27 January 2008

Differences in French Catholicism

[Today I did laundry, and boy did I wish I'd procrastinated another day! I put my laundry, and soap, in a machine, and it turned out to be broken so I had to switch. Buh-bye, soap. The machine I ended up using broke before the last spin cycle, so I had the lovely experience of wringing out all of my clothes by hand before putting them in the dryer. There were about five inches of water at the bottom of the machine. For some reason all of Angers's drunks had decided to hang out in the square, and they kept walking by yelling obscenities. (Why they were drunk at noon on a Sunday, I don't know.) Luckily everything dried in my usual 45-minutes, because I didn't have enough change to give it another fifteen. After I hurriedly folded everything, I rushed back home to change to go to the cathedral. The cathedral choirs were singing a farewell Mass for our Bishop. He is, as the choir puts it, getting exiled. Formally though, he's been promoted to Apostolic Administrator and is going to work in Rome.]

I've noticed several little differences (beyond translation) in the way the French Catholic church works, and today during a really long ceremonial Mass I got to notice several more. So here are some peculiarities. Non-Catholics might not find this too interesting, so I've included some jokes at the end of the post to make up for it.
• Gestures
- The kiss of peace is a handshake only with strangers. If you know the people it actually as a kiss.
- The priests' kiss of peace looks like they're butting heads.
- During the confiteor and the "I am not worthy to receive you" bits, the French still whack themselves (gently) on the chest with their right fist.
- No one bows during the bit of the creed about Jesus' conception. (And by the way: they say the Apostles' Creed, not the Nicene.)
- Everyone bows when the priest genuflects after consecrating the hosts and the wine.
- Kneeling is (this is my favorite part about church in France) totally optional. That's because the kneelers, if existent, are significantly more uncomfortable than American kneelers.
• Organization
- The choir is put behind the altar. There's a cantor in front of the altar. There are TVs so that the choir director can watch the cantor to keep everyone in time. I don't know what they did before electricity...
- There are two organs: the little organ accompanies the choir and priests. The big organ accompanies the congregation.
- They almost never open the big doors (which are about thirty feet high and twenty feet wide) at the end of Mass, just the normal-sized door built in to the big door. This means that it takes a really long time to get out the door. However, everyone stays until the end.
• Music
- No closing hymn, ever.
- The Sanctus is always sung, but the Benedictus is usually dropped.
- The French are 378% worse than English-speakers at leaving off ending consonants when singing in Latin.
- According to the choir school's director, "It won't really matter if you sing in unison, or in four parts, or something else. Henri-Franck will be playing so loudly that no one will hear you anyway."
- The more modern the music, the less people like it. A French choir would hate music in American churches.
• Clothing
- Since this was a very ceremonial Mass, there were about 160 priests and deacons there (including all of the Anjou diocese and a whole lot of priests and bishops from other parts of France), a lot of monks and nuns, some priests in fancy black robes with nice embroidery called the Ordre du Malte (?), some priests in gold robes, some priests with fancy long white capes, and a lot of priests with interesting hats.
- For the procession, the choirs (all 100 of us) processed out first, then we moved to the sides of the aisle and the priests processed out "through" us. This is typical, but usually it only takes a couple minutes. Out of all of these scores of priests, I saw five wearing the "Roman collar," the black/gray and white collar that most people think of when they think of priests. Apparently it's a personal choice here, and is seen as a really traditional thing.
• Secrets Behind the Altar
- There were 41 priests sitting behind the altar, and it was interesting to watch them as part of a congregation rather than celebrating the Mass. Most paid good attention during the second reading and the Gospel, but all seemed distracted during the first reading.
- Only two (who were both very old) fell asleep during the homily)
- All watched and enjoyed our singing.
- About 25% had to read along on their little Gregorian sheets during the consecration, the rest knew the chant by heart.
- The altar boys sometimes push each other.
- The little altar boys always stare at St. Maurice's skull as they pass it.
- The choir director often makes faces in the direction of the cantor when he does something stupid.
- The altos (in the choir school) get yelled at for whispering more often than the sopranos. The adults are usually well-behaved.

Jokes: (I found this buried in the Stuff folder on my computer.)
Old accountants never die, they just lose their balance.

Old actors never die, they just drop apart.

Old archers never die, they just bow and quiver.

Old architects never die, they just lose their structures.

Old beekeepers never die, they just buzz off.

Old bookkeepers never die, they just lose their figures.

Old bosses never die, much as you want them to. 

Old cashiers never die, they just check out.

Old chauffeurs never die, they just lose their drive.

Old chemists never die, they just fail to react.

Old cleaning people never die, they just kick the bucket.

Old cooks never die, they just get deranged.

Old daredevils never die, they just get discouraged. 

Old deans never die, they just lose their faculties.

Old doctors never die, they just lose their patience.

Old electricians never die, they just lose contact. 

Old farmers never die, they just go to seed. 

Old garagemen never die, they just retire.

Old hackers never die, they just go to bits.

Old hardware engineers never die, they just cache in their chips.

Old hippies never die, they just smell that way.

Old horticulturists never die, they just go to pot. 

Old hypochondriacs never die, they just lose their grippe.

Old investors never die, they just roll over.

Old journalists never die, they just get de-pressed. 

Old laser physicists never die, they just become incoherent.

Old lawyers never die, they just lose their appeal.

Old limbo dancers never die, they just go under. 

Old mathematicians never die, they just disintegrate.

Old milkmaids never die, they just lose their whey.

Old ministers never die, they just get put out to pastor.

Old musicians never die, they just get played out. 

Old number theorists never die, they just get past their prime. 

Old numerical analysts never die, they just get disarrayed.

Old owls never die, they just don't give a hoot. 

Old pacifists never die, they just go to peaces. 

Old photographers never die, they just stop developing.

Old pilots never die, they just go to a higher plane.

Old policemen never die, they just cop out. 

Old professors never die, they just lose their class.

Old programmers never die, they just branch to a new address. 

Old sailors never die, they just get a little dingy. 

Old schools never die, they just lose their principals. 

Old sculptors never die, they just lose their marbles.

Old seers never die, they just lose their vision.

Old sewage workers never die, they just waste away. 

Old soldiers never die. Young ones do.

Old steelmakers never die, they just lose their temper.

Old students never die, they just get degraded. 

Old tanners never die, they just go into hiding. 

Old typists never die, they just lose their justification. 

Old white water rafters never die, they just get disgorged. 

Old wrestlers never die, they just lose their grip.

There is no conclusive evidence about what happens to old skeptics, but their future is doubtful.

Walt Disney didn't die. He's in suspended animation.

Wasn't that optimistic :)

1 comment:

Kristen said...

I am at the library and I laughed audibly for much of this post. Shame on you! :)

Church in Ireland is different, too. Here are some of quick observations:

1. Average length of mass - 27 minutes.

2. NO music. If there is, it is sung a cappella, and it's usually something very simple and folksy, usually all in unison.

(I think #1 and 2 are the after-effects of decades of Catholic oppression in Ireland. When mass was said at mass rocks in people's fields, and the priests were at risk of being beheaded, I'm pretty sure they didn't want to draw things out or bring a lot of attention to themselves).

3. Our kneelers are often very hard , and they are permanent (they aren't the lifty kind on hinges). There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, either. You know how after communion you kneel until the offering is put away (or at least that's what I think you're supposed to do)? Well, the offering doesn't get put away here, so people just kneel until mass is over.

4. Everything is said in English, except for the Our Father which is said in Gaelic. I can honestly say I don't quite understand this one. Latin, OK. But in Gaelic when the rest of the mass is in English? It's interesting.

5. Lighting a candle is a much bigger deal here than I have ever noticed in the States, but there isn't a more "permanent" structure. I am having a really hard time describing this. You know how there are usually a bunch of candles in nice candle holders and it's normally on a tiered thing in a chapel or something like that? And maybe only a few people will go back there in my experience. Well, here there's a trolley at the exit of the church with a bunch of tea lights on it, and EVERYONE throws a few coins in and stands to say a prayer at the exit. So it LITERALLY takes about 10 minutes for ~100 people to get out the door because everyone is lighting a candle.

Wow. That got lengthy - sorry! I may have to copy you and say something about this in my blog...

I see you in 21 days. FYI.