Yesterday, Sunday, I went to Mass.
Rather than wear jeans and my caramel-leather jacket, for the first time I rode my Vespa wearing a grey dress, black tights and my long, wool camel coat. I felt deliciously European.
The church of Les Adrets is, as Verity explained last time, unusually, not in the village centre. It’s down a scenic, winding road which makes one realise how large Les Adrets actually is. There are so many tiny roads that I think are driveways, which in fact are extensive, with many nooks, cul-de-sacs, houses, and further roads off of those roads. If the description from the website of the Mayor’s office is correct, then 2,650 people live in Les Adrets, which is surprising.
The website gives an excellent history of Les Adrets, and explains that the current church was built (or completed) and blessed on 24 August 1648, under the name of Notre Dame Des Maures, “Our Lady of the Moors”. The Parish of Les Adrets was created on 10 May, 1745.
So I’ve been enjoying Mass in a church built in 1648. I suppose I can forgive the lack of heating.
One of the most charming parts of the church service is its small-town nature. There is one lady, Reine, who clearly runs everything, and it really does seem things would fall apart without her. This was my third time going to a service – the first time, upon my first visit, with Verity, when it was ‘Children’s Mass,’ and Reine (who had prepared the children ahead of time,) ushered each kid, whether age seven or age fourteen, up to the podium to say their little piece, and to help the child pronounce words as needed, while the parishioners (people in the pews?) sang bits in between.
The service was led by the Polish Priest, Marius, who has just completed his PhD in Theology. He was in Poland defending his Thesis last weekend, so when I went with Verity before she left for Australia, that time we had a French-Canadian Priest, whom I believe is taking over for Marius when he returns to Poland. Both Priests are spectacularly multi-lingual, both with excellent English.
This Sunday, Marius was back (with some applause for him on behalf of the Thesis,) and it was again ‘Children’s Mass,’ so again, all the little ones lined up and said their parts. Reine her work cut out for her, because, with Verity gone, there was a pianist standing in. Verity has been doing this for more than 30 years (I believe,) so knows things by heart: music, timing, pauses, etc. I think she & the rather severe but kind Reine, who is in charge (officially or not,) are an excellent team. There was really a feeling this Sunday of ‘shepherding,’ with Reine prompting the pianist, and prompting the congregation, and singing loudly to lead everyone, because it wasn’t as clear as it usually is. It was shepherding which I appreciated: the world needs good leaders, on the largest and smallest scales.
I love the Pagan qualities of the Mass: the warm, woody incense which the Priest uses to cleanse the spiritual centre of the building, the draped altar, the spangled robes, the bowing, the goblets, the wafers and wine. I love the music, especially when everyone sings together, and the (mostly high, clear, women’s) voices echoing off the curve of the ancient stone ceiling.
I love how confused everyone can become, such as yesterday, when half were standing and half were sitting and Reine had to basically wave everyone to their feet and point to the correct place on the notes so we could all sing.
I love the reverence of some of the older women, who are perhaps widows, or perhaps spinsters, who dress in boiled wool skirt-and-jacket sets, whose hair is curled and coiffed, who smell of my Nana’s power, who wave you to the correct page of the psalms, and who kneel on the hard wooden rests of the pews, even though it is clearly an effort to stand up again.
I love the wide-eyed, bewildered look of the freckled, ginger-haired alter boy who seems to wonder just what it all means when the silver incense burner is filled with great ritual, or when he is ushered to move a cup or take a bowl. And all the little children, bowing their heads and crossing their arms to their chests, queuing up to have the Priest press his thumb into their foreheads and say some words, and how they simply accept and trust this ritual. And the tiny, white-blonde toddler who completely disrupted the whole service by wandering around the isle with his gummed stuffed rabbit, who very nearly clambered up to the altar but decided it was better to return to his father and take a nap.
I spent a good part of the service staring at a dead, dried gecko on the floor while I listened to the French words being spoken and sung.
I spent a lot of the rest of it trying to figure out where we were in which book. But I enjoyed it all, in my atheist-yet-spiritual way. And afterwards, I had (very small but I believe comprehensible) conversations with three or four people who remembered me.