PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia — From the huge vaulted ceiling of St. Margaret's Basilica, Baroque angels stared down Sunday at thousands of Czechoslovaks celebrating freedom.
The normally solemn mood of the day--the third Sunday of Advent in the church calendar--gave way to an almost giddy cheer as church leaders dedicated the Mass to commemorate Czechoslovaks who died for liberty in the past and praise those who have won liberty in the present.
At the center of it all was Father Vaclav Maly, a leader of the country's peaceful revolution. He was celebrating Mass publicly for the first time in the 11 years since the nation's former Communist government barred him from the pulpit.
Maly, declared his friend and fellow priest Alois Kansky, who concelebrated the Mass, performed great deeds in the public square but had always believed "his place was here in the church."
The congregation applauded vigorously as Maly announced that he will be receiving his own parish Jan. 1.
Later in the day, tens of thousands more people marched five miles through Prague, retracing the route of a student march that was attacked by police exactly one month earlier. On Nov. 17, at least 143 people were treated in hospitals for injuries, some severe.
"A month ago, we started the destruction of the regime on this place," demonstration leader Martin Klima said as the procession began. Without those who suffered at the hands of the police, "the revolution would not have been as quick and successful."
This time, the only police in sight were a few who joined the demonstrators, and the crowd delighted itself with songs and slogans and the unseasonable warmth of an early winter evening.
Many of those present carried candles, turning the march into a lighted procession that glowed as it wound through the darkness that falls here early on a winter afternoon.
As the crowd reached Narodny Street, where the attack had taken place, marchers sang, in Czech, "We Shall Overcome," and thousands set their candles down at shrines that have been established to mark the spots where the worst beatings took place.
A student leader summed up what many seemed to be feeling at both the Mass and the march. "The weight that has lain on all of us is slowly disappearing," Simon Panek said.
At the Mass, more than 4,000 people crowded into the basilica--a Baroque masterpiece from the early 18th Century--and hundreds more huddled under arches outside to escape a slow drizzle as they listened to the service.
A huge Czechoslovak flag joined a crucifix in flanking the high ornate altar. National and religious symbols joined in the service as well.
After Communion, a singer from the national opera company led the congregation in singing St. Wenceslas' Hymn. And then, as old men wept, the thousands present raised their right hands in the "V" for victory symbol and sang the national anthem.
Most of Czechoslovakia's citizens are Roman Catholics. Although the church did not play a role in the recent revolution as crucial as it did in neighboring Poland, Catholic influence has been a strong aid to the opposition in many parts of the country.
"Ours is a church that serves the society," Maly told the congregation. "It does not wish to rule, to master the society. It is a serving church."
Today, the nation will return to the business of political restructuring, as the opposition and the Communist Party put final touches on plans for Tuesday's meeting of the Federal Assembly, or Parliament.
Student leaders plan to run four special trains across the nation today to bring thousands of demonstrators to Prague for the Federal Assembly meeting. They hope to pressure the deputies, most of whom are old-line Communist loyalists, to clear the way for a quick election of the opposition's leader and presidential candidate, Vaclav Havel.
But for Sunday, Prague put aside the problems of the future and concentrated, instead, on celebrating the immediate past.
"Many of us have not had time for Christmas shopping," the anchorman on the state television's nightly news program said at the end of his broadcast. "But presents like freedom and democracy, you cannot buy."
The mood was, perhaps, best captured as the long parade of demonstrators snaked along Prague's riverfront. An elderly woman leaned out from her window and waved. The crowd, which had been chanting "Long live Havel!" and similar slogans, suddenly switched.
\o7 "Adjir Babicka!" \f7 they shouted--"Long live Grandma!"