When we moved to Berlin we knew that the main difficulty would be the language barrier. This is particularly so when we thought about church, since neither of us is familiar with the Mass in German. There are the options of English Masses, but we’d need to take the subway to get to them and that quickly gets expensive. David’s solution was to locate a Latin Mass near our house.
For our time here we’ve been going to weekly mass at St Afra’s, part of the St Phillip Neri Institut. It’s Mass in the extraordinary form (for all my non-Catholic readers, that means “old school” or generally the way Hollywood prefers to portray the Catholic Mass) and it’s been a really great experience.
My experience with the extraordinary form until we moved to Berlin was not the best. It was either awkwardly hard to follow or it was ultra-conservative (cute: little girls in mantillas; not-so-cute: priest ranting about male authority/dominance over women) and possibly a little too close to heretical “extraordinary form is the only form and the pope is not the true pope” group. But I’ve really been enjoying our time at St Afra’s – I can’t understand the homilies, which are in German, but based on the crowd and the fact that David hasn’t said “gee, that was a crazy homily” I’m guessing it’s just good, orthodox theology. The Mass is easy to follow and generally it just feels like any other normal church community. There’s even a coffee & cake hour after Mass in the parish shop. We’ve met people from all over the world and it’s a nice mix of everyone from young babies to elderly folks.
The extraordinary form follows a different liturgical calendar, so we got to have the Feast of Christ the King (Christkönigfest) before All Saints. Because it is an important feast we had a special high Mass, with a number of priests in attendance and Adoration at the end, including a litany of saints and the singing of Tantum Ergo. It was so beautiful, with the vestments and banners in the church all changed to gold & white, the lovely chanting of the Schola choir, and the Mass culminating in a beautiful & worshipful time of Adoration. I had convinced Walter to sleep the night before by telling him that he was going to see Jesus at Mass the next day, and therefore needed to sleep so that he could stay in the service, so I was particularly pleased that we had the opportunity for Adoration. Below is the main hymn we sang for the Feast -- Gelobt seist Du, Herr Jesu Christ. It's my new favourite and you can find the German words here.
The solemn beauty and majesty of these extraordinary form Masses is so fitting when you consider that we are actually meeting with Jesus during the Mass. I love that the service begins with the chanting of Asperges me, which always causes me to reflect on Baptism, the remission of sins, and my hope of salvation. You can find an English translation here.
I love the extreme visible reverence shown to Christ & His Body during the Mass, and how we are so often brought to our knees throughout the liturgy. And to be honest, I love the altar rail that separates us from the altar, where we must kneel to receive communion, because this barrier is such a physical reminder of just how sacred the space around the altar & the tabernacle is.
David & I aren’t planning to become “extraordinary form only” fanatics any time soon. We’ve always enjoyed beautiful liturgy, whether it be in Latin or English, with old hymns or modern worship music. Our main concerns are usually that the homilies/priests/parish are concerned with sound doctrine & adherence to the Church’s teaching, that the music is good and serves the liturgy, and that the community is friendly. We’ve found these things in a variety of very different churches. And in this season we have been given the opportunity to come to enjoy and love the extraordinary form, which I think is a great blessing.