StephansDom on the Feast of Stephen

Everyone else went to an art museum, a private collection that was being opened for a short while to the public. Me? I went to mass. Because how often do you get to visit a cathedral on the feast of the patron saint, during the Twelve Days of Christmas, when the mass-setting is Josef Hayden’s “Lord Nelson Mass”? Not often. Plus I’d not gotten what I wanted out of Christmas Day mass, for various reasons.

December 26th is Boxing Day in Britain and the Commonwealth. It is “hit the sales day” in the US [alas]. It is also the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. If many people in the US even think about the day, it might be in connection with the song/carol “Good King Wenceslas” who went out “on the feast of Stephen.” Wenceslas, or Vaclav, or Wetzel, was one of the early Christian princes (kings) of Bohemia, and he was murdered by his half-brother for politics as much as for faith. Not that it stopped his being named a saint. Just for confusion there’s also St. Stephen king of Hungary, who really was a king . . . But my digression is digressing.

So, it was colder than a well-digger’s hip-pocket in Vienna that year. As in single digit Fahrenheit cold, which caused problems for public transportation because the power was diverted to heating houses. Things started thawing a little on Christmas Eve, but not much. I went to mass at St. Michael Archangel, the parish church in the Hofburg palace, and it was wonderful – small, devout, and worshipful. At midnight, all the bells in Vienna rang, led by Pummerin. On Christmas I went to mass, learned how panic-crushes happen, and then visited a Cistercian abbey out in the middle of nowhere (the Wienerwald). Come St. Stephan’s Day, I wanted something different. So I went to mass at the cathedral once more.

Stephansdom after a rain. Author Photo, June, 2019.

I got there early, genuflected, and opted to sit. I found myself in with some elderly folks and a group of Benedictine nuns and novices. I settled in for a long sit-stand-bow-kneel-bow-sit. The church didn’t completely fill, but it was close. I didn’t see many obvious tourists, and I was dressed to blend in. The wait gave time for meditation and prayer, and thinking about how long people have been worshiping on this site. At least two thousand years, because below the crypt, Roman ruins have been found. And those are on what seems to have been a pagan, probably Celtic, worship site. St. Stephan’s itself has very old bones, going back to 1137. An older, mortuary church existed before then, predating St. Rupert’s*, but there are no records thus far that name that chapel. The large open area around the church shows where the cemetery was, and the Roman cemetery before that. In 1258, a fire did in the older church, and the Gothic version we see today was started. (Fire is/was the bane of medieval churches.)

Note the rainbow at the base of the tower. Author photo, June, 2019.

Mass began with bells, and a procession led by the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, in crimson and white, with lace trim and a very elaborate pattern on his miter. Just behind him followed the relics of St. Stephan the Martyr, including part of his arm. The music, as I said above, was what most of us call the “Lord Nelson Mass,” a festival mass. It was the end of the Hayden Year, and a fitting end it was too. I’d never heard a mass “at work,” so to speak. The language of the mass was German, with some Latin and Greek (the Kyrie) and I followed it easily. I freely confess that I was glad to have a wooden kneeler instead of kneeling on the stone floor like the novices and younger nuns were doing. The homily was about the persecuted church, a topic that raised my eyebrows a little, given the attitude of the EU at the time. Looking back, I wonder of the Archbishop was poking someone (December 2009). Either way, it fit the day. It was a very uplifting, worshipful service.

Having learned my lesson the day before, I eased out the door of the transept, staying well away from the main doors.

I met the group that afternoon and spent the day packing and then enjoying a very nice supper. We had to be at the airport at five AM the next day.

*Rupert’s Church, on Salzgasse, is the oldest church in Vienna. St. Rupert of Salzburg is the patron of salt makers and salt traders. More about that church tomorrow.


6 thoughts on “StephansDom on the Feast of Stephen

  1. For the last 25 years, there have direct and indirect church restrictions in many European countries, often measures encouraged by the state church that effectively limited their competition.

    For example, in the mid 1990’s, Austria set expensive rules for overnight stays at church facilities. The state church could afford to follow them, but others couldn’t. The rules essentially shut down Bible schools and Christian colleges in Austria outside those run by the state church.

    • That’s one of the downsides , in my opinion, of the church tying itself to the state, and vice versa. WWI and its aftermath provide others. So long as there are people running the church and the state, well. . .

      Be that as it may, I found Christmas in Vienna that year to be spiritual and rich for me.

    • But on the bright side, you are not compelled to celebrate degeneracy.
      (“Blessings of Liberty” my hairy heinie.)

      • Except when that state church is degenerate, or coopted by the degenerate.

        Currently, the cults of Leftism are established.

        I would submit that we may be called to a new Crusade.

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