IT IS THE MASS THAT MATTERS TO THESE FRENCHMEN
IN many a church porch in the French capital a visitor from England would see officially printed lists of some sixty parishes announcing that evening communion is regularly celebrated at some time between 5 and 9 p.m.
Were he to drop in at one of the notorious messes des paresseux. at noon, in some fashionable church he might be surprised to see several hundred people devoutly receiving their communion ; but he would notice also that the old traditional worldliness has gone, that the large congregation no longer stands and chatters, aloof and bored, but, on its knees, book in hand, follows the service with interest.
Outward ceremonial appears to vary considerably from church to church.
In many of them and the most alive (including the cathedral of Notre-Dame) a new altar, per manent or movable, often in the shape of a carpenter's bench. has been raised just behind the altar rails, or in front of the screen. There the priest celebrates facing the congregation.
Incense has disappeared in some cases. Young men in ordinary clothes do the serving, collecting and general ministering unobtrusively and naturally.
Often not only the Gospel and Epistle, but other parts of the service also, are translated into the vernacular by the deacon, sub-deacon or some layman.
Last but not least, if a stranger ventures himself into the dismal districts where the Mission of Paris operates, he will witness very moving and awe inspiring celebrations. around simple tables in bare rooms. the congregation lining the walls in a circle.
THE SAME MASS
THIS outward variety is great indeed, but it is organic : that is to say, it is orderly and inspired with a unifying purpose: namely, to make all share more fully in the corporateness of the service.
Everything is done canonically in obedience to authority. In spite of the translations into French and the occasional interpolated explanations. the Latin Mass remains there in its integrity, a solid granite block, unchanged and unchangeable in its text and rubrics, the sacred shrine of a jealously guarded doctrine.
ACTIVISM EMMANUEL Mounicr wrote in his notebook (1940): " In the midst of a world which spiritually is divided and temporally organises itself without her, the Church must not burden herself with more and more organizations of her own which) cut off churchmen from the city. Her essential task is to gather herself together in the liturgical action.
" The liturgical life is a corporate communal action, and has to be performed as such. . . As for the rest, action in the temporal sphere. let us get rid of those hundreds of confessional organizations which fill the Church to suffocation with activism and mediocrity.
" !.et the Christians work indeed in the temporal sphere. but let it be with everybody, in the civil community. In order to induce them to do so with zest, there must be a spiritualite du laic, a full doctrine practical and devotional of the ' laity ', of civic and professional responsibilities, which are the widest and the most educative forms of charity in the temporal order."
CLEARLY for the writer Liturgical action is the Unhurt Necessarium, the decisive move ment by which the Church gathers herse:f together in Christ. that shy! may spring into action in the secular h phere • The earlier generation which raised the grand movement of locism and '' hundreds of confessional organizations" had perhaps a less firm grasp on this essential, it retained a nostalgia for the past and dreamt of rejuvenating the old Christendom and its structures sacrales ; that indeed required a great multiplicity of organizations and some activism.
Twenty-five years later. Mouniers generation. their clergy (Godin, Remillieux. Michonneaux. etc.) and their episcopal leaders. see the situation differently and more realistically.
Mounier's last book is Feu la Chrtgnenti (Goodbye, defunct Christendom!), 1950. In the same year the hierarchy launched the new. and for many people disconcerting, Action (airholique Ouvriere
(Workers' Catholic Action). It sounds like the official good-bye of the episcopate to that old. noble. hut inadequate Christendom which Maritain described as a " theocratic utopia " and Mounier as a " judaic fallacy."
In Masses auvrit)re.s, an organ of the clergy, of June-June. 1950. the A.C.O. chaplains write: " In no way must A.C.O. he suspected of theocratic ambition. of camouflaged infringement by the Church on the preserves of the temporal . . . Many dream of a new Christendom tof the right or of the left] with a Christian
organization of the state. A.C.O. in no way favours such a view," It is the repudiation of " sacra/ Christendom." to use a newly-coined word.
The dream of Charlemagne and of the medieval " legists" and their theologians was of a sacral civilization. It became the nightmare of the Middle Ages, against which struggled great popes end Saints. Franciscans and Reformers.
If it is still lingering here and there. as in the Peninsula, for instance, the great storms of today are likely to disperse and sweep it away eventually. " The Church does not require a Christendom to be fully herself. She has that power in herself. , . Christendom is not Christianity."
'HOLY RACE' IT is against this background that the French Liturgical Movement must be seen to be appreciated in its fullness.
The Church, like St. Paul's athlete, seems to be, as it were, stripping herself of all .sacral structures, to start on the next stage of her holy race --a wrenching and distressing gesture for many devout souls.
It would be a very inadequate figure of speech to say that her equipment is to he reduced to the liturgy. It is, however, true that the liturgical action, the Breaking-of-bread-together-in-koinonia, is becoming more and more the focus of the life in the Kingdom not of this world " which grows in secret.
That life. free from all sacral ambiguities, is now called eceleslal, another characteristic neologism which expresses the spiritual and corporate aspect of the Ecelcsia.
The Liturgy is the foundation of the ecciesial structures through which " the Body fitly framed and knit together grows unto the building of itself in love."
Being somewhat aware of the context in which the Liturgical Movement is growing, we shall be in a better position to understand what is happening in the churches touched by the new grace. COLOMBES is the district made famous by Revolution in a City Parish.
It is a working-class suburb to the west of Paris, difficult of access on a Sunday morning; we had to leave our hotel at 6.30 a.m. to arrive in time for the 8 o'clock Parish Communion.
II happened to be a solemn celebration with deacon and sub-deacon, on the Sunday kept as the patronal lestival (of the Sacred Heart), a very high day indeed.
11 he church was packed when we arrived; hut in the most obliging way scats were found for us in the very heart of the congregation.
We remember the building as unpretentious, without style or character, a structure awkwardly enlarged to hold probably a thousand people.
At the east end the traditional altar, with tabernacle, formed a background for another altar set against the altar-rail very commanding. on a flight of steps.
Behind this altar, the priest. with his deacon on the north side arid his sub-deacon on the south. stood facing the congregation, clad in the usual vestments, Behind them, on a lower level. a row of a dozen laymen in lay clothes stood. with arms folded; they also faced the congregation, and. as we discovered later in the course of the service. were the servers and sidesmen.
On the bare altar two low candles were alight, framing the vested chalice.
In a recess in the south aisle could he perceived a monumental statue of Christ, some ten feel high, probably waiting to be moved into a place of dignity; one could easily imagine it standing behind the altar, bending over it, welcoming and embracing the congregation with outstretched arms. It was a figure of great simplicity. suggesting infinite tenderness and St rength.
To our surprise, through the whole service, we hardly heard a word in 1.atin, although the whole liturgy was of course celebrated in that language by the priest at the altar.
, His voice was not perceptible. as the deacon speaking through an invisible amplifier translated and commentated on the whole service in the vernacular.
He did his job most admirably. His words were so perfectly synchronized with the priest's actions that his voice might easily have been mistaken for that of the celebrant.
His commentary and his directions were brief and to the point. His translation and adaptations had not the eloquence of Flossuet (Or of Cranmer), hut were in crisp, modern French. well adapted to a popular congregation.
'the result was that the communication between the congregation and
the ministers was very real. The AnjefIS and other responses thundered, without delay, eager and meaningful. Gloria and Creed were sting. alert and triumphant. by all.
The Epistle and Gospel were also sung in French from two ambos, while the priest read them in I.atin at the altar. The sub-deacon on the left side of the celebrant proceeded to the south-side ambo. and the deacon. on his right to the north; he turned, not to a mythical north, but towards his actual audience.
AT the offertory the twelve lay men went round to collect "alms and oblations:" then going straight up to the altar, ascending the steps altogether and in sight of the whole congregation, they placed bread and wine, moneybags and boxes full of intentionslips on the altar.
Meanwhile the deacon was leading the congregation in acts of offering; the private lavabo of the priest was ignored by him, and there was no censing of any kind.
This solemn act of offering, thus reduced to its essentials, formed a great climax that was not spoilt by any complication or fuss. 11 had a virile working-class directness and
reality that was refreshing. Handkissing and bowing, laces and frills. were absent.
The celebrant's deportment and gestures had certainly been somehow simplified and carefully adapted to his new position, His apparently silent figure, moving slowly. modest. dignified and solitary. behind the raised altar. suggested a great mystery: as of the Angel at the heavenly altar. Certainly the "man " was not prominent; his personality was completely absorbed in his sacramental function.
At the appointed time the " angel " left the altar and went to the pulpit simply, as an angel would do, to proclaim the Word, the Eternal Gospel, with prophetic vigour and Johannine unction.
The sermon was on the Epistle for the day. I John iii, and nothing could have been more scriptural.
AID TO DEVOTION
THE distribution of communion
to such a multitude took a long time. Some priest-workmen, free on Sunday, were assisting.
What was remarkable was the way in which the deacon was continually finding new means of helping the devotion and recollection of all, by suggestions, invocations. affections. acts of adoration. short hymns. Not only the communicants but also the children were remembered by the man with the amplifier.
Thus not only was the monotony of long waiting relieved, but a new sense of community was infused by fitting acts of devotion at the right moment.
(To be continued next week)