Sunday, 3 October 2010

On going to mass ... some jumbled up thoughts about ecumenism and other stuff

Last Sunday I admit I was fast asleep despite having intended to attend mass in the Roman Catholic Church here in St Chinian. But this week I managed to get out of bed in time. I should add that there are of course Protestant parishes in this area but none any closer than a 30 minute drive, so that would have take alot more planning - and required my driver to also be willing to get out of bed early during the holiday. So I went to mass. I wanted to be what I am whic is an ordinary every day Christian and see what it is like to worship with others in this small town.

I claim to come from an ecumenical background, yet the first time I ever attended a Roman Catholic mass was during the week of prayer for Christian Unity in Dunkerque about four months after my ordination. I am still rather shocked about this when I think about it - I had been to prayer services in mosques, synagogues, gudwaras, Hindu temples, yet not once had I attended a Catholic mass. To be fair I had been to many Roman Catholic services of prayer and I was taught Old Testament by a Dominican. Thinking about this now certainly makes me realise just how enclosed our different confessional communities can be, how ignorant we are of one another's life and how desperately or perhaps blissfully self-sufficient we can be. It isn't right and it isn't good for us either.

In Dunkerque on a January Saturday evening I was invited to preach at mass, the next day the Roman Catholic priest preached at the Protestant temple. What shocked me terribly as I took part in the mass for the first time was how terribly familiar it all was. Although I knew none of the responses in French I still somehow "knew" them and instinctively knew where the liturgy was going. At that stage I still did not have this instinctive feel about the liturgy of the Eglise Réformée de France, I was not as at home in it as I suddenly felt on that Saturday evening in the Roman Catholic Church. After I had preached, no doubt far too cerebrally, Jacques Duquesne, the wonderful priest in charge, invited me and all other Protestants present to stand with him behind the altar at the point in the eucharistic liturgy where the Lord's Prayer is said. I returned to my preacher's place and the liturgy proceeded and tears just poured down my cheeks. People were filing past me to receive communion and I knew that although I felt so "at home" in the liturgy I could not "communicate", not in that public role in that public place. In that moment I suppose the division of the church became real for me in the bread and wine I did not receive, I understood the brokenness of things. My hands and lips remained empty, my tears were uncontrollable.

Anyway this morning in St Chinian I had no public role I could just be there, take communion according to my own conscience, arrive and leave without saying much to anyone - apart from "la paix du Christ". This morning I felt part of things but also in some ways less at home - perhaps because the music was so unfamiliar. St Augustine said "to sing is to pray twice" so I suspect that this morning I did not pray twice. Nor was I edified by the homily but in itself it is always good for a preacher to listen to someone else and realise quite how soon my attention begins to wander!

The priest was I would guess younger than me (this certainly surprised me, the Catholic Church in France has a crisis of candidates for the priesthood) and attendance was really quite good, the large church was over a third full, the organ was good. It was lovely to hear the words of the liturgy and the gospel in the accents of the south. But I realised that I was one of maybe half a dozen folk of working age there. Apart from the two altar boys the only other child present was a baby being carried by his grandmother. The reality of much of the traditional church throughout Europe is that it is white haired.

I felt very moved as people walked forwards to receive communion, so many with sticks, having problems walking, with a friend or partner helping them. The people of God, work weary, bone tired yet walking forwards in praise, in expectation. And I too went forwards.

I'm glad I got out of bed. It was a useful reality check about who the church is in a community like this. I was glad to see a reflection by the bishop on the deportation of the Roms in the monthly bulletin, invitations to a Christian Mulim dialogue group and a poster to take part in the local Cercle de Silence. I left feeling a little sad, thinking surely these people too might have been offered a little more of a sense of joy. Perhaps I am as ever too judgemental.

Of course I am - like a good Protestant - still pondering and meditating two of the Bible readings: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2 Tim. 1.7
And the end of the Lukan parable "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

1 Comment:

Olivier said...

Thanks Jane for this brilliant narrative. Having been a crypto-catholic many times in similar holidays situations, I had the same feelings.