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Dialogue Mass - XLII

How Revolutionary Was the Munich Congress?

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
What took place at the 1960 Munich Congress can be described as the first “mega-Mass” in History. Whereas previous events of this nature were characterized by solemnity, pomp and sacrality, as befitting the homage due to the Blessed Sacrament, (1) the main emphasis in Munich was on the people present.

Records show that the liturgy departed noticeably from the traditional lex orandi in that it was “specially designed” (speziell gestaltet) so as to be a “lively celebration” (lebendige Mitfeier) by the people. (2) This was confirmed by the young Fr. Ratzinger who was also present at the Congress; (3) he described it as a preparation for the Council, and a milestone replacing the previous “spectator liturgy” (“schauenden Anbetung”) with a dynamic performance. (4)

mega mass munich 1960

The first mega-Mass at the Munich Congress 1960; below, the Mass and the people being filmed
(Photos: Archive of Munich/Freising Archbishopric, photo collection VN 327, 240)

filming mass 1960 munich
Eye-witness accounts reveal that, besides the ubiquitous singing of the Mass by the people, (5) they cheered and clapped for the celebrities; at the Offertory “the hosts were carried up to the altar in a hundred big baskets”; (6) and everyone held hands at the Our Father. (7) None of this should come as a surprise, for Card. Joseph Wendel had for years been committed to liturgical reform in his diocese. (8)

This contrasted with the solemn High Mass that opened the Council on October 11, 1962. Fr. Josef Jungmann, who was present, was disappointed that his dreams for a “community Mass” had not been put into action. He complained later: “The opening did not please me. ... they haven’t learned anything from the statio orbis in Munich.

In his opinion the fact that the Mass was carried out “correctly” in accordance with the rubrics was wrong; it resembled “the style of Leo XIII”; it was accompanied by “good church music,” which did not facilitate congregational singing; the congregation did not recite the prayers aloud; and there was no distribution of Communion. (9)

The standard explanation as to why Munich was chosen for the International Eucharistic Congress – that Pius XII once spent time there as papal Nuncio – is simply a red herring. The sudden and unexpected switch of venues, which Card. Wendel persuaded Pius XII to make in 1955, can now be explained against the background of the Cardinal’s overweening ambition to renew the face of Catholicism in Munich and present the International Congress as a world premier in liturgical renewal. This was the subject of his 1956 New Year’s Eve sermon that launched the preparations for the Congress. (10)

CArdinal Joseph Wendel

Card. Wendell influenced Pius XII to hold the Congress in Munich

But there was also another reason for choosing Munich as the site of the Congress: it was the prior involvement of Card. Wendel and German Bishops in Catholic-Protestant dialogue. Indeed, Germany was the main country in which Catholic activity in ecumenism was flourishing – at first secretly in the Third Reich for fear of the Nazis and then openly, after the War. (11)

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Munich Congress was also a landmark in ecumenism, as the Vatican proudly announced:

“It was at Munich in 1960 that ecumenical relations began to take on their full importance at Eucharistic Congresses. Hardly had the preparations for the Second Vatican Council begun, than Blessed John XXIII decided to establish the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity. From then on, in the ecclesial context of Vatican II, the movement towards Christian unity became part of the agenda of Eucharistic Congresses.” (12)

An ecumenical jamboree

Inter-religious “dialogue” at the Congress was organized by Germany’s largest ecumenical group, the Una Sancta Movement. Books published by the Movement containing articles written by members of different religions, (13) all emphasizing their supposedly “common vision” were distributed free of charge among the crowds. Lectures were held at Munich University on theological topics. It was noted that Protestant theologians were invited to expound their Eucharistic theology to Catholic audiences. (14) But no apologists for Catholic orthodoxy were in evidence.

Instead, heresy was preached from the Catholic side. The German theologian, Otto Karrer, SJ, (15) who had actively promoted ecumenical activities on his own initiative between the two World Wars, and who believed that the non-Catholic religions had Divine approval, was allowed to speak on the Eucharist in the presence of more than 30 Bishops, even though his work had been placed on the Index in 1942. (16)

His lecture, delivered to a packed audience in the the University’s Auditorium Maximum (17) and later published by Una Sancta, emphasized the Protestant notion that the Mass was simply an act of praise and thanksgiving to God, which conveys the spiritual presence of Christ among the participants. (18)

Ecumenically-inspired objections to Eucharistic processions

Hostility to Eucharistic processions was not limited to the Protestant side, but was voiced by Catholics. Otto Karrer complained that they had the spirit of the Counter-Reformation and the appearance of a “pseudo-military parade.” (19)

procession in Munich 1960

Processions were numerous at the Munich Congress despite protests by Jungmann & Karrer

Jungmann joined him in calling for processions of the Blessed Sacrament to be discontinued in the Church because he considered any such demonstrations of Catholic worship a form of triumphalism, a show of Catholic power, which would be offensive to Protestants. (20) He concluded that there was no place for such open displays of Catholicism in modern cities. (21)

But Munich, the capital of once Catholic Bavaria, was a city with a long tradition of Eucharistic processions carried out with great pomp and solemnity stretching back to the medieval era. (22) Pope John XXIII recognized this in his radio message delivered in Latin to the participants of the Congress in 1960: “Munich has been and still is particularly outstanding in its devotion to the most heavenly mystery of the Eucharist.” (23)

Jungmann, however, wanted to put an end to it. It seems that he was ashamed of the very existence of Catholicism itself.

Pope Benedict’s ambivalence

Having been born and brought up in Bavaria, Pope Benedict XVI had been steeped in the very quintessence of Catholic devotion, especially to the Holy Eucharist. It is well known that he has expressed misgivings about certain developments in liturgical reform, but always with a note of ambivalence.

For example, in 2008 he gave a talk on the subject of large outdoor Masses which, he said, continued to pose “an important problem” in the Church. (24) In it, he recalled the 1960 Munich Congress and referred to the “great liturgist” Professor Jungmann, who had revolutionized the event. He did not mention, however, that Jungmann was the driving-force behind a co-ordinated international effort to destroy by stealth both the Church’s traditional liturgy and the popular devotions dear to the heart of every traditional Catholic.

benedict megamass

Pope Benedict's mega-Mass at Yankee Stadium on his visit to the U.S.

The Pope admitted that neither he nor anyone else knew how to solve the problem of preserving the respect due to the Holy Eucharist while prioritizing “active participation” of the people. (25) (Good point – for the two goals, as Jungmann himself had realized, actually militate against each other.)

So, the corollary to this realization is, inescapably, that the people’s “active participation” should never have been attempted in the first place, still less allowed to escalate into an all-out attack on the traditional liturgy that preserved reverence par excellence. Yet the Pope specifically rejected a restoration of the status quo ante – the pre-Vatican II liturgy. (26)

But “mega-Masses” – in which the Blessed Sacrament was routinely exposed to varying degrees of profanation and sometimes outright sacrilege – were a frequent occurrence during Pope Benedict’s papacy. By celebrating them himself, he has provided a major boost to the desacralization of the liturgy, which he purports to deplore. This has helped fuel the popular belief that disrespect towards the Eucharist is now so widespread – and has even been allowed by the Pope – that it would be unthinkable to correct it.

If, as he has declared, the “ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy,” (27) and given his early enthusiastic approval for the “mega-Mass,” it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he has blundered into a crisis partly of his own making.


  1. In his explanation of the meaning of an International Eucharistic Congress, Archbishop Piero Marini specifically stated that it “is not a triumphalistic manifestation of faith, a great act of homage shown to the Eucharist … but a service to the continuing journey of God’s People.” He defined it as “the source and summit of the life and activity of all the baptised.” The Shape, Significance and Ecclesial Impact of Eucharistic Congresses, June 9, 2009.
  2. Peter Pfister (Ed.), Gemeinschaft erleben – Eucharistie feiern Der Eucharistische Weltkongress 1960 in München, (Experience Community. Celebrate the Eucharist. The International Eucharistic Congress in Munich 1960), Regensburg: Archives of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, 2010, p. 45. See here.
  3. . The Archives also show that Fr. Joseph Ratzinger gave a sermon on the Mass in the church of St. Maria Thalkirchen, Munich, on August 4, 1960. It was entitled “Liebesmahl und Liebeswerk” (The Meal of Love and the Work of Love).
  4. Damit ist der Eucharistische Kongress von München zu einem Markstein der liturgischen und theologischen Entwicklung geworden, wegweisend für die ganze Kirche.” (Thus, the Eucharistic Congress of Munich became a Milestone in liturgical and theological development, revolutionary for the whole Church.) Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, The Catholic Academy of Bavaria, Der Eucharistische Weltkongress in MünchenErinnerung, Reflexion, Auftrag (The International Congress in Munich 50 Years Ago, Reminiscence, Reflection, Mission), July 20, 2012, p. 12.
  5. The Congress Masses took the form of the German Betsingmesse, a service invented by Fr. Pius Parsch in the 1920s, in which the people sang the Ordinary of the Mass in the vernacular and sometimes the Propers as well.
  6. Fr. Placid Jordan, OSB, “One Million Voices Join in Te Deum at Congress.”, The Bulletin, Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah, August 20, 1960. See here.
  7. Cited in Marie-Dominique Chenu, Vatican II Notebook: A Council Journal 1962-1963, trans. by Paul Philibert, OP, Casemate Publishers, 2015, p. 19.
  8. Card. Wendel had hosted the Second German Liturgical Congress that took place in Munich from August 29 to September 1, 1955, at which many liturgists, including Jungmann, gave lectures to promote the Liturgical Movement. At that Congress, there was Mass facing the people and “active participation” of the people in the Offertory, congregational singing and spoken responses. See Sylvester Thiesen, “Liturgists at Munich,” The Tablet, September 17, 1955.
  9. Cited in Marie-Dominique Chenu, Vatican II Notebook: A Council Journal 1962-1963, translated by Paul Philibert, OP, Casemate Publishers, 2015, p. 19.
  10. According to the Cardinal, the point of the Congress was “für ein neues München” (for a new Munich) in which the Church and the world would be renewed. Silvesterpredigt 1956 Seiner Eminenz des Hochwürdigsten Herrn Kardinals im Dom zu Unserer lieben Frau (New Year’s Eve Sermon of His Eminence the Most Reverend Cardinal in the Cathedral of Our Lady; cited in Franz Xaver Bischof, ‘München als Treffpunkt der Kirche: Der 37. Eucharistische Weltkongress 1960’ (Munich as the Meeting Point of the Church: the 37th International Eucharistic Congress), Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift (The Munich Theological Journal), 62, 2011, p. 104.
  11. Ecumenism in Germany, which started as a Protestant movement in the early 20th century, was strengthened between the two World Wars when Catholics and Protestants joined forces to combat the rise of National Socialism. In 1943, the German Episcopal Conference set up a department for ecumenical affairs headed by Archbishop (later Cardinal) Jaeger of Paderborn with Karl Rahner and Romano Guardini among its members. Immediately after the War, ecumenical groups mushroomed all over the country, the largest being the Una Sancta Movement created in 1948 by a Catholic priest, Fr. Max Metzger.
    Archbishop Jaeger collaborated in 1946 with the Lutheran pastor Wilhelm Stählin to found the “Jaeger-Stählin Circle” for prayer and discussion among Protestant and Catholic theologians, of which Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann and Joseph Ratzinger were members. See Barbara Schwahn, Der Ökumenische Arbeitskreis Evangelischer und Katholischer Theologen von 1946 bis 1975 (The Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic theologians from 1964 to 1975), Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1996, p. 41. In 1957, Jaeger founded the Johann Adam Möhler Institute for Ecumenism.
    Throughout Pius XII’s pontificate, Fr. Augustin Bea, SJ, acted as the link between all the German ecumenical groups and the Vatican.
    With Bea’s express encouragement, Archbishop Jaeger wrote to Pope John XXIII in March 1960 requesting a group of “experts” to be formally set up in the Vatican to advise on ecumenical questions. Three months later, the Pope established a Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity as one of the preparatory commissions for the Council, and appointed Bea (whom he had recently made a Cardinal) as its first President.
  12. Piero Marini, The Shape, Significance and Ecclesial Impact of Eucharistic Congresses, June 9, 2009. See here
  13. Apud George Faithful, Mothering the Fatherland: A Protestant Sisterhood Repents for the Holocaust, Oxford University Press, 2014. Faithful’s book is an example of one such publication promoting religious pluralism. In addition to the Catholic authors, he notes “one Eastern Orthodox lay theologian and literature professor, three Protestant theology professors, two Protestant laymen, the head of a Protestant academy, and [the Protestant theologian] Hans Asmussen” and Mother Basilea Schlink, who founded a Protestant order of nuns called the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. ( p. 76)
  14. Derrick,“The Eucharistic Congress at Munich,” The Tablet, August 20, 1960.
  15. Fr. Karrer was a disciple of the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart and also an admirer of Card. John Newman whom he regarded as one of the fathers of modern theology. In 1922, he produced a German version of Newman’s works. His influence on the ecumenical theology of Vatican II was considerable. What a world of difference lies between Karrer and his fellow Jesuit, St. Peter Canisius, who led the Jesuit Counter-Reformation in Germany against the Protestants of the 16th century!
  16. His work, Gebet, Vorsehung, Wunder (Prayer, Providence, Miracle), was published in 1941. See here
  17. Victor Conzemius, Otto Karrer (1888-1976), Publications de l'École Française de Rome, 1989, vol. 113, n. 1, p. 351.
  18. O. Karrer, ‘Die Eucharistie im Gespräch der Konfessionen, Vortrag 6. 8. 1960 beim Eucharistischen Weltkongress München’ (The Eucharist in Dialogue with Religions: a lecture given on August 6, 1960, at the International Eucharistic Congress in Munich) in Una Sancta 15, 1960, pp. 229-250.
  19. Victor Conzemius, Otto Karrer (1888-1976), p. 351. It is true that in Munich Eucharistic processions, sponsored by the Dukes of Bavaria, were traditionally accompanied by the sound of church bells, drums, trumpets and gunfire from muskets and cannon. (See Alois Mitterwieser, Geschichte der Fronleichnamsprozession in Bayern, Verlag Knorr und Hirth GmbH, Munich, 1930, pp. 34-37) But this was done to salute the Royalty of Christ the King and to emphasize the combative spirit needed to defend the true Faith.
  20. Franz Xaver Bischof, München als Treffpunkt der Kirche: Der 37. Eucharistische Weltkongress 1960 (Munich as the Meeting Place of the Church: The 37th International Eucharistic Congress 1960), Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift (The Munich Theological Journal) , 62 (2011), p. 106.
  21. Jungmann put it this way: “The right place for the festive procession with the Blessed Sacrament in a colorful Corpus Christi celebration would be in a closed Catholic environment. This closed Catholic environment no longer exists.” (ibid., p. 106)
  22. Jungmann did not succeed in entirely eliminating Eucharistic processions, even at the Munich Congress. On that occasion, the procession of the Blessed Sacrament was led by the papal legate, Card. Gustavo Testa. Also, Corpus Christi, called “Fronleichnam” in German, is still a public holiday in Bavaria and has for centuries been a cherished institution in its own right. It was always a magnificent spectacle, with the people taking part in the procession dressed in traditional costumes to honor the Blessed Sacrament.
  23. XXIII, Animo praesentes, August 7, 1960, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1960, p. 774.
  24. Meeting with the Parish Priests and the Clergy of the Diocese of Rome, Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Hall of Blessings, Thursday, February 7, 2008.
  25. Pope Benedict stated: “For my part, I have to say, it remains a problem because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental and I do not consider that the definitive answer has really been found. I also raised this question during the last Synod, but it was not answered.” (ibid.)
  26. He stated that he was “without any longing for a yesterday irretrievably gone with the wind.” Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, Ignatius Press, 1985, p. 19; and that a “restoration” of the pre-Vatican II liturgy is neither possible nor even desirable. (ibid. pp. 37-38 )
  27. Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, Ignatius Press, 1998, p. 148.


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Posted December 12, 2016

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