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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Consecration Mass of the New Old Catholic Bishop of Germany

My stay in Sweden was short and on Friday, March 20th, I took a 9 hour train ride on the Euro rail all the way to the southwest tip of Germany to a city called Karlsruhe. I stayed with the delegation from the Czech Republic friday evening. The consecration of the new German Old Catholic Bishop Matthias Ring was on Saturday, March 21st in the afternoon. The consecration mass was an amazing event! There were over 1,200 Old Catholics gathered together to consecrate and celebrate their new local bishop's ministry. I must admit it was an amazing experience and an honor to share in the joy of the local German Church's welcoming of their new bishop.

I was surprised and most of all happy to see the many and varied ecumenical guests in attendance at the consecration mass. Among the guests included the local Roman Catholic bishop, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Germany, Protestant/Reformed leaders, and chief Rabbi representing the German Jewish community. This was also a moment of enlightment for me as I realized the authenticity of what was occuring: the baptized were in fact gathering together in a beautiful building to call forth and consecrate a bishop for their local Church! Put another way, by the mere presence of the ecumenical delegates attending one can grasp that clearly a historical event was taking place at that very moment.

This picture dipicts the assembly in celebration of the liturgy of the Word during the Mass, singing the great Alleluia, while the deacon and servers lift high the book of gospels in adoration and preparation of its proclamation.

It is also the same book of gospels that was held over the head of Matthias Ring during the laying on of hands by the Old Catholic College of bishops and the consecration prayer.

Here Matthias is called forward to be received as a candidate for episcopal consecration. It is a public affirmation of Matthias Ring's synodical election by the local-universal Church and approval for consecration by the Old Catholic College of Bishops (a/k/a the IBC or IBK).

Matthias lies completely prostrate during the litany of the saints--an ancient prayer of church--as a symbol of his episcopal office in representing to the local-universal Church of Germany his calling to be the image of the servant Christ for and with the local baptized in the celebration of all that is Holy Eucharist! A powerful symbolic action that asks for the prayers of those saints who went before us marked with the sign of faith. I was delighted that Bonhoeffer and Romero were included in the litany.

I love this picture of the gathered assembly! So many Old Catholics under one roof!!! This is something we do not get to see here in the United States or in North America generally speaking. What I speak of here is not about the size of the crowd--people gather in large groups for many and varied reasons--but the fact that Old Catholicism (properly understood as being the churches of the Union of Utrecht) is indeed a historical and generational reality. Put in American Roman Catholic terminology, it is a real, historical and authentic church!

Another magnificent picture. Rev. (Fr.) and Prof. Dr. of Old Catholic theology at the University of Bonn, Germany, Günther Esser (left) and Rev. and Prof. Dr. of Old Catholic Theology at the University of Bern, Switzerland, Angela Berlis (right) hold the book of gospels over the head of Matthias Ring while the Archbishop of Utrecht, Joris Vercammen, lays hands on Ring.

The same book of gospels used throughout the liturgy in various ways is now presented to Ring as a token and symbol of his episcopal servitude in Christ to his local Church in Germany.

Bishop Matthias receives his mitre -- symbol of the local-universal Church's episcopal ministry.

Bishop Matthias Ring is the new local bishop for the Old Catholic Church of the Diocese of Germany.

It was an amazing day filled with joy! Later that evening I started to prepare for my car trip to Prague the next day. More pictures and stories to come...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark Tuesday, March 17th and from there took a train over to Malmö, Sweden. I spent a couple of days here before taking a Euro rail train to Karlsure, Germany for the new Old Catholic bishop's consecration. Fr. Rickard and Kristoffer (an Old Catholic seminarian from Sweden) were my hosts in Sweden and gave me a whirlwind tour of some of the magnificent church building in Malmö and Lund. The picture above is one of the many historical church buildings of the Lutheran Church of Sweden.

One of the very first thoughts that came to my mind was how rich and ancient the history here in Europe is. Most of the Lutheran church buildings in Sweden have a Roman Catholic gothic architechture -- beautiful in its own right -- and the liturgies here are more Anglo-Catholic than the Anglo-Catholics! In this particular church building I visited its underground crypt where bishops were buried before and after the sixteenth-century Reformation. To be able to touch a bishop's tomb from the twelfth-century was extraordinary, and reminded me of how short life truly is.

The Old Catholic communities here in Sweden are small quantitatively, but large qualitatively. Meaning, Old Catholics in Sweden have a dynamic calling to try and relate to the state run Lutheran Church of Sweden as well as their neighboring Anglican Church in Denmark. The quality and sense of authentic communion is ripe with the Swedish Old Catholics in that they seek to live out in diverse ways their communion with the Anglicans in addition to fostering a closer relationship -- centered in mutuality and repect -- with the Lutheran Church of Sweden.

It is here that I cannot help but recall the words of the Swiss Bishop and theologian Urs Küry (d. 1976) in defining Old Catholicism as being a manifestaion of the Western Catholic Church through the ages whose mission it is to "return to the principles of the Early Church;" not in imitating it anachronistically, but affirming the essentials that has always been received and accepted by the universal church, i.e. the authority of scripture and tradition, sacraments, episcopal ministry, and conciliar/synodality governance. What unites us in communion is our common baptism into the life of our Triune God. Baptism is the eucharistic essence of the church -- the gathering of the baptized in celebration of Christ's life, death, and resurrection -- and is the primary identity of the Sophia-Spirit that energizes the assembly to gather as ecclesia in Christ's name at the Mass. My stay in Sweden was the beginning of many wonderful experiences awaiting me in Germany and in Prague, Czech Republic.