I had two great experiences of church today. This morning, i had the priveledge to join my friend Eveline at the Dutch church in Rome for the Sunday Eucharist, and this evening we joined our friend Stian at an Anglican celebration of Evensong (Vespers) at All Saints.
The Dutch church, San Michele dei Frisoni, is located just over the international border at Piazza San Pietro, on the Italy side – litteraly right out from the piazza, hang right and up the stairs. Voila! You are I the Kerk van de Friezen. The Friezen, apparently, are one of the regional cultural groups in the Netherlands, like Holland. (If that link does not work, or, more likely, if you cannot read Dutch, try this one.)
It is a beautiful language, especially when sung. I have the sense always of being just on the edge of comprehension. The common Germanic root of English and Dutch makes it as if listening to a conversation in another room, so that you feel like you can almost make out what is being said, but not quite.
After the liturgy, I was asked about differences with my experience of the mass in America and in Rome. Obviously, the language, and some small details (for example, almost no one made the small sign of the cross at the gospel). But, the mass is the mass, and coffee hour, apparently, is coffee hour.
More noticeably, though, was a real quality of the congregational singing; there was only a small choir yet every song was richly done. That and the assembly filled the church, but was on average noticeably older than what I am familiar with. They did announce a pilgrimage from the diocese of Tilburg coming next week, though, so it will be interesting to see if it is young people or older.
Speaking of pilgrimages, one of the members present was called forth for a special blessing and recognition. He had walked from the Netherlands to Rome, a journey that took him a little over three months, and about 2000 km/1400mi. I wish I knew more about his experience to share, but it was all in Dutch. Though Eveline was kind enough to translate the highlights of the homily, we decided the announcements were fine left in the original!
In the evening Stian, Eveline and I trekked to All Saints for Festal Evensong (Vespers), one of two Anglican churches in Rome. All Saints is the Church of England parish, while St. Pauls-within-the-Walls is the (American) Episcopalian parish. The church was celebrating the feast of their dedication, so there was a choir from Hexam Abbey and the guest preacher was British Monsignor Mark Langham who is the person responsible for relations with Anglicans in Rome, from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Father Mark opened his homily by admitting that, as he sat to begin writing his remarks this week, he found himself wishing that he had been invited to preach last week – before the press conference that has made such an impression on Anglican-Catholic relations. Without ignoring the challenges posed by the announcement, the reflections genuinely focused on the community of All Saints and on the community as one of the many expressions of the unity to which we are all called.
Whether this is an aspect of British culture I am not familiar with, I do not know, but several times he employed some very good humor, and it seemed as though the three of us were the only ones appreciating it. (At the beginning he said something about the news of the week causing ripples in the “normally tranquil waters of ecumenical dialogue.” Tranquil waters indeed!)
It was enough that we were wondering how much was perhaps some latent tension surrounding the presence of a guest preacher form the Holy See in such proximity to the announcement of the Personal Ordinariates. To his great credit, Father Langham neither sidestepped the question, nor did he dwell on it, focusing on the cause for celebration, the dedication feast of All Saints parish in Rome.
The prayers of the faithful were also interesting, “Let ecumenical dialogue be honest… and charitable,” being the most memorable among a list of prayers for unity.
As beautiful as the service was, it was difficult to fully participate. The songs were choral, rather than congregational, and often in unfamiliar settings. Though my internal liturgist recoils at the thought, I suppose there can be times to sit back and appreciate the beauty of liturgy without engaging more than the receptive senses!