Sunday, June 13, 2010

High praise

Lobet den Herrn, ihr auf der Erde … ihr Berge und all ihr Hügel, ihr Fruchtbäume und alle Zedern, ihr wilden Tiere und alles Vieh, Kriechtiere und gefiederte Vögel, ihr Könige der Erde und alle Völker, ihr Fürsten und alle Richter auf Erden, ihr jungen Männer und auch ihr Mädchen, ihr Alten mit den Jungen!
-- Psalm 148:7, 9-12

Would you go to Mass on a high mountain? What if it were said in German? What about in a wooden chapel surrounded by cows? Would you go to one there?

My apologies to Dr. Seuss, but yes I would—but please hold the green eggs and ham.

On this rainy, foggy Sunday I did all of the above. Shortly after Lauds, I accompanied Fr. Gregor (the novice-junior master here at Kloster Einsiedeln) on his chaplain assignment. Together we walked to the bus station in Einsiedeln, and rode for about 20 minutes toward Schwyz to the south. In Brunni we got off and rode a cable car up the mountainside, about 500 meters below the summit of the Big Mythen, to Holzegg. There, a number of hiking trails converge on a café/bar and a small wooden chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas.

After come coffee and tea, Fr. Gregor went ahead to the chapel to prepare for Mass, while I lingered and took in the view. Unfortunately, it was quite limited due to the weather. I’m told that when the skies are clear, the vantage point offers an incredible view of the Alps (which was fine, since I forgot my camera).

The Holzegg chapel is one of several in the mountains surrounding Einsiedeln that some ordained monks travel to on Sundays during the summer to say Mass for vacationers, tourists, and hikers in the area. In most cases, the mountain chapels are operated by foundations of local residents who then find priests to minister during the summer. On a nice day, Fr. Gregor said around 70 people might come to Mass at Holzegg. On this day, there were about 30 or so. There were also plenty of seats available at the café—normally quite crowded on nice weekends.

About 15 minutes or so before Mass began, I began heading down the narrow trail toward the chapel. Surrounding me in the fog and mist was the sound of bells—not from the chapel, but from the necks of dozens of cows grazing in the rocky pasture. These cattle are very friendly—or at least intensely curious. As I stopped to watch them, they all gathered near me, a thin ribbon of rope the only barrier between us. If I moved a few steps further down the path, they came along, galloping, clanging, mooing, and tinkling (yes, I do mean that in the sense you might imagine). As I entered the chapel and took a seat, the ringing and mooing continued outside. For a while, I thought the herd was going to come in and join us. Fr. Gregor, completing one last head count before Mass, passed by me and whispered, “Many cows, few people.”

And so Mass began – in a wooden chapel surrounded by cows, said in German on a high mountain. There we were—30 or so pilgrims, and twice as many cattle—making a racket in the fog, and hopefully praising God with all our hearts. How can you possibly beat that? I loved every minute—though I understand little German and even less Bovine.

Later in the afternoon, back at Einsiedeln, a few of us monks peeked out of the cloister along the gallery railings to see a church packed with Croatian pilgrims celebrating Mass. There were an estimated 3,000 of them. No cows.

Still later, after Vespers, several other monks and I attended a choir concert performed by the students of Einsiedeln high school—and directed by Fr. Lukas, who is also the choirmaster for the monastery. Most of the songs were in English—everything from Billy Joel to Andrew Lloyd Webber to ABBA. It was a rousing performance.

The last piece was “Heaven is a Wonderful Place.” And so it is, whether it is sung in German, Croation, English, or Bovine. After all, the “kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Ring those bells!

Praise the Lord from the earth … mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Psalm 148:7, 9-12

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