Pfarrei St Franziskus, Frankfurt, Germany


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Pfarrei St Franziskus
Location: Frankfurt, Germany
Date of visit: Thursday, 20 June 2019, 10:30am

The building

Three church buildings were involved in this service: St Christophoruskirche (St Christopher Church), dedicated in 1962, has the shape of the front of a ship with a cross as the bowsprit. The Evangelische Nazarethkirche, built 1863, is a small brick church. The Herz Jesu Kirche (Heart of Jesus Church), built in 1961, replaced the original church of 1899. The 56 meter tower of the old church still stands. The main eucharist service was held in a public park called ‘In the small cherry forest’ (although there were no cherry trees visible), at a location adjacent to the Herz Jesu Kirche.

The church

The parish of St Francis includes six former parish churches that a few years ago were joined together into one large parish in order to consolidate resources. The parish has five priests, five pastoral/parish specialists, five bands, six choirs, three youth clubs, three senior groups, as well as the usual activities of a Catholic congregation. In addition, there is a Christian Action Group for the Eradication of Torture, a clothing exchange, a library, etc.

The neighborhood

The service covered two sectors of the northeast area of Frankfurt, former rural villages that were incorporated into Frankfurt in 1910: Preungesheim (documented since 772) and Eckenheim (documented since 795). The Corpus Christi procession went from Preungesheim to Eckenheim, past a prison built in the 1880s and around a former family housing area of US military forces who withdrew from Frankfurt in 1995. The procession became cramped and slightly scattered as it entered Eckenheim because of the narrowness and irregularity of the streets, which attests to the ancient origins of this former village.

The cast

The service was led by three Roman Catholic priests, none of whom were native Germans, and a Protestant Vikar (curate). Names should not be mentioned, but the name of one of the clergy translates to ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’

What was the name of the service?

Corpus Christi in the Parish of St Francis.

How full was the building?

An estimated 300 people participated, meeting at St Chrisophorus for an opening service, moving in a procession to a public park for a eucharist, proceeding to a street corner at the front of a second church, Nazarethkirche, for a second sermon, and entering a third church, Herz Jesu, for the closing service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Twenty-five minutes before the opening service, as I was loitering in the street in front of St Christophorus, I received a friendly greeting from an unknown woman, although I was walking away from the church. As I discovered later, the woman who greeted me was a server at the eucharist. Otherwise, no greetings.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews in both churches were fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People came in quietly, some knelt down to pray, and others conversed with family and friends.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘A hearty welcome to you at this worship service on Corpus Christi (in German Fronleichnam, which means the Lord’s body).'

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A printed program contained the order of service and the texts of 16 hymns from the Catholic hymnbook Gotteslob (God’s Praise).

What musical instruments were played?

Two organs in two churches, brass instrumentalists and a brass band.

Did anything distract you?

The large procession had to share the street with passing autos. Residents leaned out of windows to stare, some of whom were half-naked. Underground trains, which become surface trains when they leave the downtown area, passed by on a private right of way and also interrupted the procession as it crossed the tracks. At the service in the park, bushes and trees stood between the altar and a basketball game, which could be seen and heard in the background. Electronic chimes from a nearby school signaling a morning break were not turned off for the holiday. I have become accustomed to people drinking out of bottles during a service, but does it have to occur twice during the eucharistic prayer? Occasionally the weather became windy, which the sensitive microphone picked up, producing the noise of a storm. The wind also blew away the preacher’s sermon notes, which landed at the feet of the Protestant minister, who brought them back to the lectern: was this some kind of sign from heaven?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Since this is a major festival for Roman Catholics, nothing was held back: plenty of incense, colourful vestments, eucharistic bells which, aside from their liturgical use, were rung intermittently during the 30 minute procession and also accompanied two hymns that paraphrase the Gloria in Excelsis and the Te Deum. In the front of the procession were about twenty first communion children, many ministrants and helpers, four yellow-white flags (the colours of the Catholic Church), six elaborate parasols featuring crosses, and a portable canopy that covered the minister carrying the monstrance and the other clergy. The tall Protestant minister in his black cassock looked like a black sheep in a herd of white. The service was organized with impressive efficiently. The sound systems worked flawlessly. Everybody knew where he or she was supposed to stand or walk. Everything went smoothly, except that there were not quite enough program sheets, and the final service began before everyone was in the church. There is also an ecumenical tradition in Eckenheim: after the main service in the park, the procession stopped in front of the nearby Evangelische Nazarethkirche, where the Protestant minister gave a short sermon before proceeding to the Herz Jesu Kirche for a final veneration of the Altar Sacrament, consisting of a hymn and prayer in Latin and the Eucharistic Benediction.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes (first sermon), 4 minutes (second sermon).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 — First sermon: the priest spoke with conviction, but perhaps he tried to put too many thoughts into one sermon. Second sermon: the message was suitable to the occasion. The first part was lucid, but in the second part, the train of thought was not entirely clear to me.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

[Sermon 1 at the eucharist] What are the messages of Corpus Christi? First: we go out of the church onto the streets and into public parks. Accordingly, we are called to widen the perspective of Christian faith, which should not be constricted – not even by the moral teachings of the Church. Second: procession means to go forward. We should never come to a standstill, but keep up with the pace of people around us, undergoing development, moving forward. Third: Christ, represented by the host in the monstrance, is held up high, expressing the message that the Lord is with us. Christ should be the focus of our lives. We cannot and will not live without him. [Sermon 2 at the Protestant church] Jesus said of himself: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ However, there is not one Church, nor is there one holy communion. I celebrated the eucharist with you (he said), but I was not able to receive the host, which is painful and hard to accept. Christ is the way, which leads in various directions. Christ is the truth, which can be interpreted in different ways. Christ is the life, which can be practiced in numerous ways. This diversity might be interpreted as weakness, but Christ is most effective in weakness. Therefore, we can and will endure those things that separate Catholic and Protestant Christians.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

This joyful Roman Catholic festival, carried out with pageantry, reverence and competence, conveyed transcendent glory. At the end of the closing service, after being on my feet for two hours, the pew felt like a throne in heaven to my aching back and stiff legs.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

During the procession, the melodies of the hymns sounded dreary and tedious. The singing was weak, sporadic, and seemingly without enthusiasm. If there is music in the ‘other place’ this procession gave me a foretaste of it.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

It would have been pointless in this large crowd, which was proceeding to the food and drink outside the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Afterwards there was international food, barbeque specialties, coffee and cake, a variety of drinks, as the congregation celebrated the holiday into the late afternoon.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

4 — I enjoy visiting a Roman Catholic eucharist, but being a Lutheran I will always remain an outsider, as I am not invited to participate fully. The doctrine that Christ remains permanently present in the consecrated host, the theme of Corpus Christi, is not part of my Christian identity.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

It is not often that I would call a service beautiful, but there was a lot of beauty in this worship event: a richness of colour, imagery, art work, language, architecture, tall trees, green grass and musical sounds.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools