Advent in the Salzkammergut
Get into the spirit of Christmas without the punch stands, shopping craziness and ‘Last Christmas’. Anyone who is willing can find silence and mystical Christmas romance during the early morning Rorate Masses. These sacred events are once again enjoying great popularity despite their ungodly hour.
It’s still dark when the people of Mondsee make their way to the Rorate Masses in the St. Michael Basilica on each of the four Sundays of Advent. Those who are able make the journey on foot. People are still lethargic at this early hour. Just like the heavy bells in the high towers of the basilica, which ring in the Mass at 6:30. More and more people quietly enter the church. Many carry lanterns or torches. While in our modern society complaints are often heard about poorly attended mass, not a trace of this trend can be found on the Advent Sundays in Mondsee. The nave, which is almost exclusively lit with candles, is filled to the last seat. Surprisingly, many of the attendees are children and teens. At the moment, Father Ernst Wageneder is in the sacristy of the basilica. Lost in his own musings, he quietly and calmly reads through the prayers one more time. The acolytes are tired, but even they sense the anticipation for Christmas. Something mystical is happening here. It seems that something secretive is drawing closer. From week to week, from Sunday to Sunday. God approaching mankind. Mankind on a path to God.
Worship by candlelight
In the past few years, the Rorate Masses have developed into a beloved Advent custom once again, which we here in Mondsee have combined with a communal breakfast afterwards,” Father Wageneder explains. One of the most special aspects of the service is the picturesque lighting of the church with a plethora of candles. The boisterous organ music has been replaced with choral singing. This atmosphere of calm and community captivates people during the often hectic pre-Christmas season. For many, it is a wonderful feeling to be able to start the morning in such a contemplative manner. “The masses truly lead the worshipers into the light. Prayers and singing take place in darkness, and when one leaves the church it’s already light,” Father Wageneder clarifies and points out that the Rorate Masses were originally Maria Masses. The custom of singing a Marian hymn at the end of the Rorate Mass has been preserved in many parishes until today.
The name of the Rorate Mass stems from its opening verse from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 45: “Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant iustum: aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.” Translated into English, it reads: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.” Rorate Masses are Sunday Masses, like all others, but only occur during the Advent season, the period leading up to Christmas. “A lot of energy radiates from these Masses. You can feel the longing and anticipation of people for the approaching Christmas celebration,” Wageneder states.
Longing for spirituality
As a minister, the Mondsee pastor has a lot to do during the Christmas season. When he can guide people through the challenges of life, he feels closest to God. Through interactions with people, says Wageneder, he seeks God. “God lives in mankind and works through mankind.” He observes a strong awareness of spirituality in society. “Where is the foundation for my life? What's the meaning of my life? These philosophical, very essential questions of mankind have not weakened.” From his many conversations with young people, Wageneder knows that the search for God is also important to them, albeit this exploration is critically questioned and no longer institutionally bound by doctrine.
For the approaching Christmas season, he wishes that people would manage to spend time with their loved ones. It seems to him that a primal longing of mankind is to come together in community “because the time available to us for this purpose has unfortunately been lost due to a variety of circumstances that must be overcome during the year.” Year after year, the Advent and Christmas season offers the opportunity to fulfill this desire. Maybe in our fast-paced society, the most beautiful gift is just a little bit of time.
Time for Christmas
In the Salzkammergut, the Christmas season can also be genuinely and authentically experienced outside the church. The mountains, lakes and forests are complemented by the towns and villages with their harmonious decorations of lights, nativity scenes and Christmas trees. Culinary delights and regional handicrafts abound. Every Wednesday evening in St. Wolfgang, all the lights are switched off, and the local Christmas market illuminated by candlelight. On skating rinks, parents frolic with their children. The region's Christmas markets smell of fresh pine, roasted chestnuts and punch. When the first snow falls and the ice flowers bloom on the windows, it’s perfect winter magic.