Wednesday 8 June 2011

The real spirit of Vatican II and a parking ticket

Chapel of Our Lady of the Apocalypse

Our Parish Priest says that that there is no such thing as coincidence. This makes me even more delighted to report that apparently random and negative events on our journey to our French home (eldest child having massive projectile vomit while we were driving at 130km/h down the motorway) delayed our journey (serious hour spent cleaning car, siblings, and so forth) which motivated us to drive for a further three hours to Clermont Ferrand which meant that we didn't have to worry about "Pottery Masses" at Orleans Cathedral. We did however have to worry about finding another Mass, and a quick Google on my smartphone pulled up a 10am Mass at the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de l'Assomption in Clermont Ferrand.

The Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece in black volcanic stone. The interior has had a few concessions made to modernity (a "table" altar on the sanctuary in front of the high altar), a few bits of contemporary (or 70s folksy - as you will) religious "art" added here or there, but essentially the place is as it would have been several hundred years ago: it hasn't been vandalised.

The Mass was a revelation as well. I've been to all sorts of Masses in France, and I never know what to expect. One Sunday in Paris, while staying with friends, we wandered to the nearest church and found ourselves to be the only Europeans amidst a fervent congregation from Haiti: the Mass was said passionately (entirely in Creole) by a Haitian priest whose homily alone clocked in at almost an hour. I think it might still be the longest Mass we've ever been to: almost three hours later we met the bemused priest who was wondering what we'd made of his lovely parish community and where we'd come from. We've also seen Masses creatively intoned by barefoot priests in sandals in the round in vandalised churches denuded of their sacred art and hung with macrame banners. So we never know what to expect.

At Clermont Ferrand we were more than pleasantly surprised. The Mass was a crowd pleaser - there's no doubt. The Cathedral was certainly full, and it was difficult to find parking anywhere nearby. But it wasn't tambourines and guitars pulling in this crowd: it was Gregorian chant, rubrics that anybody familiar with the Extraordinary Form would instantly recognise, and a sense of reverence that's all too often missing. Here though, was a sacred liturgy, the sacrifice on Calvary reinacted with reverence, yet it was still both popular and populist. Wonderful!

We started off with the Asperges, in Latin. Much of the ordinary of the Mass was in Latin - mainly Mass I, although the Gloria was from Mass 8 (always a crowd pleaser). The congregation clearly knew their chant, and the phrases alternated between the choir and the people. The alter servers were arranged as in the EF: and followed many of the same rubrics which was refreshing in an Novo Ordus Mass where it's far more common to see a plethora of servers hanging around looking bored, sometimes literally twiddling their thumbs (or waving at their parents as used to happen in a parish we used to go to!).

Nothing in life is perfect, and there were some things that I wasn't happy with -- the choir stood between the "new" altar and the high altar, which meant that they had their backs to the Blessed Sacrament (and blocked the Tabernacle from view) which I found odd. Also, as is common in France, very few people knelt at the consecration: rows of chairs very close together with no kneelers send out a very clear "no kneeling" signal. On the other hand, I noticed a bit of a "kneeling wave": wherever small groups of people knelt, many of those around them also started to kneel, so that many more people were kneeling at the end of the consecration than at the beginning; ditto after the Agnus Dei. Perhaps peer-pressure is what's needed to reinstate reverence: kneeling - Just Do It!

Kneeling to receive the Blessed Sacrament, on the other hand, was clearly not an option, and I have to admit to being too cowardly to try given how quickly the communion lines were moving. However receiving Our Lord on the tongue was clearly not uncommon, even if not the norm, and many people genuflected (as we did) before receiving communion. Somehow seeing people making a deep genuflection (rather than a duck-bob) before receiving Our Lord redeems the standing bit, for me at least. The cloud around the silver lining was that we had to choose our communion queue carefully in order to dodge the crowd of extraordinary ministers of self importance Holy Communion.

The Mass was a real blend of old and new, but with much more old than new. The readings and Eucharistic prayers were in French, but the rest of it was far closer to the EF in many ways than most Novus Ordo Masses that I've been to. This is what I think is the real "spirit" of Vatican II - a genuine hermeneutic of continuity, where the Mass has not been changed beyond recognition, but simply has some bits added in the vernacular. There were "bidding prayers" and the ghastly sign-of-peace (which I have to admit my husband likes and I have always found annoying and cringe worthy in equal measure, but then he's far less of a misanthrope). As I've already said, nothing is perfect, but - oh! - if only every N.O. Mass could be said in this way, how pleased Our Lord would be!

We had a little time to look around the cathedral after Mass - it is beautiful. I took many photos but only a few came out satisfactorily. If you have the chance to visit keep an eye out for the guardian angels on either side of the high altar, and the chapel of Our Lady of the Apocalypse which is really beautiful. I've used a photo I found on Flickr rather than my own, as the photographer  (Jean-Louis Zimmermann) has managed to get a much better image than I did.

We returned to our car to find that we had a parking ticket. As we had a roof box on the car, we'd not been able to fit into the municipal underground parking, and had driven around fruitlessly looking for a space on the roads around the Cathedral. We'd found one space on a long stretch of road running up to the Cathedral where more than a dozen cars were already parked with two wheels up on the pavement. "When in Rome..." (and almost late for Mass) and all that... so we too pulled up and parked "avec deux roues sur la trottoire". Zut alors! Our parking ticket was timed at 10:09am  - and we were more than halfway down the row, every single car of which had a ticket on it. I reckon that every week the Clermont Ferrand police start their ticketing at, oh, about three minutes after Mass. Nice little earner. Don't assume that just because every car with a local licence plate does something that it's OK. Personally, I was happy to pay the 38EU to get a decent Mass with proper plate and good music rather than the pottery Mass that we'd dreaded. So we recommend the Mass at Clermont Ferrand, but you have been warned about the parking.

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