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Aug 7 The first 'mega-mass' in Munich -1960

On this day in Christian History we go back to year 1960 and travel to Munich where the 37th International Eucharistic Congress finished today. It was an important event that was held in post-war Germany as the country was attempting shake off the shame of the Nazis. Munich had been chosen by Pope Pius XII, who had previously served there a papal nuncio. Approximately 430 bishops and 28 cardinals attended at the congress.


The opening mass of the congress had been celebrated on 31 July 1960 on the Odeonsplatz with about 80,000 people in attendance, the first mega mass in History. Cardinal Joseph Wendel adopted elements of the Liturgical Movement by celebrating the mass not with its back to the people (like in the Tridentine Rite) but celebrating it looking toward the people and by reading the Gospel not in Latin but in German. As the first huge outside mass it was “specially designed” so as to be a “lively celebration” by the people. A young Fr. Ratzinger was present and described it as a preparation for the Second Vatican Council, and a milestone replacing the previous “spectator liturgy” with a dynamic performance. One of the reforms that would come out of Vatican II and the new rite of mass that would be first celebrated in 1965 by Pope Paul VI (pod Mar 7).

Eucharistic congresses have become gatherings of the church to bear witness to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. National or international in scope, they bring together people from a wide area, and typically involve large open-air Masses, Eucharistic adoration (Blessed Sacrament), and other devotional ceremonies held over several days. Congresses may be held at National and International levels. The first International one took place in France, in 1881 , inspired by a lay woman Marie Tamisier who spent a decade lobbying clergy to get it to happen. Since then there have been 51 with the last one taking place in the Philippines in 2016. The one in Munich was the 37th and remembered for the laying of a foundation stone for a "church of atonement" near the former Dachau concentration camp.

There was also another reason for choosing Munich as the site of the Congress: it was the prior involvement of Cardinal 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 So the Munich Congress was also a landmark in ecumenism, according to the Vatican “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.” This ecumenical desire however would be trick, because the Catholic theology of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not shared by protestants, and historically was mocked as being superstitious magic by many protestants. The word Hocus Pocus comes from the Latin Hoc est Corpus meum “This is my body” which is recited at a key moment in the Eucharistic prayer at every mass.

There was also a lively debate about the place of Eucharistic processions with the theologian Otto Karrer complaining that they had the spirit of the Counter-Reformation and the appearance of a “pseudo-military parade.” The influential liturgist Josef Andreas Jungmann, known for his 2-volume history Mass of the Roman Rite, joined Karrer 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. He felt that there was no place for such open displays of Catholicism in modern cities. 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. Pope John XXIII recognized this in his radio message delivered in Latin to the participants of the Congress: “Munich has been and still is particularly outstanding in its devotion to the most heavenly mystery of the Eucharist.” The congress was closed by celebrating Mass on the Theresienwiese, a large square in Munich on which also the Oktoberfest takes place every year.


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