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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).


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