Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Devil has no knees...

I was fascinated by a point made on Fr. Simon Henry's blog: that the Devil is often depicted in art as having no knees. Digging a little further I discovered that
According to Abba Apollo, a desert father who lived about 1,700 years ago, the devil has no knees; he cannot kneel; he cannot adore; he cannot pray; he can only look down his nose in contempt. Being unwilling to bend the knee at the name of Jesus is the essence of evil. (Cf. Is 45:23, Rom 14:11) But when we kneel at Jesus' name, when we bow down in service of others, and when we bend the knee in adoration, we are following in the footsteps of the Magi, we are imitating Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and all the saints and angels in heaven.(from Adoramus.Org)

In France, where we are at the moment, kneeling during Mass, including during the consecration, is far less common than in the UK. Indeed, it is a rare church that even has any sort of provision for kneeling: with rows of chairs, tightly ranged together, a worshipper has to be fairly determined in order to kneel, and it is an uncomfortable choice to make. The norm is to stand (and I have to ask myself whether or not this is supposed to be "reverent standing" in the same way that the shuffling queue up to communion is considered by the CBCEW to be how the "faithful make their sign of reverence in preparation for receiving Communion."). Obviously in the Extraordinary Form there is more kneeling, but there's still less of it than I'm used to in the UK, with "kneeling bits" being truncated and becoming standing or sitting bits at several points in the Mass. It's confusing. It's as though the OF norms in France have permeated the Traditional Rite of the Mass. Of tangential interest: there's not a mantilla to be seen at either form of the Mass.

Over the years I've had to balance a desire not to draw attention to myself in Mass with a growing sense of the importance of Doing The Right Thing (cf. BaraBrith's thoughts on kneeling). In a previous parish in England maintaining this balance meant genuflection before receiving Holy Communion (on the tongue, which was unusual but not contentious in the parish) rather than kneeling: I was specifically asked by the Parish Priest not to kneel to receive the Blessed Sacrament. I did not wear a mantilla either, despite wanting to and feeling that it was the Right Thing to do for many years, because I felt that it would be taken as a sign of "ooooh, look how holy I am" and would arouse hostility. Thus it was a huge relief to move to a parish where the EF was celebrated regularly, and feel able to do the Right Thing without feeling that I was coming across as a beacon of false piety. 

But being in an "EF parish" has strengthened me to some extent. I'm no longer willing to enter a church or chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved without my veil. I'm not willing to stand during the consecration, and wherever possible I receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on my knees. Yes the mantilla may make me stand out in many parishes, but it's also like a bit of a force-field shielding me from everything but what really matters on the altar. Or perhaps it's a bit more like blinkers on a horse. Either way, it works for me.

I remember talking to a lovely family several years ago who lived in a rural parish in the UK and who had been asked by the local priest to not to genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament at Communion; it had been made clear that kneeling to receive Our Lord was not an option. They ignored the request and continued to genuflect unobtrusively, but were accused of "showing off". In a similar vein, I was dismayed to read a reader's comment on Fr. Finigan's blog about a recent sermon at Westminster Cathedral in which the priest admonished worshippers who knelt for communion as "making a show of [their] piety ... and... making the communion queue too long". There's too much of this about at the moment. 

In response I offer this heartening anecdote: this morning at Mass (in France: Ordinary Form) I was praying before Communion when the priest, on his way down from the sanctuary to distribute Holy Communion, nipped over to where I was kneeling and gave me the Blessed Sacrament there and then on my knees before heading back to distribute communion in the centre aisle. That's the second time it's happened with this particular priest in this church; the first time it really shocked me, it was so unexpected (and we were sitting way off to one side, a couple of rows back, so hardly front and centre). We know him quite well -  he's enthusiastic about the Benedictine reforms - and I'm guessing that he may be making his own point to his congregation in a quieter, more dignified way than whomever's Westminster sermon was referred to above. I'm also willing to bet that our priest here is less than two-thirds the age of the one quoted. 

The future is bright. The future kneels willingly, gratefully, lovingly before Our Lord. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

How to cope with a heat-wave? Just say the Latin Mass, obviously!

Apparently we're having a heat-wave ("pic de chaleur") here. To be honest, it's hard to tell the difference, except that it doesn't cool down at all at night. Even though it's technically a heat wave, it's still not as hot as the normal weather in August, so we're coping admirably.

The funny thing here is that although the official temperature might be 32 or 33 degrees, at the meteo station near the coast, it's much hotter in town because the black basalt stones the town is built from retain and release stored heat all day. It's like living in a stone oven. This can make late summer heat - often reported as high 30s  - soar almost 10 degrees higher: and that is unbearable.

The UV index is high as well - 8 or 9 depending on the day and time - which means that the risk of severe sunburn is much higher than we're used to on even the hottest days in South East England. Luckily we live in a tall, narrow street where the houses shade each other and stay relatively cool. So we stay indoors in the cool until later afternoon, then head down to the sea around 5pm, to play and eat dinner on the beach (the water is lovely and warm at this time!), then head home at sunset. It means that our days start and end considerably later than they would in England, although we still manage to head out to Mass in the mornings (when there is one). Formal learning has more or less gone out the window since we've been here, although there have been lots of other sorts of learning opportunities (ever seen anyone catch a large octopus in a classroom?)

So what do the children do all day? Well, left to their own devices they say Mass. In the Extraordinary Form. With great seriousness and reverence. Several times a day. It's 11:15 and we're now on our second Mass of the day. As I started typing this post the strains of Faith of Our Fathers were ringing out onto the narrow street, and earlier a 12th C Alleluia chant resounded through the old town from our attic windows. Given that we live on a sort of fault-line between the Gitane and Arab areas that should raise an eyebrow or two. I used to worry about the children "playing Mass" but have been reassured by more than one sound priest that as long as their play is reverent, which it is, there's no problem. I suppose if we had a TV or hand-held video games they might find something more "normal" to do, but they're happy, I'm happy, and I suspect our local martyred bishop Saint-Simon is rather happy too.

Monday, 27 June 2011

ACN petition & protest march to protect Pakistan's Christians

Some time ago I wrote about the horrendous story of Arshed Masih in Pakistan, a Christian who was tortured and murdered simply for refusing to convert to Islam. The story was reported on Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions website: the mainstream press tends to pay very little attention to what tend to be seen as "isolated" events. However there is a pattern: there has been a quantifiable increase in attacks on Christians in countries with a Christian minority, and in Pakistan the anti-blasphamy laws are increasingly being used to justify persecution of the Christian minority. ACN reports that 14 attacks on Christians in Pakistan in the last two months alone are directly related to the country's anti-blasphamy laws.

Aid to the Church in Need and the British Pakistani Christian Association have launched a petition asking the British Prime Minister to
"call upon the government of Pakistan to take action to promote justice and equal human rights for all irrespective of faith or any other diversity.
The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan (sections 298A and 295 B&C of the penal code) is being used to settle personal vendettas. We ask that the Blasphemy Law provide universal protection for all faiths, with better auditing of authorities involved with its practical application, or that the law be repealed in its current form"
You can sign the petition here.

Please support the suffering faithful in Pakistan - and encourage friends and family to sign as well.

Aid to the Church in Need will also be joining a Protest March against Pakistan's blasphamy laws. The march is orgnised by the British Pakistani Christian Association and will bring together Christian and Muslim leaders, united against religious injustice.The march will take place in London next Saturday, 2nd July. I won't be in the UK, but would encourage any readers in or around London to consider showing their support.  More information at the ACN website and on the British Pakistani Christian Association blog.

Traditional catechism for children in Paris

Emmanuel Delhoume's blog laments the lack of availability of traditional Catholic catechesis for children and families in France (I think we can concur that the situation is little or no better in the UK) despite there being both a need and a desire for traditional catechetics to be taught at a parish level. His blog announces the start of a new initiative aimed particularly at families in East Paris (12ieme, 13ieme, and 20ieme Arr.) offering fortnightly catechism lessons with a priest from Ecclesia Dei, specifically seeking to prepare children to receive sacraments in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. As M. Delhoume says "It is our duty as Catholic parents to prepare our children thoroughly for the sacraments and instruct them in the Truths of the Faith". Amen to that!

Please pass on to friends and family in Paris. Interested families can contact Emmanuel Delhoume on 06 67  28 33 38 or

Interestingly, one French commentator on this new initiative notes that if Summorum Pontificum is to be implemented fully in parishes, it should go beyond simply offering Sunday Mass in the E.F. but also include a thorough traditional preparation for the Sacraments. I would add that sessions on traditional catechesis and the Truths of the Faith would also be invaluable for adults of my generation, many of whom - myself included - received no real formation in the Faith as children either at school, in our parishs or at home. 

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Notre Dame de l'Agenouillade

Close to where we live for part of the year in France is a little-known Marian shrine devoted to an apparition of Our Lady and a miracle worked through her intersession.

Interior of N.D. de l'Agenouillade, June 2011

The ancient town of Agde (founded by Phocéen traders (ancient Greeks) over 2600 years ago) is built on and of volcanic basalt: it was the striking appearance of this rock that reputedly lead Marco Polo to refer to this then-important seaport as the "Black Pearl of the Mediterranean" - a label still loved by the local tourist board.

Renovated interior - the sanctuary

Around the year 456 the Sanctuary of Notre Dame du Grau, established by the hermit Saint Sever (originally from Syria) was threatened by tumultuous rains which caused the Herault to burst its banks. A strong easterly sea wind meant that sea-water was being forced up-river and compounding the flooding. Just to complicate things, an earthquake happened at the same time (although geologically stable now, in the early Christian era tremors were not uncommon because of the volcanic makeup of the area), creating tidal waves and increasing the terror of the agathois and the monks living in the monastic community established by Saint Sever at the Grau.

Exterior of Notre Dame de l'Agenouillade, Grau d'Agde

As the waters rose, a brave un-named monk from the sanctuary of Notre Dame du Grau knelt and prayed to God, begging for His mercy through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Looking up, he saw Our Lady kneeling in prayer on a rock that was still visible above the churning waters, joining her prayers with those of her servant. The waters stopped rising at her feet, and the storm abated. 

The grille covering the rock with the imprint of our Lady's knee

When the waters had receeded the monk found the indentation of Our Blessed Mother's knees in the rock where she had been seen kneeling ("a genouillade" hence "Notre Dame de l'Angenouillade" - literally: "Our Lady of the Kneeling"). The imprinted stone was placed in a chapel, which serves as a shrine, built by Henri de Montmorency in 1583. He also built a monastary and a church which were entrusted to the Capuchin Order. The shrine was, apparently, a pilgrim's stage en-route to Compostella, but I can't find any modern source to confirm this.

The rock on which Our Lady appeared (?)

There is a statue of Our Lady outside the chapel on a large rock which I think is supposed to be the original  site of the apparition, however it's been really badly - garishly - painted ("renovated" by the municipality) and is poorly signed if it is, in fact, the actual site of the apparition. 

An old postcard of the rock of the apparition - with a mother and pram in the foreground!

Chapel/sanctuary pre-renovation - early 20th C

Postcard of N.D. de l'Agenouillade, dated February 1914, sent from Beziers

I have some old photographs of  Notre Dame de l'Agenouillade from before it was "renovated" by the state (my photos, at top of post). Personally, I think it looked better beforehand. Mass is still said here occasionally in the summer. The shrine, which not long ago was in a rural no-mans-land between Agde and the Grau d'Agde is now surrounded by villas and apartment buildings. Despite this, it still retains a cool quietness and an inescapable sense that one is in a sacred space. I like to think that in the same way that our Our Lady joined in prayer with the young monk as the dangerous waters rose, so today she listens to her children in that quiet place, and joins her prayer to our petitions.

Notre Dame de l'Agenouillade, priez pour nous!

New video game, useful for Papal Ninja training?

Cathedral Dodge (subtitle: avoid the extra-extra-extraordinary-somethingorothers)

[Extra points if done with several small children in tow]: 

Can't go straight up the aisle, there's one blocking the priest. OK, left...down the side aisle...  then left again ... then left...NO! There's another one, standing right in the middle of the church for no apparent reason. Smile blankly. Turn left again ... join the correct queue in the centre aisle. Follow shuffling line of worshippers wondering how this can be reverent. Genuflect. Receive Our Lord gratefully. Do a full circuit of the cathedral to get back to your seat 5 feet to the left of where the priest was standing, passing at least a dozen extra-extra-extra-ordinarysomethingorothers en-route. Kneel. Pray thankfully, in part that you don't have to work this hard every Sunday to receive Our Lord from consecrated hands.

Next Sunday we're back at Chapelle Saint Rita. As my 9 year old said: "Mummy, the Latin Mass is so much *simpler*".

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Béziers' best kept secret...

If you like your France à la Peter Mayle, then Béziers isn't the city for you: try Aix or St Remy or some of the pretty Luberon villages instead. There's nothing easy or gentle about Beziers: it rises jagged and arid above the vineyards of the Herault; life on its narrow streets slightly tinged by a shimmering heat haze of madness. It's a Babylon where North African, Gitane, French, Catalan, and Occitane words and dialects colour the local accent. It's beautiful but hard work; invigorating but tiring. In short: not the sort of place you'd expect to find a tranquil haven.

I should come clean here and admit that I'm a glutton for punishment when it comes to cities: many of my favourite places are those that don't instantly reveal their charms, the kind of place you either love or hate. I remember some 15 years ago a colleague at work almost spitting in indignation that anybody could possibly love that hot, noisy, rude city... Béziers. But I do.

Take a look at this link to Google maps: This is Place Garibaldi. Click on StreetView and do a 360' tturn on the spot. Remarkably unremarkable, it's in the heart of a commercial, predominantly Arab district - busy, noisy and dusty: a major arterial route through the centre of town. The narrow side streets have excellent small grocery shops that sell Raz-el-hanout and "maison" tagine spice mixes. Yum. But today we're not here for physical sustenance, rather something longer-lasting.

This is the doorway of 2 bis Pl. Garibaldi, Beziers (you can see it on the StreetView link above behind a large blue van that's in the foreground). Even an observant passer-by would spot very little to attract attention; and if such a passer-by were overtaken by curiosity and feel impelled to duck inside this particular doorway to see what he might find, he would discover an entrance hall like a hundred thousand others in French urban buildings, with an unremarkable staircase leading to appartments on the upper floors. Unless, that is, it was a Sunday or Holy Day.

On a Sunday or Holy Day our observer's eye would be led to an open pair of doors at the back of the entrance hall, leading into a large bright vestibule with a tell-tale statue of Saint Rita with votive candles lit before her at one end. If it was a Sunday or Holy Day he might also hear the pure strains of plainsong. Our traveller would have arrived at Chapelle Sainte-Rita: Bezier's best kept secret.

For the past 12 years the Extraordinary Form of the Mass has been prayed here every Sunday morning and every Holy Day. The chapel is devoted to the EF. Years before the Motu Proprio, a traddie-friendly Bishop gave permission for the older form of the Mass to be said here on a regular basis, and a new parish was born. Strictly speaking, it's a "parish within a parish" as the Chapelle is attached to the parish church next to the Cathedral and many parishioners attend their daily Mass there in the Ordinary Form. But what a parish - probably the youngest, most dynamic parish that I can recall: at 41 I felt like an oldie! Large families, new families, teenagers, young couples in their 20s, lots of babies, and a fair sprinkling of older and elderly parishioners as well. I'm used to parishes that pray the Extraordinary Form being far more demographically healthy than the average parish, but this group was positively thriving. The Parish Priest appears to have boundless energy and is wonderfully orthodox, having been ordained in 2005 by the Institut du Christ-Roi Souverain Prêtre, and it is wonderful to see his relationship with both young and old. He also turns out to be a friend of our local Parish Priest (in France) with whom we get on very well - another advocate of the Benedictine reforms. As a family we were welcomed to the Chapelle Sainte-Rita community as though we were long lost parishioners, and instantly invited to events, our eldest son invited to serve the following Sunday. The choir is wonderful, the chapel acoustics lovely. Can you tell that we're delighted?

We've found a true home from home in France, and I heartily recommend any devotees of the old rite looking for Mass in the western Herault to come to Chapelle Sainte-Rita in Beziers (2 Bis, Place Gambetta). There's a hidden pearl of great price behind that innocuous doorway.

Corpus Christi

Today we'll be celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi at Église Saint-André in the market square in Agde. The church has been in use since the 5th century, but is currently only open once a week for Mass on Thursday mornings (market day). Kneeling on stones that have been trodden and knelt on by more than 1500 years of worshippers is a humbling experience. Église Saint-André was also the venue for the Council of Agde 506AD, at which the 24 Bishops who attended confirmed the Sunday obligation as well as the the practise of tonsure which remained current until Pope Paul VI's reform of minor orders in 1972.

There is a strange cut-out and glass-railed section of the church floor to one side, permanently exposing several layers of archaeological exploration including two stone sarcophagi dating from the fifth century. There are also exposed bones dating from the same period in an alcove (not visible in the photo above). I haven't had a chance to ask our parish priest what the church's take on this is -- they won't have had a lot of choice in whether or not the renovations took place as the church building is owned by the state, and while it is a little strange to be praying mere feet away from the exposed bones of long dead fellow-parishioners, I like to think that they may be joining in with those praying so close to their mortal remains.

Happy Feast Day!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Weathering the storms... praying for our priests

Tonight we dedicated our family rosary to the spiritual welfare of "our" priests (we refer to our parish priests, those who have baptised us, heard our confessions, supported us in many ways and so forth as "our priests") and of all who are ordained to God's holy priesthood. At times like this - and, perhaps, as Bara Brith suggests, all times are "like this", it's the most important thing we can do. 

"The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ."  - Saint Jean Vianney

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

French martyrs

Charles François de Saint Simon Sandricourt,the last Bishop of Agde,  was guillotined in Paris on July 26, 1794, one of the last victims of The Terror. Known as a devout, kindly and learned man, he gave away much of his inherited wealth to the poor.

There are very few monuments to mark the murder of the Catholic hierarchy during The Terror. Bishop Saint-Simon is remembered in the name of a narrow street a few steps away from the Cathedral in Agde, and by a small plaque in an innocuous place beneath the former Bishop's palace by the waterfront (now a parking lot next to the Herault).

France is a highly secularised country, where the main discussion of religion involves the banning of burkas and programmes about the Inquisition on  the liberal ARTE  channel which underline the "obvious evil" of religion. Amidst this whitewash, people forget their actual history - the revolution and the hatred that fueled it, the reforms and forced vows, the denunciations, the stripping of the churches -- at their peril.  Charles François de Saint Simon Sandricourt pray for your people, pray for us!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Happy Feast Day of Saint Jean-François Régis

It's appropriate, given that we're currently in the heart of the Languedoc that today's patron saint is a local man whose ministry tied him to the arid impoverished hill country of southern France. At Mass today, our parish priest, himself a local man and proud of his connection to the region, was clearly delighted to elaborate on the life of this patron saint of priests, "less well known than Saint Jean Vianney". Below is my remembered precis of his sermon with some dates supplied by the French Jesuit site about Saint Jean-François Régis

Jean-François Régis was born near Narbonne in 1597 and studied with the Jesuits first at school in Béziers and later at a seminary Montpellier where he made his religious vows in 1618. He was ordained in 1630 in Toulouse. 

At a time of religious tension and (often) violence, where many former Catholics had strayed to Huguenot and Calvinist sects, Jean-François Régis managed to win back a remarkable number of souls with his simple and sincere approach. He felt that God was calling him to go to the New World, but his superior sent him to the Ardèche rather than Canada, and there in the hill country he spent the rest of his life ministering to the poor of the region. 

He became  one of the "missionnaires de l'intérieur" who lead an itinerant life in the rugged hill country, travelling from village to village, bringing the Good News to tiny stone churches, baptising babies, and saving souls. Even though frequent confession was a common occurrence in those days, Jean-François Régis was remarkable in his ability to encourage the faithful to confess their sins, and would spend eight or nine hours at a time hearing confessions.

Sainte Jean-François Régis' death was hastened by his fidelity to the sacraments: he arrived at the village of Lalouvesc in the Northern Ardèche on 23rd December 1640 in bitter winter weather, burning with fever caused by a lung infection, to say the Christmas Masses and hear confessions. Over the course of three days he said seven Masses and heard confessions from dawn to dusk and beyond. After Mass on 26th December Saint Jean-François Régis couldn't reach the confessional, so great were the crowds waiting for the sacrament, so he sat beside the altar and heard confessions there until the evening. Despite his illness he ignored an open window nearby, and it is thought that the draught fro this window caused his collapse. He was taken to a warm place, where, despite the seriousness of his condition, the saint insisted on hearing another twenty or so confessions until he was physically unable to  continue. He remained bedridden in pain and constant prayer until he died five days later. Soon after his death, the villagers spoke of the "saint père" who had died in their service. 

There's a very detailed precis of his life at and a lovely retelling of his life (in French) at

Saint Jean-François Régis, Ora Pro Nobis! Pray for our priests!

I'd love to hear from anybody who has made the pilgrimage to Lalouvesc. Apparently the villagers were so worried about someone coming and removing the body of their beloved priest that they cut down an enormous chestnut tree and hollowed out the trunk to contain (and presumably hide) his body. 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Everybody should know about the Institut du Christ-Roi Souverain Prêtre

Our new "adopted" parish in France is under the Institut du Christ-Roi Souverain Prêtre, an order dedicated to defending Catholic orthodoxy and priestly spirituality, and it's simply wonderful. Talk about a feeling of coming home. These guys are, as they say, way cool...

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.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

It makes me feel ill...

OK, so I'm probably feeling a bit queasy because I'm up far too late, but seriously - WHAT is it with the pottery in this picture? Maybe this is not a photo of a Mass, perhaps the priest is in the parish hall (that would explain the flowers in the wicker basket) just about to have a cup of coffee and what he's actually saying is "I really enjoyed my pottery workshop - look at the lovely fruit bowl I made last week". 

Seriously though, if this is a photograph of a Mass, what on earth are they using those things to hold the sacred species? It's not just against the rules, it's simply wrong. This isn't just me being picky, the Catholic Encyclopedia says:

According to the existing law of the Church the chalice, or at least the cup of it, must be made either of gold or of silver, and in the latter case the bowl must be gilt on the inside. In circumstances of great poverty or in time of persecution a calix stanneus(pewter) may be permitted, but the bowl of this also, like the upper surface of the paten, must be gilt. 

So that's clear then - the sacred vessels must be made of materials befitting their use:  precious materials. Pottery, earthenware, plastic, even fine bone china is not permitted. So what's going on in this picture then?

Ah - I forgot to mention that the photo comes from the website of the main Cathedral in Orleans. I was looking up Mass times as we're going to be there tomorrow. Argh!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Happy Feast of the Ascension!

We celebrated in our parish with a Missa Cantata with a splash of violet: Mass was said by a visiting Monseigneur. I learned something new about clerical appareil: until today I didn't realise that, like a Bishop, a Monseigneur wears violet (apparently it's a different violet, but we didn't have a Bishop there to compare). The way to tell which is which is that the Monseigneur has a black biretta with a violet pompom, but the Bishop's biretta is entirely violet. Is pompom the right word here - it just doesn't sound dignified enough. Clearly this only works at a traditional Mass; I have no idea how to tell the difference otherwise.

...and today's feast is a wonderful opportunity to say the oldest of all novenas, the Novena to the Holy Spirit for the Seven Gifts. This is the only novena  officially prescribed by the Church. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1831) states:
" The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.

Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God . . . If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ"

EWTN has a printable version of the novena and for those of you, like me, who lacked rigorous catechism in their youth, EWTN has a sort of "cheat sheet" about the gifts of the Holy Spirit here..