The Bishop of Stockholm gave a sermon this afternoon on the importance of Mary, at the conclusion of a pilgrimage to Oskarström on the eve of Pentecost, in honour of Our Lady. His themes were the importance of acceptance, following the example of Mary who said "Yes" to the Angel Gabriel, and of the incarnational nature of the Catholic faith - which teaches that Jesus - God made man - had a real human mother, which is the reason why Mary is to be honoured.
The event was well attended, which is always encouraging. The rain held off until the very end, when the heavens opened. Most of those who came were from the south and west of Sweden, with many different nationalities being present - Swedish Catholics, of course, but also from Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovakia, Vietnam, Iraq, the Philippines, Latin America and some English-speaking countries including Britain itself.
The Catholic church in Sweden is playing an important part in helping immigrants to integrate into society. But language differences present a problem of striking the right balance. Many people who have come to Sweden have been traumatised and want what they are familiar with. On the other hand, catering for all the different languages with different liturgies tends to divide parishes up into language groups, which means that they do not function as effectively as they could - even on the simple boy-meets-girl level.
My personal view is that this could be resolved through the more frequent and widespread use of the traditional Latin Mass (TLM), but that needs long and careful preparation so that parishioners understand what it is about. It should not be done in a hurry and the new rite in up-to-date translations need to continue alongside the TLM. A wider use of the old form of the Mass would also need to be associated with the much more frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance, since the two are intimately connected.
I was in conversation with a Dominican from Lund, who had recently arrived in the country. He had been pleasantly surprised at the vigour of the Catholic Church in Sweden. Arguably, it is in better shape than the Catholic Church in any of the European countries that was not under communist control. There is a a unique blend of immigrants and natives, including many recent converts. If there is going to be a significant resurgence of Catholicism in Western Europe, secular Sweden could, paradoxically, be one of the places from which it will emanate. This puts a lot of responsibility on Swedish Catholics to promote the healthy growth of the church.
Postcript - May 2017
Sadly, none of the things mentioned has come to pass.
- The TLM made some headway until 2013, with the appointment of a priest from the Institute of Christ the King, but he has now been banished to a chapel on the outskirts of Stockholm. There are only three priests in the country who are able and willing to celebrate it regularly. Partly through lack of opportunity to become familiar with it, attendance at TLM Masses is disappointing.
- Parishes are as divided into language groups as they ever were.
- A few men entered the seminary as priest candidates but most had dropped out before the end of their second year. Liturgies are, generally, scarcely recognisable as anything other than Lutheran.