Incense and Cologne

The Köln Cathedral is a jaw-dropping place, which is precisely why I would never attend services there regularly. At High Mass in the Köln Cathedral, there are tourists swarming the entire building. Throughout the entire service, I felt as if we were animals in a zoo because of all the eyes watching our every move.

Although I did not understand what was being said during the service, I tried to mimic the attendees who I hoped understood what was going on. I have no estimate as to the size of the faithful congregation, but I am certain that many people in the pews were also worshipping in an unfamiliar place.

As to the ceremony itself, it was not as different as I thought it would be. I went to a Catholic high school, and while we never had as formal of services as that which I experienced in the Köln Cathedral, the format was similar. The largest difference was the use of incense, the smell of which I can only describe of a mix of herbs and campfire smoke with a hint of cigarette smoke at times. When I saw the amount of incense burned, I was fearful that I would hate it more than I did, but after smelling all the cigarette smoke in Berlin, the smell of incense wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

In my home church, our music is read from hymnals and is accompanied by piano or organ, so I was excited to hear the pipe organ in this wonderful setting. I thoroughly enjoyed the prelude, and hearing the choir and the organ together was delightful. However, I was a little disappointed when the organ dominated the cathedral when the congregation was supposed to sing. I personally enjoy hearing the singing of the congregation, so the blasting of the organ was not what I was hoping for. The music itself was a surprise, too. We sang lots of songs written in an earlier style, with no stems or beams and the spacing between the notes being the only method of determining the rhythm of the piece. Thankfully, most of the songs were calls and responses led by the choir.

Overall, worshipping in the Köln Cathedral was a fantastic experience, even though I wasn’t entirely sure of what was going on most of the time. Although I did not agree with everything theologically and stylistically, participating in the service was an experience that I hope to never forget.

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