When I was sixteen and living near London, Bobby No-friends took the bus to Paris during the Easter holidays and I got to know the city a bit by pounding its pavements walking in to Centre Ville from the flea-bag hotel I'd found out near Montmartre. Not in Montmatre, that would have been expensive, but a tiny room - bath.etc. down the corridor - on some normal street to the East of the hill. On Easter Saturday evening, I went up the the Sacré Coeur with the faithful to witness the end of Lent with the Mass of the Vigil. It was rammed. There was standing room only and I found myself at the very back of the church holding a tiny candle that someone at the door had handed me. My French was poor enough, so I couldn't follow all the liturgy, but it was only a few years since the Mass had stopped being said in Latin, so I was in no worse case than a lot of the people around me had been before the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. When the church was darkened and the Paschal candle came in from the back, I appreciated that it symbolised a rebirth of the year and it was a truly great and moving piece of theatre as the flame was transferred from candle to neighbour's candle until the whole church was a sea of flickering light.
Last Saturday, 40+ years later, I went to the Easter Vigil mass again. The ritual should have been the same but the priest had forgotten his torch and it took a while for the altar-girl to find it and he was getting a bit tetchy and suddenly we were being asked to extinguish our candles before the Gloria, so that we could all see what we were doing. ?!? At one of the great rituals of the Church, you have to do it right, even if you can't see properly, the faithful expect it. In my youth, I did a fair amount of amateur dramatics, I could learn and remember my lines at the age of 12 or 13, and if something went wrong I could do an ad lib to get the show back on track - we all could. I do wonder why the priests of today are still people of the book - reading the mass as if it's the first time they've ever done it; stumbling over the long words, getting the cadence all wrong. It's little wonder that people can't be bothered to go to church, if it is often more of a source of empathic embarrassment rather than edifying enlightenment.
Well, the Roman Catholic faith has just acquired another adherent! That's why we were in Church on Saturday to bear witness to the baptism of a friend of ours, who has decided, late in life, to discard the agnostic secularism in which he was born and embrace a Church that sings to him. I wanted to support him in my witness because that is a brave and unusual step to take. You will have noticed that almost all the Jews you know have Jewish parents, all the Catholics comes from Catholic families and even the atheist inherit their position as if it was strictly genetic rather than a choice. That shows (a lot of data gets to be evidence) that people in general don't choose a religion that suits them but take on whatever is available. Maybe that's okay, maybe we shouldn't think these things too much but I'm sure there are folk out there who would be happier to practice a different rite, did they but know [about] it.
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