Working on a small writing project here in the Czech Republic, a little introduction to wine in this beautiful country. Nothing grandiose, but with a goal that it be helpful, interesting, and accessible. This post, though, has little to do with that subject.
Doing research for the project this weekend, I stopped for Mass in a village this weekend. I am Catholic, which has a lot of definitions to different people. One might describe my faith as: Stumbling and tripping, hopefully towards God, even in the Communion line.
The Catholic Church in the Czech Republic seems to be a relatively small, but healthy organism. Churches are by no means full, but the population consists of more than just canes and walkers. (And respect to those people on canes and walkers, many of them practiced their faith throughout the anti-religious Communist years).
As you can see in the picture above, this church was spacious, voluminous – a simple harmony of red, blue, and off-white. On the periphery of the interior, parishioners had set up a display of all the vestments of the priests, from joyous blues and pinks to sobering black, and some Latin prayer and choral books. The collection of an ancient script and historic clothing, combined with the sun-lit space of this old structure, put me in an bucolic, if imperial mood. Finished in 1788, the church served winemakers and grain farmers, who then paid taxes to the Hapsburg Emperor residing in Vienna a day’s ride from here. An image of imperfect harmony, but harmonious
The liturgy came simply, without flourish, concordant enough with the liturgy’s setting, guided by a younger priest with two teenage boys as altar servers. I understood little, but at least I understood a little. The prayers of Consecration were quick, devout, and as people lined up for Communion, the choir struck a familiar “Chord, that David played and pleased the Lord.” Suddenly, from my already stilted attempts of distracted contemplation and devotion, I could only think of kitchen chairs and haircuts.
It’s a tune I respect immensely; and by dint of its popularity, I distrust the “cult” around it. I do hope the lyrics were changed for the service.
Some people might be aghast that such a tune ring out in a church. Well, it ain’t the first time. Lots of hallowed songs have rowdy, raucous, and romantic beginnings. The music of the respectable Star-Spangled Banner comes from a drinking song, and I think some of the old Welsh tunes were appropriated to create some of the greatest hymns of Protestant Christendom.
Of course, some people might be aghast that such a tune ring out in a church. Because religion is stolid and dry and restrictive and heavy-handed and evil and it’s appropriating something real and sensual and codifying it. Religion also happens to supply much of the imagery in the lyrics of the aforementioned song. There is a sensuality in faith, hidden at times, seemingly dry at other times, and sometimes dry, that can spring forth healing clear and clean.
What does the experience teach me? I don’t respond well to Leonard Cohen’s hit song in church. Also I can choose to be easily offended or easily amused. I’ll try the latter.