I’m not a particularly religious person. Certainly not a regular church-goer, but come Christmas I “make the effort” – My once a year foray into church for Christmas mass. Call it an annual spiritual cleansing. Midnight Mass is a pain in the proverbial – crawling out the house around bedtime after a hefty meal. Luckily our local parish church do a “six o’clock special” a kind of early midnight mass. If you’re not going to mass tonight, read on to see just what you are missing
Six o’clock special December 24th 2012
Some people go to these things for the religious aspect of it all. I nip along because it breaks up the monotony of the evening, and after two hours of freezing to death in a fifteenth century church, with a fifteenth century heating system, you feel amazingly pious when you leave and exceedlingy meritous of several large glasses of wine.
There were about 1000 people at Mass last night. It was standing room only. I never knew that there were so many God-fearing people in this town. Now you would have thought that with so many Christian people assembled in one place, there might have been a spot of christian feeling or seasonal goodwill about.
Sad to say it, there wasn’t much of either.
On entering the Church, I held the door open for a mother driving a large pushchair cum pram with three kids in it. After came hubby. I was about to release the door so he could take up my temporoary post as doorman, but he pushed on through without so much as a « merci ». He was followed by a whole bevvy of worshippers, none of whom expressed any gratitude. It was only when I almost let the door fly in someone’s face that someone else actually bothered to hold the thing open.
Once inside, a Srooge-like figure handing out carol sheets refused to give us one because we were not « regulars ».
As for finding somewhere to sit, seats had been « pre-booked » by other members of the congregation.
With nowhere to sit, we stood sandwiched in-between a pillar and a rather fat family, with a child that screamed and a mother that snorted like a sperm whale.
Now, according to all those wildlife documentaries you see, whales sing to each other in harmonious tones. Our whale was tone deaf. The mass got underway, with « Adeste Fideles » which our sperm whale mother rendered with gusto in the manner of an X Factor reject. Even by singing very loudly over, I was still unable to drown her out. So, not everyone has the voice of an angel, but this woman had no rythm either. She was well into the chorus as the rest of the congregation was still singing the first verse. Luckily, the baby sperm whale began to scream his head off and mother sperm whale had to take him out the church. This left daddy sperm whale, who had obviosly just taken his winter coat out of mothballs because the smell of napthelene was overpowering. Thank God for incense (not incest like I once wrote in a RE lesson, though ther baby sperm whale did look like he might have been produced from a spot of relational hanky panky.)
Now, I remember our RE teacher telling us that incense was used in medieval times to mask the smell of the unwashed congregation. It was also incredibly expensive and supposed to have mystic qualities. This is why the Three Wise Men gave it to baby Jesus. In our modern world, you might offer someone « Kouros » after shave for the same purpose.
Anyway, back to mass.
I vaguely remember Anglican liturgy thanks to the four years that I « served » in our local church choir. This was another of those « Christian » organisations full of people who were full of themselves and full of God. They sang the praises of God every Sunday, but when the praising was done, they were a very unchristion mob.
One year, I roused dormant jealousy when the choir master gave me the solo to sing in « Once in Royal David’s. » The organist had wanted his daughter to sing it. Come the big night for my carol solo debut, the organist shoved the whole tune up one octave so I couldn’t sing it. There I was, processing down the aisle, my voice cracking and breaking as I tried to hit the hight notes. Worse than X-Factor.
So, the difference between Mass and what the rest of us do.
At Mass, you don’t sing loads of hymns. Last night we sang three carols.
Every time you have Mass, you get communion, but only the priest gets to drink the wine which is white and not red.
A sermon is called a homily and only lasts five minutes
Finally, the Catholics have a thing called « transubstantiation » where they belive that they are really getting the body of Christ. The Anglicans just get a wafer and no sense of mysticism.
Now, you can tell this is France and not good old PC Blighty. Last night the kids were allowed to walk round the church with lighted candles. NO, not torches, real wax candles with real flames. Oh my God ! Call Health and Safety.
The kids lit their candles, got them blessed, then placed them in the creche.
Ah yes. The creche.
« Looks like a few bits of old cardboard covered with a bed spread » I remarked laughingly to my better half.
On closer inspection, the stable was indeed constructed from three large cardboard boxes with a bed spread draped over the back.
Anyway, we got our shot of « Christian feeling » wich felt more unchristian than ever when came the time to turn to your neighbour and say « peace be with you ».
In France you shake your neighbour’s hand and say « la paix du Christ » (la pay doo creest) – The peace of Christ.
However, you could say this « le pet de Christ » which is pronounced the same way but simply means « the fart of Christ » . A « pet » (pay) is a small fart.
I wished a holy fart to the sperm whale family.
And by 8.30 it was all over. My annual dealings with Christianity and Christians.
I never expected any real Christian or Christmas goodwill, I go for the Church. There’s something mystical about sniffing incense in a high vaulted fifteenth century church. Whether God is there or not, you know somehow you just ain’t alone.