniformity, and bearucratic legalism runs rampant in the many different church denominational institutions. The feeling I felt in the inner recesses of my heart that evening at the Easter Vigil was "I am home." The Catholicism I so cherish, the tradition I love and grew up in as a child is alive and well. But not in a static way, rather in a dynamic way of being what it is. Meaning, the Easter Vigil liturgy was not "like" the Catholic Easter Vigil (Roman Catholics are notorious for saying this, e.g. "I go to the Episcopal Church's Mass because it is so much 'like' the Catholic Mass"), it is the Catholic Easter Vigil! A very different feeling that manifests itself in a very different usage of words.

I thought at first that this was something I felt within my own personhood...that is, I questioned whether this was a personal feeling or something felt by other progressive Roman Catholics who have been rejected by the Roman hierarchy and no longer practice their Catholic faith in celebration of Eucharist at the Mass. Then I came across an article my friend Jayden wrote about his experience at the same Easter Vigil that evening. No longer did I feel alone, and there is a certain validation to what Ramshaw articulates in her book and what I (and Jayden) felt as a Catholic at the Easter Vigil. Jayden's words describing his experience at the Easter Vigil at St. Lawrence's Old Catholic Cathedral eloquently speaks to how most Catholics who can no longer practice their faith feel in the recesses of their being! Click here for Jayden's article, it is worth the read! Thanks, Jayden!



We Old Catholics know how to give the sign of peace! No matter where I am (U.S., Europe) it's always the same at an Old Catholic Mass during the sign of peace: lots of hugs and genuine love expressed by all at the liturgy. This is something different than what I remember as a kid...the sign of peace was either forced unto us by the priest celebrant before Mass to have to look at the person next to us and say "hi," or the usual quick handshake and peace mutter without any eye contact with the two persons in front of you and in back of you in the pews right before communion. Not with the Old Catholics! I am thankful for this.



Liturgy of the Eucharist! Christ is Risen, alleluia, alleluia. I leave you with some pictures of the cathedral and the fantastic servers after the Vigil!







The Bishop's Cathedra below.





Looking from the entrance of the cathedral is the left side altar below.




From the entrance of the cathedral this is the right side altar. This is where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved (see tabernacle on altar).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Tour of Prague: Spring 2010 - Part I



The above picture is Prague's Old Town Square. I was lucky enough to get a day's tour of Prague from Sybille, Fr. Ricky Yates' fabulous wife. My tour was Tuesday of Holy Week Fr. Ricky is the Anglican priest and Pastor of St. Clement's Anglican Episcopal Parish in Prague. Interestingly, Fr. Ricky has two bishops: The Anglican Bishop of the Church of England’s Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe and the Old Catholic Bishop of the Church of the Czech Republic, See also Fr. Ricky's blog site, which I might add has some wonderful stories and pictures of his life in Prague: St. Clement's is known as the English speaking Old Catholic parish in the Old Catholic Diocese of the Czech Republic. Below is a picture of St. Clement's, Prague.



I met Sybille on Tuesday of Holy Week (2010) at the Anděl (Angel) tram station close to downtown Prague. After a mix-up on my part as to where we were to meet, Sybille and I found each other and began touring the city. One of the first places we went was to St. Vitus Roman Catholic Cathedral, one of the oldest (if not "the" oldest) standing cathedral's in Prague. The one thing I absolutely love about Prague's churches and other historical sites is its accessibility to the public! It's one thing to look at these magnificent sites and another thing to be able to enter them, touch them, etc. St. Vitus Cathedral is very plays an important role in Czech history because, apart from the celebration of Mass, it was where most of the coronations of Czech kings and queens took place. The foundation stone for the cathedral was laid in the year of 1344, during the reign of Roman Emperor Charles IV.

Below is a picture I took of St. Vitus Cathedral from the view of its very old cemetery.

A picture of part of the cathedral cemetery. One could easily spend almost an entire day just touring this area!



The cemetery was amazing!! The mosaics (not fresco's this time, ha!) covering certain crypts were just breath-taking. Here are some pictures of them...mind you, the pictures do not do justice to what was seen in person.







I was captivated by both these guardian angel statues. One depicts the symbolic glory of our Triune God in beautiful mosaic gold, blue, and other magnificent colors while the other one (below) is grey and seems to be shielding/protecting the person whose grace the angel hovers over. I never quite saw a statue like this before.



For some reason I was drawn to this grave's crucifix headstone. It really depicts the horror of the crucified Christ, and the act of crucifixion itself.



I thought this was an unusual headstone of a women who had her image molded into an almost life-like statue depicting her being taken up from the ground over her grave. Amazingly original.



Here is the resting place of the great Czech composer Dvořák (d. 1904). His famous Kyrié composition (among others) is still often used for Mass celebrations across the world. Interestingly, Cornerstone Old Catholic Community often sing Dovorak's Kyrié throughout the year, especially during the liturgical season of Lent. I was happy to see that most of the Old Catholic Czech liturgies I attended chanted this version of the Kyrié.



Below is where the sisters (nuns) that served the cathedral are laid to rest (forgive me but I do not know what order the sisters are from...maybe someone can help me out with this??). I was struck at how modest their graves were amidst all the cemetery mosaics and grand headstones, statues, etc. It was a bit strange too that the sisters' graves were caged and separated from the rest of the graves. I took it to mean the old Roman idea of religious and ordained persons as being somehow seperate from the laity in life...and, in this case, in death.



It just so happened that Sybille and I were at the Cathedral at the right moment to hear the grand bells of the cathedral ring. Here is a short video I captured with my digital camera, so you could experience hearing the magnificent bells of the cathedral, enjoy.

video

Here are some pictures of the gorgeous mosaics above the cathedral's very large doors.





Lastly, above one of the doors is a carved depiction of the last judgement. Sybille and I shook our heads a bit after noticing that most of the persons going to heaven (the one's above) were men (mostly clergy and bishops, some kings), and the one's below in hell or purgatory were the women, poor, etc. Look closely at the picture and you will be able to see it too.



More to come...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Old Catholicism and the Early Church

The above picture shows St. Mary Magdalene Old Catholic Church parish in Prague. It is a beautiful round stone building that can hold up to 30 people comfortably. These old church buildings in Prague were built from the twelfth-century to fifteenth-century. I could not help but think about the Early Church when standing inside St. Mary Magdalene's, especially when we gathered to celebrate Mass; the liturgical space truly imbues a sense of gathering, togetherness, and hospitality. It is round, it is small, it is simple, it is truly a place for the church to gather for liturgy. Swiss Old Catholic theologian and bishop Urs Küry (d. 1976) was one of the first to intimately connect the Old Catholic tradition with the Early Church of the first eight-centuries. He indeed regarded the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht as the Catholic Church of the West. He regarded Old Catholicism as living in continuity with the Early Church -- Old Catholics are in relation with the Early Church as believers of the "the way," which is Christ crucified and risen! In accordance with contemporary Old Catholic theologian Mattijs Ploeger, Küry believed that the Early Church's theology, liturgical praxis, creed, sacramental life, conciliar governance, and episcopal ministry is synonymous with the term "Old Catholic". That is to say, the primary meaning of Old Catholicism is in fostering and living in fellowship with the Early Church here and now. So how do Old Catholics live in connection with the Early Church? Ultimately, it begs the question of asking what constitutes church for Old Catholics, and how does it relate to the Early Church? First, it must be clarified up front that neither Küry nor any other European Old Catholic theologian advocates an anachronistic ideal in mimicking the Early Church's life today. It is impossible to be what the Early Church was contextually speaking. We live in a different time from that of the Early Church; meaning, our sociological make-up is quite altogether different from that of the Early Church.

The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht are connected to the Early Church through its understanding and definition of what the church is. That is to say, Old Catholics share an understanding of the church's nature that is in solidarity with how the Early Church, generally speaking, understood the essence of church to be. Old Catholics attempt to live in continuity with the teaching principles of the Church Catholic of the first millennium. Ploeger states it best when interpreting Küry's assertion that Old Catholics strive to live in continuity with the undivided Early Church by explaining it is "a [intentional] return to the principle decisions of the Early Church...a return to the major issues of Scripture, creed and ministry, rather than remaining within the historic divisions and its many denominational confessions, which date from the second millennium (Ploeger, "Celebrating Church: Ecumenical Contributions to a Liturgical Ecclesiology" (Universiteit van Tilburg, 2008), 191)."

The picture above shows the inside of St. Mary Magdalene's Old Catholic parish in Prague. It's simplistic decor creates an ethos of Early Church ambiance in its liturgical space. The altar-table is carved out of stone where, during the liturgy of the Eucharist, the assembly sets the table with the cloth, candles, and eucharistic gifts that are to be offered to God with joy and gratitude. For Old Catholics faith is as much communal as it is personal and Old Catholicism, like the Early Church, takes to heart the Greek definition of the word "ecclesia", literally translated means "the gathering" or "the assembly". Thus, the primary essence and nature of the church is organic and not institutional.

The local-universal Church cannot be foundationally viewed as a corporation, non-profit agency, and/or charitable center, but is rather the local Body of Christ comprised of living human persons: the baptized! Put another way, the church is the gathering of the local baptized around their bishop in the liturgical celebration of Holy Eucharist: the Mass. The church then for Old Catholics is essentially local, organic, and relational by nature. Now, many western Christians and Christian denominations openly acknowledge this assertion of the church's nature as though this idea is a common experience most baptized persons encounter today...as though it is an essential fact of how people today understand the essence of the church a priori. I disagree with this assumption and find such arguments a bit audacious because it ignores the fact that most baptized persons (lay and ordained) do not commonly view the church's nature as being primarily organic, but rather as institutional, hierarchical, and confessional/denominational.

The church, it seems, is everything but organic to most in the U.S.--of course many acknowledge the primary organic nature of the church, but the question to be asked is along the lines of whether one truly believes in one's heart that s/he manifests with the other baptized the local Church Catholic, that they have an "ecclesial" identity which is Christ's identity by virtue of their baptism into his life, death, and resurrection. Are the hearts of the local baptized truly transformed to that of Christ's paschal mystery, which is centered in the energy of the Spirit, or is such "missional" discourse about "being the church" merely political and ideological rhetoric of liberal, conservative, monarchical, or democratic factions? A church primarily seen as institutional and a power separate from the local baptized is not the church, but more of a human instrument of trying to contain something that cannot be contained: the Holy Spirit.

The question I pose above indeed needs further pondering because it is one thing to say the church is the people, and another reality altogether when the people realize in their hearts that they indeed are the church, that they are the primary essence and identity of what constitutes "ecclesia". There needs to happen in our day a rekindling of the question posed long ago by the men walking on the road to Emmaus after they encountered the Christ: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us (Lk 24:32)?" Old Catholicism inspires and seriously contemplates this rich tradition of the Early Church where the local baptized know with hearts aflame that they are the ones who constitute and "concretize" in history the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of the ages. Of course the institution of the local-universal church is a reality, however, my assertion here is that it is a secondary reality and cannot, never will, exude the primary nature of the church as the local Body of Christ: organic and energized by the Spirit. Here is a picture Holy Cross Old Catholic parish in the heart of downtown Prague. It is another beautiful worship space that seats up to 30 persons comfortably. The local-universal Old Catholic Church of the Czech Republic is small and has around 3,000 communicant members, a bishop, 11 priests, and some deacons and other administrative ministers serving Christ and the gospel. The parish buildings are small in size because the communities are in general small in size. If a local-universal Church primarily locates its essence as being organic and relational, it will manifest itself as such in reality.

Every parish I visited, whether it be in Germany or in Prague, was small in size (less than 300 members). There could be many reasons for their smallness, but I believe it is due to the reality of how Old Catholics understand the nature of the church as being primarily identified with the local baptized in relation to each other and their bishop. One cannot be relational in a "mega-church" or a church community that totals in the thousands, at least not in any meaningful way. No, the Old Catholic communities in Europe tend to be small in size because they are relational...the community wants to know its members and really be the Body of Christ together in a meaningful way. For example, I learned that the Old Catholic parish I visited in Stuttgart, Germany requests a person and/or family to journey with the parish for 6 months to a year before petitioning the parish council to become a member. This policy is not exclusionary by nature, nor is it meant to be oppressive. It is rather a way for the person/family to get to know the parish community and vice-versa...to really establish a meaningful relationship with each other in celebration of all that is the liturgical essence of living the eucharistic life. Here is a look inside Holy Cross Old Catholic parish. It is absolutely beautiful. Both Holy Cross and St. Mary Magdalene's parish buildings have always been Old Catholic. Both community's have a long history before and after the First Vatican Council and its infamous infallibility teaching of the pope. Holy Cross parish has been in existence at least from the 14th-century. The mosaics on the wall are faded a bit, but are part of the original church and give it character. I attended weekday Mass at Holy Cross, and it was a moving experience. Close to fifteen people were in attendance and the local Old Catholic Bishop Dušan presided at the Mass liturgy. He cantored the psalmody for the day with his wonderful voice while playing his guitar. He is one amazingly gifted bishop to be sure!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

More Random Pictures of Prague


The Castle and Cathedral of Prague at a distance...




Walking the streets and cobblestone corridors of Prague...




Ahh, Prague's tram (street car) system--there is no better way to get around town! The trams commute all around Prague's inner city as well as the extending suburb-like towns...it is amazing how one can commute around town via tram easier than with a car.








Some more pictures of Prague (or in Czech "Praha").