People celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve throughout France. We went this year to the service at l’Eglise Saint-Andéol in Parisot. Père Serge, the local priest, had asked for volunteers from le Choeur de Parisot to swell the ranks of the church choir. We thought, why not? Having now been once, it’s probably not an experience I shall repeat but it had its moments.
Fortunately, the requisite hour of midnight is not always taken seriously and so the mass was billed to start at 9.00 pm and – amazingly for la France profonde – it started bang on time. This is just as well, since it went on for 1 ½ hours.
First up was a nativity play, which local children wrote and performed. This was the best bit. It was preceded by a frenzy of activity as anxious parents gave last-minute instructions and made alterations to angels’ sagging wings. A three-sided structure in front of the altar did service as the stable.
I really wish I had taken my camera but I thought it wouldn’t be appropriate. However, no one seemed to mind that proud parents wandered about taking shots while the play was in progress. Some of the children who had speaking parts were miked up and, of course, sometimes forgot that they were. Occasionally, an indignant, ‘Non, c’est moi’ resounded throughout the church when someone had spoken out of turn. And there was considerable jostling in front of the stable to occupy pole position for worshipping the Baby Jesus.
Once the play was over, the children piled into the vestry to change clothes. It was a bit like actors going back into the Green Room after a successful performance. Père Serge had to go in to intervene when the noise level threatened to disrupt the rest of the proceedings.
After that, well, let’s just say it went on a long time. Père Serge was assisted by another priest with an Orthodox beard, bare feet in sandals and a skull cap. I have no idea who he was and no explanation was given. No doubt Père Serge was glad to have assistance during such an important ceremony.
As for the choir, we managed tant bien que mal. A rather jolly gnome-like man, who had been born in Parisot but now lives elsewhere, conducted us. But because he was rather small, he had to stand on a box to do so. Fortunately, the congregation and the members of the church choir knew what they were doing. The rest of us just followed along.
There were lots of plus points. Many people turned up; the atmosphere was warm and welcoming; apart from the strict liturgical parts of the ceremony, it was all quite informal and relaxed; and they served cakes and hot chocolate afterwards. Nonetheless, I felt a bit of a fraud. I’m not a believer, certainly not a Catholic and not French, either. Apart from that, well…it was an experience. And, whatever your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), it’s no bad thing to reflect on what all this tells us about human relations and how we should conduct them.
Hope you have had a good Christmas and continue to enjoy the festive season.
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Midnight Mass was always a tradition in my family when we were children…we just loved it. I was always amused that the Italian men (many of the expat Catholics were Italians) hung about smoking outside, and popped into the church just for the three important bits: Sanctus, Consecration and Communion if I remember rightly, to avoid committting a mortal sin (it was a sin to miss any one of the three bits). Women and kids sat through the whole thing. Wonder if we earned extra heavenly kudos.
Around here it tends to be the women who are the most ‘pratiquante’. Les hommes font leurs Noëls et leurs Pâques. I wasn’t aware of anyone nipping out for a smoke but we were at the front so wouldn’t have seen. There were some very fractious children by the end! I must say I sympathised with them but I like to think that, if there is a heaven, I will have earned a few points on Christmas Eve.
I posted a Christmas message to you here Vanessa… so won’t redo in case it turns up! Belated Merry Christmas to you and yours xox
Oh dear, I haven’t seen your message, so perhaps it got lost in the ether somewhere. But thank you anyway and an even more belated Merry Christmas to you and your family.