Saturday, May 19, 2012

Participation & Observation: Mass

I attended a church service last Sunday.  Mass at St. Sulpice which is a beautiful church, probably one of my favorite that I’ve seen.; it reminds me a little of St. Peter in Chains in Rome, how open it is, the clerestory.  St. Peter in Chains (in Rome) is hands down my favorite Catholic chuch.

There’s a big square out in front of St. Sulpice where some boys were playing football before I went in to attend mass and they were still there an hour later, so I sat and watched them for a while.

The bell of St. Sulpice rings fifteen minutes before mass, to call people to church.  It gives them a chance to hear the bell and walk to the church from home.  I love that.  People a hundred or more years ago would not have owned a watch—this is the only way they would know it was time to go to church.

I have to admit, Catholic mass feels different from an Anglican service, which I’ve been to half a dozen of.  Even in the center of Paris, there are local paroissiens/parishoners and its much like it must have been a hundred years ago: a community church service.  Only there are less people than there used to be (or so I assume) and several of the people attending are tourists (which I count myself as, for the time being).  I do prefer the church when its silent and I get to walk around and sit and worship God in my own way, but I’m glad to have had the experience of mass, regardless.

The people who attended mass were not dressed for church in the sense that we expect them to be.  Everyone’s shoulders are covered, their legs are covered at least to the knee, but most were wearing day clothes.  Older women and men wear skirts, dresses or suits, respectively.  Even the kids leading mass wore normal clothes, not anything fancy or dressed up.  I think this is a fairly normal trait of Catholic mass, even in antiquity.  To come to church with attire one could afford/work in, though the rich would have certainly come dressed for Sunday best.  Though I do think it’s a lost “art” as it where to come to mass dressed for the Sabbath.

Mass begins with a prayer, and is run by the priest of the parish—St. Sulpice is not a Cathedral, but a church.  Music is an integral part of the service, too.  You stand during most of the singing, all of which is memoried; most who attend mass probably know the words by heart.  They give a program of sorts with words for the music, but in general—especially for a non-french speaker—its hard to follow.  A young woman led the music, maybe 17 or 18 years old.  A boy about the same age read the accompanying scriptures.  Then there was a sermon given by the priest about loving one another.  I did the best I could to understand what he was saying but I have a much harder time retaining French in my memory as ideas worth keeping unless I translate them into English which I can then file away.  I suppose soon enough my brain may purchase a French filing cabinet complete with folders for different categories.  Until then, I’ll keep plugging along.

Music in Catholic mass is sung rather quickly, mosty in French, but some in Latin.  I never understood my Bishop my sophomore year of college who said that being Catholic, he hated LDS hymns because they were too slow.  Its true our hymns are a funerary march in comparison.  Their music is beautiful, spiritual, but with a living pulse type of tempo.  If music is going to be slow it ought only to be Chants Gregorien or Anglican choirs.  Nearly all I saw contributed to the tithe offering.

The service was only an hour, ended carefully, but somewhat suddenly, like putting down a sleeping child.  The priest spoke to the people in his congregation afterwards.

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