Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Confirmation in the south-east Charente Part One

The Church:
Montmoreau St Denys, externally a solid 12th century edifice of stern but imposing Romanesque beauty . Inside it was clearly inhabited by a caring parish who could afford to heat the building well. We were early and having entered by a side door into the north transept, easily found seats close to the sanctuary.

First impressions before Mass
As usual in the churches of our deanery , I was depressed by the bare altar. Instead of the Benedictine candlesticks, behind the altar in a broad semi-circle were six stands with an elecrtically operated  'flame' atop each. I couldn't work our where the Blessed Sacrament was hidden. (Sadly, I am used to that terrible feeling of confusion and loss.)

Music for the Mass was still being rehearsed right up to the moment when the entrance procession began. There was no choir and even though I established later that there was a harmonium in the church, it appeared that the music would be led by a lady lutenist who also played the clarinet, a violinist, and one man with a very loud and powerful baritone voice. I have to admit that the rehearsal was preferable to the seemingly endless procession of busy-bodying women in and out of the sacristy which I witness on most Sundays during the half hour before Mass begins. None of that here. What a relief! There appeared to be three of four young male altar servers assembling for duty, attired not in cassock and cotta but in those drab alb-like garments that somehow always look ill-fitting and grubby.

Beefy baritone took us through some of the responses but his mike was head-burstingly loud. By that time the church was almost full and the congregation gave him as good as he was giving. At least these sheep are not going to feebly bleat I thought, and even began to relax..

Please understand me. I did not attend this liturgy with the intention of being critical and sour. I wanted it to be wonderful for the sake of the confirmands . I desperately wanted not to be distracted by dubious liturgical practice. But over the years I have witnessed some terrible things. Matters have improved over recent years but nevertheless those deeply ingrained memories still make me nervous.

As the procession came out of the sacristy and headed to the west door, I noticed that Bishop Dagens was clutching his mitre in his left hand. Well,  I thought, at least it's going to be an improvement on Bishop Crowley's 1986 Confirmation, in Chelsea, when he caused reactions ranging from uneasy disappointment to affronted outrage, by conducting the rite totally without time-honoured episcopal headgear.

More tomorrow

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