Friday, June 3, 2011

History in the Making: A Prague Spring --Slowly Coming but with hope

Mass in a Prague Church

This was not my first trip to the Czech Republic; indeed it is my favorite country in Europe—greener than Ireland, more interesting architecture than France, prettier countryside than Italy, better dumplings (and sauerkraut) than Germany, better music than Austria, and the best beer in the world.  (Yes, sorry Belgium, but the best beer!)   The people are lovely—and although I just read that John Malkovich had been robbed there—I believe a very safe country.
In no country was the communist regime more successful in wiping out religion than in what was then Czechoslovakia.  The effects today are tragic to see.  Once a vibrant Catholic culture, Bohemia and Moravia, today less than 5% of the population attends Church.  There are these magnificent churches—and normally I don’t like the Baroque but the Czech churches are magnificent—and they are empty except for concerts which seem to happen almost daily in every church.  
But the news is not all bad.  That 5% is a curious five percent.  I was struck to see at both daily and Sunday mass that 70% of the worshippers were under 40.  Lots of families with kids!  Well dressed people.  Attentive.  Singing their hearts out—every mass I attended and I was at mass each day—was a full sung mass with accompaniment.     I was staying with priest friends of mine and they told me that those who come to church tend to be the young intellectuals who find the secular culture simply does not address their basic questions. 
The neo-traditionalist movement that favors the restoration of pre-Vatican II Catholicism is virtually unknown in the Czech Republic.  The mass is in Czech, there are lay readers and Eucharistic ministers.  Altar girls are as common as altar boys.  The mass is invariably celebrated facing the congregation.  Communion in both kinds is virtually unknown however.  A reluctance here might be due in part to the history of the utraquist movement.  (The Utraquists were a movement in Bohemia from the fourteenth century through the time of the Reformation that taught that communion in both kinds was necessary for salvation.)   The music in the churches for mass tends to a rather classic (I won’t say traditionalist or conservative) sound and while there may be violins or brass along with wonderful baroque organs, guitars are not to be seen.  The churches themselves are usually in the baroque or neo-classical style and the statuary and decorations are superb.  Overall, the effect of the liturgy is dignified and yet communicative with the ordinary person.    
My clergy friends spoke of rebuilding the faith there and they have great hope.  In addition to mass, I noticed that various forms of communal prayer—the Liturgy of the Hours, a sort of Taizé like reflective prayer, and other devotional practices are strong.  The church is a place for socialization as well as prayer.  The clergy are very present to the people—and surprisingly non-clerical.  (I did not see a clerical collar the whole time there, though religious priests are often in their habits while around the church.  I noticed the priests were very comfortable in shorts and t-shirts—and were young enough and thin enough to wear them—while socializing with parishioners dressed the same way.)  It will be a long time before the Church is a vibrant part of Czech culture again but it does appear that a good foundation is being laid. 

No comments:

Post a Comment