Random Thoughts on an English Mass in Munich

For my spring break I have decamped to Munich to visit a colleague at Ludwig-Maximilliam Universitat.  On Sunday, my wife and I went to an English language mass at the the Church of St. Boniface in central Munich.   The mass is one of several English masses in Munich originally organized by Irish priests in the 1980s for Irish guest workers.  The community has expanded since then, and now includes a variety of English speakers including filipinos and people from a number of African countries, predominantly Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.    From the servers, lectors and other leaders it was clear that the Africans were the dominant group.  

The mass itself was quite an experience.  The priest was an expatriate Franciscan from Cincinnati who has been in Munich for 40 years.  The music was Catholic “folk” music, but supplemented by an accordion–definitely a nice touch.  Prior to mass we said the stations of the cross and it was amazing listening to the prolix, purple prose of St. Alphonsus Ligouri (“Oh my sweet Jesus, who didst suffer for my sins….”) in half a dozen accented versions of English.

The mass itself followed the old English sacramentary and I found myself stumbling on the responses all over again:  my “and with your spirit” crossing over “and also with you.”  Either the Irish have not yet implemented the reforms of the English liturgy, or this parish did not get the memo.  (Or having spoken a bit with the priest, it may be that they  have gotten the memo and ignored it.)

There were two collections:  one for the upkeep of the Church and one for poor children.  They did both simultaneously by the expedient of putting large pink piggy banks in the middle of each collection basket.  I never did figure out which was for which.

The greeting of peace was a protracted affair, as the priest, the altar servers (4, two young boys and two teenage girls) and a handful of people I would call the “elders” of the community went around the Church greeting people, particularly visitors such as ourselves.    Everyone around us, particularly the regular members of the community, was extremely open and friendly.

At communion the poor father behind us could not restrain his sons, who went tearing off to cut into the front of the line to be among the first to receive communion or a blessing from the priest.  I wish my kids had showed such enthusiasm for the sacraments at that age!

After mass we were invited up to the “family room” for coffee and donuts.  The filipinos made a giant bowl of stir fried noodles which was quickly demolished.  (I managed to get a donut, or at least it looked like a donut hole.  Tasted different though.)    We chatted with the priest and then with one of the elders, who brought us the guest book to sign.  Shortly after that, he interrupted the chit-chat to introduce a different visitor:  “George” was recently arrived from Ghana, and though he had a job, he had not yet found a place to live.  The elder pressed the other members of the community to offer him a temporary place to stay, and to consider if they could sublet a room to him “since he would be able to help with the rent.”   As we were leaving, another elder stopped us to inquire if we would be back next week.  When we said we were going home, he made us promise to come back the next time we were in Munich:  a promise we were happy to make.

Visiting this English language mass at St. Boniface was a blessing.  At the risk of a cliche, I found it to be Spirit-filled and joyful.  I was impressed by the sense of community, and the ownership that the laity had in it:  it really seemed like it was their Church.  I was also impressed by their hospitality and their concrete sense of charity:  I simply cannot imagine my pastor standing up, introducing a visitor, and trying to find him a place to live.   As my wife trenchantly put it as we were leaving:  “can we go here every week?”  A good question.

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  • Jordan

    David [per article]: Either the Irish have not yet implemented the reforms of the English liturgy, or this parish did not get the memo. (Or having spoken a bit with the priest, it may be that they have gotten the memo and ignored it.)

    Pope Francis should allow use of the Sacramentary by indult of a local ordinary. Even better, perhaps the pope could allow use of the Sacramentary at a priest’s discretion.

    For the most part, I like the new translation. In particular, the new translations for the eucharistic prayers are well done. There are some spectacularly awful propers translations, but for the moment the new translation is a sufficient work in progress. However the propers of the new translation are often composed at a New York Times syntactical level. Some people can follow Mass at this level. Those for whom English is not a native language often cannot easily follow Mass at this level and at a spoken rate. Also, some native anglophone speakers might find the new translation to be stilted and therefore irrelevant to them regardless of the syntactical structure of the text.

    I suspect that many parishes in anglophone countries would resume use of the Sacramentary if an indult or motu proprio were offered. So be it. Those who prefer the newer translation will parish-shop until they find a church where the new translation is used.

  • Dante Aligheri

    Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

  • Ronald King

    I love your description of this community. It exemplifies what we need most as human beings, a sense of belonging and value. The environment is the result of the priest’s level of attachment to his parish family and how he expresses his feelings about their importance in his life. It is the same in any family. Where Love rules other rules seem insignificant and intrusive. I want to go there also.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    We had a great meal at the “Augustiner” restaurant diagonally across from the Burger-Saal Kirche. It is a kind of Beer-Hall looking place, but in the very back there is a very charming smaller and more quaint room which was a delight to eat in. That is how we found it– we entered from the back. I am not sure I would have stayed if I entered from the front, as there were a lot of drunk loud people there. But the food was really amazing. We had a special of Venison that day that was incredible. Also, I don’t know if you are into art, but I highly recommend seeing Ignaz Gunter’s Schuetz-Engel in the aforementioned Burger-Saal church. Amazing! And touching with little Tobias being guided.

  • Brendan Kelleher SVD.

    Putting aside the question of why the celebrant was using the old Sacramentary, though costs may have been a problem, I discovered recently that I’d been using the new English edition of RM3 without “the requisite permission”. It seems that I/we should have obtained “permission” via our local Ordinary from the USCCB. Back in 2011, I informed the Bishop orally, that since the worship aids and hymnal we use come from the US, I planned to use the new English edition of RM3 from the 1st Sunday of Advent. He had no objections. Recently however a communication from the USCCB to the Japanese Bishops asked to be notified regarding the extent of use of the US edition of the English translation of RM3.
    Still not certain whether I am permitted or authorized to use the the new RM, but pastoral cosiderations would now make nonsense of going back to the old Sacramentary. I have mixed feelings about the translation, finding some of the prayers, prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers have a richness and depth I hadn’t always noticed. But at the same time, given the multi-cultural nature of the community I celebrate with, wondering if the language isn’t over the heads of some of them. From April I will be chairing the diocesan liturgy commission as we prepare for the introduction of the revised/renewed Japanese translation. Japan has had an ongoing translation battle with Rome that has lasted at least as long as that of the English speaking countries.
    I have worked here in Japan, in parishes and also in education – teaching English language and literature, and Religion – for some thirty five years. My ministry with the ex-pat community has run paralell to such work for the past twenty years. And similarly to the community described above, we have managed all sorts of social events over the years. In other parishes in the diocese where there is a sigificant migrant worker population the migrant workers actually outnumber the Japanese, so getting two communities together is also a major pastoral endeavour.

  • Agellius

    Very depressing.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      What is very depressing?

      • Agellius

        “The music was Catholic “folk” music, but supplemented by an accordion ….”

        “The mass itself followed the old English sacramentary….”

        “(Or having spoken a bit with the priest, it may be that they have gotten the memo and ignored it.)”

        “The greeting of peace was a protracted affair, as the priest, the altar servers … went around the Church greeting people, particularly visitors such as ourselves.”

        “At communion the poor father behind us could not restrain his sons, who went tearing off to cut into the front of the line to be among the first to receive communion or a blessing from the priest.”

        • Kurt

          Agellius, my friend, if these simple things going on in one parish half way across the world from you make you “very depressed”, then you have renewed my dedication that the ACA needs to mandate a full range of pharmaceuticals including Prozac in all insurance plans.

        • Agellius

          You liberals… Drugs is always the answer, isn’t it? ; )

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Well, here in Munich I prefer beer….

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    To defend Agellius a bit; What is worthy of worry and angst, if one cares to begin with, is the world wide conspiracy to use plangent folk music to lull 1.2 billion Catholics into mental torpor. I remember hearing the St. Louis Jesuits’ songs sung in German at a parish in Duesseldorf. At the time I was a seminarian, and did not grasp the nefarious intent of it all. Not I see it clearly. and don’t forget who produced it all……….the…….jesuits!

    Btw, I heard my one time friend Joe Tyson, now Bishop in yakima, try to explain what a Jesuit was in relation to the new Pope, on a local radio station. It is amazing what a bit of Googling gets ya’. What surprised me more than anything was not his downplaying of the specialness of a Jesuit Pope, but the fact that in his moment of excitement his voice seemed to gravity inexorably to the exact vocal cadence and intonation of Sarah Palin. There is something strange going on……and imitating Sarah Palin unconsciously is really depressing!

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I forgot to mention in my stream-of-consciousness that the connection with the no Bishop of Yakima is that originally, as he once told, he had wanted to be a jesuit, but had been turned down by them. So we see the Jesuit connection.

    Btw, perhaps the Jesuit Nathan here can answer something that has always puzzled me. Namely, that “Society” does not seem to be like it has ever been a good translation of “Compania”. Of course, it can mean “society” in some way. Yet it is utterly clear from Ignatius’ biography that he meant “Compania” in the sense of a military battalion, and not something like a civil society. Thus, is really should be Nathan Halloran, B. J., priest of the Battalion of Jesus., etc. How has this never been addressed?? Curious types want to know.