I thought maybe my grandmother, a staunch Catholic, would like it if I were to honor her by attending Mass at Notre Dame. So this morning, I put on a nice skirt and top and catch the 4. You can’t actually see Notre Dame as you get off the Metro, but I quickly spot it and hightail it over there, since I was running later than I had wanted. Still 20 minutes before Mass, but no time to waste.
I avoid the long lines, figuring there must be a shorter entry for people who actually want to attend Mass. I am right. I enter the cathedral and am relieved to see there are still plenty of seats. After a minute or so, I find a pretty good single seat with a view of the altar next to a nice guy who tells me it isn’t taken. Voila! I’m in.
Sitting inside the “choir” section of the church, I’m struck by how much more beautiful the light is from in there. It might also be that last time I was there, it was evening and now it is 11:15 am. I would love to snap a photo, but rightfully so, Notre Dame bans photos in the worship area of the church. This doesn’t stop many douchebag tourists from wandering in and ignoring the huge signs with a big X over a photo of a camera. It’s not a translation thing.
QUICK FACT: Notre Dame is the most visited tourist attraction in France, ahead of the Eiffel Tower.
If you want to know why some Parisians have a problem with tourists, you need to attend a mass at Notre Dame. People actually wandered into the aisle during the processional, impeding the entry of the priest. They continued wandering in and taking photos well into the Mass, standing and blocking the view, even though the entire outer ring of the inner cathedral is open for tourists to tour and to view from during mass. (They are not supposed to be in the worship area.) Even a half hour into the mass, they mosey up the aisle, distracting people, thinking they’ll get a seat even when the front is obviously full. This in an area where people are actively worshipping. Also, quite a few people are just there for the heck of it, but they aren’t polite enough to stay through the whole service. No, when they feel bored, they stand up and split in the middle of the mass. Then more idiots sprint from the back to take their places. I’m very surprised that the ushers don’t take better control of the late entry and usher people to the empty seats instead of the folly that goes on throughout the service. The ushers do pretty quickly get on top of anybody taking pictures, though. Okay, end of rant.
This Mass is the International Mass, which means it’s still mainly in French, with part of the homily delivered in both English and French, and, I think another short section of the Mass delivered in both Spanish and French. The organ playing is rather strange. There’s some sort of creepy, carnival-type tune they play for the entrance of the priest. It doesn’t sound holy at all. Seriously weird. But then there is a solo by a soprano, and it is perfectly audible and perfectly soaring and perfectly lovely. A beautiful voice. I’m thinking lead soprano at Notre Dame is a good gig to have and wonder if she is a paid employee of the church or a volunteer. I stare up at the immense ceiling and stained-glass images of the apostles, hoping for a bolt of inspiration to hit me.
The church is hot. Everyone is fanning themselves with the day’s program, which has sections of the gospel in English also. I take this nifty wipe my friend Amy gave me out of my purse and start blotting my face with it. It smells of peppermint, which wafts nicely together with the frankincense and myrrh. There are no kneelers in the church, so we stand a lot, not the greatest thing for my aching feet. Much more standing than in a service in America. There is a tenor who leads the choral responses to prayers. He’s pretty good, too, but not as divine as the soprano.
About half way through the Mass, the priest asks in what sounds like an American accent, “How many people would understand me better if I spoke in English? Raise your hands.” He notes that there are quite a few English speakers, so he gives about two minutes of the homily in English. Then back to French. I can only make out about a tenth of it. They do the “handshake of peace” here, in case you’re wondering, and it seems to be a large gesture. Most people shook hands across the aisle and in about five rows.
I throw what change I have in the collection basket. Might as well support the upkeep of this magnificent structure. Then I immediately regret it, because now I don’t have anything smaller than a 50E bill, so I can’t light a candle in my grandmother’s memory. I think she would have liked that, so I guess I’ll have to come back. (I am quite certain she wouldn’t have approved of my spending 50E to do it, though … suggested donation is only 2E.)
I sit in this stunning church, hoping to be inspired into some sort of belief, since it would have pleased my grandmother. But instead, spectacular as it is, I think that Jesus probably would have disapproved of such a large, elaborate structure and would rather have seen the money spent on the poor. He wasn’t too fond of pomp and monuments. One can only imagine him taking a camera and smashing it to the ground, like he did with the money changers. I feel like I would have disappointed my grandmother by thinking this way, and I feel sad.
There is a 40ish woman in line for Communion who catches my eye. Something about her. When it is her turn, she doesn’t just genuflect. She suddenly and quickly throws herself to the ground. I think she kisses the priest’s feet. Okayyyyy. Nobody else did this or anything like it.
I debate about taking Communion myself. I decide no. Then at the last minute, I think my grandmother would have wanted me to, so I sprint up the aisle and get what I believe was the last wafer handed out. I chew it slowly and still don’t feel inspired. I talk to my grandmother in my head, and ask if maybe she could have them play the Ave Maria for the recessional as a sign that she’s there. They don’t.
Tears well up in my eyes. I feel like I am not keeping my word to my grandmother because I do not suddenly feel devout. But then I remembered that I promised her I would try. The service is not even in a language I competently understand. And I am doing my best, so I give myself a break, hop on the subway and go home.
I’ll try another service soon, Grandma. It’s all I can do. I love you.