See introduction to Mass Tourism series here for the motivation behind these essays
The plans were made in early summer with a sale on Icelandair from DC to Europe. Once again, we were going to visit divine and Catholic Garmisch-Partenkirchen but in December when the legendary Christmas markets abounded. Given the arduous events of the year, I wasn’t going to begrudge this time away—we needed it.
The only thought I gave to the date was how they squared with the work week. Only as the day approached did I realize our departure late on Saturday afternoon and flying across time zones all day Sunday would make it impossible to attend Mass on the day of obligation. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. It might be possible to attend Mass at wee St. Sebastian if they happen to have it Sunday evening. It was unlikely we’d be in Munich in the morning even if I knew of a place. Since Mom is a Byzantine, she doesn’t fret about such things.
And this is where God provided in a most peculiar way. While munching trail mix at gate A19 at Dulles with quite a lot of time to kill—arrived early, checked in fast, got through security which was completely empty and multiple security lanes to choose from—an announcement blared over the PA which I zoned out as per usual. Except my mind match-filtered on “Catholic mass” “chapel” within the usual gibberish of flight changes and people needing to get their late ass to the gate.
On the way to the chapel across from gate A31—a small hike—I imagined this mass attended by maybe 2 people—us—and their luggage.
We arrived at the chapel, a room for roughly two dozen people clearly adorned as generically hallowed. Some people showed up through the door the same time as we did: an Asian woman with the uniform of a domestic airline, a guy in a ski vest, and an older gentleman. A small altar stood at the back with goblet and opened book indicative of Mass preparation. On the left side were two men of Middle Eastern appearance prostrating on prayer rugs and rising again—clearing performing the daily prayers required of Islam. Not sure why they were there since the front door showed the regular vigil mass on Saturday at 5:45 PM which was nigh.
A few more showed up and sat in a chair or knelt on the carpeted floor – no kneelers in this chapel. The celebrant came out of a side room, an elderly priest with thinning white hair. Despite Muslims still doing their thing, Mass commenced on time. This was the first Sunday of Advent.
A religious sister across the aisle from me said the responses very loud and clear and I felt I needed to compete with her. I think she was a “shill” to help the sheepish make-shift congregants realize this was a Mass even though it was at an airport. It worked—people began to speak up.
After the liturgy of the word, the priest asked for a show of hands of who would be taking communion. Because we wolfed down trail mix minutes before, we did not raise our hands. He counted out an equivalent number of host bread and started the liturgy of the Eucharist.
At the sign of peace, the priest joined the group changing hands. What struck me is the truly catholic complexion of this little group—people of Asian, African, European, Latin American origins. Many may claim diversity, but only the catholic church can claim unity at the same time: one bread, one cup, one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The original mega-church on which the sun does not set—accept no imitations.