The Good Soldier Svejk Chapter 11.

Schweik Accompanies the Chaplain to the Celebration of Mass.


Preparations for the slaughter of human beings have always been made in the name of God or of some alleged higher being which mankind has, in its imaginativeness, devised and created. Before the ancient Phoenicians cut a captive’s throat, they performed religious ceremonies with just the same magnificence as did the new generations a few thousand years later before they marched into battle and destroyed their enemies with fire and sword.

The cannibals of New Guinea and Polynesia, before solemnly devouring their captives or superfluous persons, such as missionaries, travellers and agents of various business firms, or those merely prompted by idle curiosity, offer up sacrifices to their gods and perform the most diverse religious ceremonies. As the refinement of canonicals has not yet reached them, they decorate their thighs with festoons of gaudy plumage.

Before the Holy Inquisition burned its victims, the most magnificent religious ceremonies were held—high mass with choral accompaniments.

When criminals are hanged, priests always officiate, annoying the malefactors by their presence.

In Prussia a pastor conducts the poor wretch to the block ; in Austria a Catholic priest escorts him to the gallows ; in France to the guillotine ; in America a clergyman accompanies him to the electric chair ; in Spain to the ingenious appliance by which he is strangled, etc.

Everywhere they have to carry a crucifix about on these occasions, as if to say: "You’re only having your head chopped off, you’re only being hanged, you’re only being strangled, you’re only having 15,000 volts shoved into you, but don’t forget what He had to go through."

The shambles of the World War would have been incomplete without the blessings of the clergy. The chaplains of all armies prayed and celebrated mass for the victory of the side whose bread they ate. A priest was in attendance when mutineers were executed. A priest put in his appearance at the execution of Czech legionaries.

Throughout Europe, men went to the shambles like cattle, whither they were driven by butchers, who included not only emperors, kings and other potentates, but also priests of all denominations. Mass at the front was always held twice. When a contingent was moving up to the front line and then again before going over the top, before the bloodshed and slaughter. I remember that on one such occasion, while mass was being celebrated, an enemy aeroplane dropped a bomb right on top of the altar and nothing was left of the Chaplain but a few bloodstained rags.

Afterward he was mentioned in dispatches as a martyr, while

our aeroplanes were preparing similar glory for the Chaplain on the other side.


Schweik brewed a splendid dose of grog, far better than all the grog imbibed by old sailors. Such grog as his might have been drunk by Eighteenth Century pirates to their complete satisfaction.

The Chaplain was delighted.

"Where did you learn to brew such fine stuff as that?" he asked.

"When I was on tramp years ago," replied Schweik, "in Bremen, from a sailor, a regular tough ’un he was. He said grog ought to be strong enough to keep a man afloat from one side of the English Channel to the other. If a man fell into the sea with weak grog inside him, he said, he’d sink like a stone."

"With grog like that inside us, Schweik, we’ll have a first-rate mass," remarked the Chaplain. "I think I ought to say a few parting words first, though. A military mass is no joke. It’s not like mass in the detention barracks or preaching to that scurvy crowd of scallawags. Oh, no, you’ve got to have all your wits about you. We’ve got a field altar. It’s a folding contraption that’ll fit into your pocket. Do you know where I used to keep that folding altar? In the sofa that we sold."

"Whew, that’s awkward and no mistake, sir," said Schweik. "Of course, I know that second-hand furniture dealer, but the day before yesterday I met his wife. He’s in prison on account of a wardrobe that was stolen and now our sofa’s in the hands of a teacher at Vrsovice. That field altar’s going to be a nuisance. The best thing we can do is to drink up the grog and go to look for it, because, as far as I can see, we can’t have mass without an altar."

"The field altar’s really the only thing that’s missing," said the Chaplain dismally. "Everything’s ready in the exercise ground. The carpenters have knocked up a platform. We’ll get the monstrance on loan from Brevnov. I ought to have a chalice of my own, but where the deuce . . ."

He lapsed into thought. "Supposing I’ve lost it. Well, we could get the challenge cup from Lieutenant Wittinger of the 75th

Regiment. He won it a long time ago in a running competition as a representative of the Favourite Sports Club. He used to be a good runner. He did the twenty-five miles cross-country Marathon from Vienna to Modling in 1 hour 48 minutes. He’s always bragging about it to us. I settled that with him yesterday. I’m a silly chump to put everything off till the last moment. Why didn’t I look into that sofa? Oh, what a fathead I am !"

Under the influence of the grog, prepared according to the recipe of the sailor, that "regular tough ’un," he began to call himself names bluntly, and he uttered the most diverse dicta to indicate where he really ought to be.

"Well, we’d better go and have a look for that field altar," suggested Schweik. "It’s broad daylight. I must just get my uniform and drink another glass of grog."

At last they went. The wife of the second-hand furniture dealer, who was half asleep, gave them the address of the teacher at Vrsovice, the new owner of the sofa. The Chaplain became extremely affable. He pinched the lady’s cheek and chucked her under the chin.

They made their way to Vrsovice on foot, as the Chaplain announced that he needed a walk in the fresh air to distract his mind. When they reached the abode of the teacher, a pious old person, an unpleasant surprise was awaiting them. On discovering the field altar in the sofa, the old fellow had jumped to the conclusion that this must be some divine dispensation and he had presented it to the local church for the sacristy there, stipulating that on the other side of the folding altar they should put the following inscription :




He showed much embarrassment, because when they arrived he was in his underclothes. From their conversation with him it was plain that he regarded the discovery as a miracle and a divine portent. He said that when he bought the sofa, there was a voice within him saying, "Look inside the flap of that sofa"; and he

had, he said, also dreamed about an angel who had ordered him in so many words : "Open the flap of the sofa." He had done so.

And when he saw the miniature folding altar in three sections, with a recess for the tabernacle, he had knelt in front of the sofa and had continued long in fervid prayer, praising God. He had, he continued, looked upon this as a sign from heaven, showing him that he was to use his find to decorate the church at Vrsovice.

"That’s no use to us," said the Chaplain. "Here was a thing that didn’t belong to you, and you ought to have handed it over to the police and not to some confounded sacristy."

"This here miracle," added Schweik, "may lead to a fine old mess. You bought a sofa and not an altar, which is government property. This sign from God may turn out to be an expensive business for you. You oughtn’t to have taken any notice of the angels. I heard of a man who dug up a chalice in a field, and this chalice had been stolen from a church and buried till the trouble had blown over. Well, he thought it was a sign from God, and instead of melting it down, he went to the parson with this chalice and said he wanted to present it to the church. The parson thought it was his conscience moving him and he sent for the mayor, the mayor put the police on the job and the upshot was that this chap, who was as innocent as a babe unborn, got shoved into quod for robbing a church, because he would keep on talking about a miracle. He tried to defend himself and started pitching some yarn about an angel, and the Virgin Mary was mixed up in it, too. So he got ten years. The best thing you can do is to come with us to the local parson and get him to give us back that government property. A field altar isn’t a stray cat or a stocking that you can give away to anyone you please."

The old gentleman trembled from head to foot, and he began to dress himself, his teeth chattering the while.

"I assure you," he said, "I had not the slightest bad or wrong intention or purpose. ’I assumed that as the result of v/hat I deemed a divine dispensation it would be vouchsafed me to further the adornment of our humble church."

"Yes, at the government’s expense. That’s all very fine," said Schweik with relentless severity. "That sort of divine dispensation be blowed. There was a fellow I knew who once had the

same idea about a divine inspiration when his hand managed to grab hold of a noose with somebody else’s cow attached to it."

The poor old fellow was quite bewildered by these remarks and made no further attempts to defend himself. His sole concern now was to get dressed as quickly as possible and to settle the whole business.

The local parson was still asleep, and being awakened by the noise, he began to use strong language, as in his drowsiness he thought he had to go and administer the last rites to someone.

"I’ve had enough of this extreme unction business," he muttered, dressing with repugnance. "Some of these people take it into their heads to die when a man’s sound asleep. And then he has to haggle with ’em about the fee."

So they met in the passage. One, the representative of the Lord among the Catholic civilians of Vrsovice and the other, the representative of God upon earth, attached to the military organization.

On the whole, however, it was a dispute between a civilian and a military man.

While the parson maintained that the altar did not belong to the sofa, the Chaplain declared that, if such were the case, still less could it be transferred from the sofa to the sacristy of a church which was attended solely by civilians. Schweik supplied an accompaniment in the form of remarks, saying, for example, that it was an easy job to furnish a humble church at the expense of the army funds. He uttered the word "humble" in inverted commas.

Finally they adjourned to the sacristy and the parson handed over the altar in return for the following acknowledgment :

Received, a field altar which by chance got into the church at Vrsovice.

(signed) Otto Katz, Army Chaplain.

The field altar, the cause of all the fuss, had been manufactured by a Jewish firm, Messrs. Moritz Mahler of Vienna, which turned out all kinds of accessories for Holy Mass and religious appliances, such as rosaries and images of saints. The altar consisted of three parts, liberally provided with sham gilding, like the

glory of the Holy Church as a whole. It was not possible, without a good deal of imagination, to discover what the pictures, painted on these three parts, actually represented. There was only one figure which stood out prominently. It consisted of a naked man with a halo and a body turning green. On either side of him were two winged creatures, intended to represent angels. They looked like legendary monsters, a cross between a wildcat with wings and the apocalyptic beast.

Opposite this group was an effigy depicting the Holy Trinity. On the whole, the painter had let the dove off lightly. He had drawn a bird which might have been a dove or might equally well have been a female wyandotte. God the Father, on the other hand, looked like a bandit from the Wild West, as seen in a thrilling crook film. The Son, to counterbalance this, was a jolly young man with a well-developed corporation, draped in something which resembled bathing drawers. Altogether, he produced the impression of being a devotee of sport. In his hand was a cross, which he held with as much elegance as if it had been a tennis racket.

Seen from afar, however, all these details were merged together and had the appearance of a train entering a railway station. What the third image represented was beyond all conjecture. Beneath it was the inscription: "Heilige Maria, Mutter Gottes, erbarme dich unser."1

Schweik deposited the field altar safely in the cab and then joined the cabman on the box, while the Chaplain made himself comfortable inside the cab, with his feet on the Holy Trinity.

Schweik chatted with the cabman about the war.

The cabman was a rebel. He made various remarks about the Austrian victory, such as : "They gave you a hot time in Serbia," and the like. When they reached the octroi, the official inquired what they were carrying. Schweik replied :

"The Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary with an army chaplain."

Meanwhile, on the exercise ground the drafts were waiting impatiently. And they waited for a long time. For Schweik and

1"Holy Mary, Mother of God, have pity upon us."

the Chaplain first had to fetch the challenge cup from Lieutenant Wittinger and then they went to the monastery at Brevnov for the monstrance, the pyx and other accessories of the mass, including the bottle of consecrated wine. That only shows you that it is not at all easy to celebrate mass.

"We’re sort of getting this job done by fits and starts, like," said Schweik to the cabman.

He was right. For when they reached the exercise ground and were alongside the platform with the wooden framework at the side and a table on which the field altar was to be placed, it turned out that the Chaplain had forgotten about the ministrant. This duty had hitherto been performed by an infantryman who had managed to get himself transferred to the signal service and had gone to the front.

"Never mind, sir," said Schweik, "that’s a job that I can manage, too."

"Do you know how to do it?"

"I’ve never done it before," replied Schweik, "but there’s no harm in trying. There’s a war on, and people are doing things they never dreamed about before. All that silly stuff about et cum spiritu tuo after your Dominus vobiscum—I’ll see to that, all right. And afterward it’s a pretty soft job to walk round you, like a cat on hot bricks. And then to wash your hands and pour out the wine from the goblets. . . ."

"All right," said the Chaplain, "but don’t pour out any water for me. I think I’d better put some wine into the second goblet this very minute. Anyhow, I’ll tell you all the time whether you’ve got to step to the right or the left. If I whistle very softly, once, that means to the right ; twice, to the left. And you needn’t worry much about the missal, either. But the whole thing’s no end of a lark. You don’t feel nervous, do you?"

"I’m not scared of anything, sir. I could do this ministrant job on my head, as you might say."

The Chaplain was right when he said that it was "no end of a lark."

The whole matter passed off without the least hitch.

The Chaplain’s speech was very concise.

"Soldiers ! We have met here in order that, before proceeding

to the field of battle, you may turn your hearts toward God, that He may give us victory and keep us safe and sound. I am not going to detain you for long, and I wish you all the best."

"Stand at ease !" shouted the old colonel on the left flank.

A field mass is called thus, because it is amenable to the same laws as military tactics in the field. During the long manœuvres of the armies in the Thirty Years’ War field masses were apt to be extremely lengthy.

As the result of modern tactics, when the movements of armies are rapid and smart, field masses also have to be rapid and smart.

This particular one lasted exactly ten minutes and those who were close to the centre of operations wondered very much why the Chaplain whistled while he was officiating.

Schweik showed a smart mastery of the signals. He walked to the right-hand side of the altar, the next moment he was on the left, and all he kept saying was : "Et cum spiritu tuo."

It looked like a Red Indian war dance round a sacrificial stone. But it produced a satisfactory effect by relieving the boredom of the dusty, dismal exercise ground with its avenues of plum-trees at the back, and the latrines, the odour of which replaced the mystical perfume of incense in Gothic churches.

They all enjoyed themselves immensely.

The officers standing round the Colonel were telling each other stories’, and this was as it should be. Here and there among the rank-and-file could be heard the words, "Give us a puff."

And blue clouds of tobacco smoke arose like the smoke of a burnt offering from the assembled companies. All the N. C. O.’s started smoking when they saw that the Colonel himself had lit up.

At last came the order: "Let us pray." There was a whirl of dust and a gray rectangle of uniforms bowed the knee before Lieutenant Wittinger’s challenge cup, which he won as a representative of the Favourite Sports Club in the Vienna-Môdling cross-country Marathon.

The cup was filled to the brim and the general opinion with regard to the result of the Chaplain’s manipulations was summed up in the remark which passed along the ranks : "He’s swigged the lot,"

This performance was repeated. Then once more: "Let us pray," whereupon the band trotted out. "Lord preserve us," they formed fours and were marched off.

"Collect all the doings," said the Chaplain to Schweik, pointing to the field altar, "so as we can take ’em back to their proper place."

So back they went with their cabman, and honestly restored everything except the bottle of sacramental wine.

And when they were back home again, after having told the unfortunate cabman to apply to the military command about his fare for the long drive, Schweik said to the Chaplain :

"Beg to report, sir, but must the ministrant be of the same denomination as the one who’s doing the communion service with him?"

"Certainly," replied the Chaplain, "or else the mass wouldn’t be valid."

"Well, then, there’s been a big mistake, sir," announced Schweik. "I’m of no denomination. It’s just my luck."

The Chaplain looked at Schweik, was silent for a while, and then he patted him on the shoulder and said :

"You can drink up what’s left of the sacramental wine in the bottle, and imagine you’ve joined the Church again."