Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Village Church

Disclaimer: It is not my intent to disparage anyone's religious beliefs, so if I do so I offer my sincere apologies.

D-L and I went to Easter service this morning at the village church, Notre-Dame-dels-Prats. It is perhaps the first time I have ever attended a Roman Catholic ceremony. (I cannot remember if I'd been to a Catholic wedding at some point; Greek Orthodox, yes, which I recall as the longest wedding ceremony I've ever endured.)

We had been in the church a couple times previously ... at the conclusion of the local history tour, when the sanctuary was empty. (That's where these photos were taken; we did not pull out a camera during the service.)

As a sociological study, it was interesting for me to compare elements of the Catholic service with the Methodist, Baptist, Mormon, contemporary, and other services I have attended over the years. There was a sermon, of course, though it was in French, and the best I could make out with my limited francais is the priest's topic was the 40 days Jesus walked on earth after the resurrection. There was a choir, and I was surprised that I recognized a couple of the melodies. There was "responsive reading" and what sounding like the chanting of 'the Lord's Prayer' - "Our Father, which art in heaven ... Notre père qui es aux cieux ..." There was a "holy smoke" ritual two or three times, and after the priest swung the brass incense lamp you could smell it all the way to the back of the nave. There was a good bit of standing up and sitting down, same as the Baptists (who often stand too long [for me], especially when the choir director insists on singing every stanza of a song, or multiple songs in succession). There was communion; in that regard, I think the Protestants have a more efficient system, similar to passing the collection plate, rather than the Catholic way of everyone getting up from the pew to queue up for the priest(s). (I wonder if requiring the priest to dispense the wafer and wine is not some sort of subtle 'control' mechanism, ie they are the only ones worthy to handle the 'body' of Christ?)
As it was Easter, they paraded statues of the crucified Christ and the Virgin Mary down the main aisle and back, trailed by an 8-year-old altar boy and four priests, who range in age from about 35 to about 65, at least from their appearance. I was a bit surprised that the statue-bearing young men were in street clothes (including one with black-and-white Converse sneakers) and the statue-bearing young women, all around age 10-12 - ie, not as old as in this picture D-L found for me - and all very solemn looking, wore American-style brand-logo ' statement' t-shirts under their jackets/sweaters (it was cool and damp this morning after last night's rain.)
The structure behind the church altar is quite impressive. There are eight red-and-white marble columns, and plenty of additional marble. The more than 20 life-size statues include the archangel Michael, shield and sword raised, standing on the back of a naked Satan. Several other angels and cherubs as well. The centerpiece is not Jesus, but rather his mother Mary, probably the key difference between Catholicism and Protestant worship, which minimizes the Virgin Mother to the role of a mere God-man delivery mechanism.
Donna-Lane and I did not get to sit together. We thought we were arriving sufficiently early, but the sanctuary was already packed so we squeezed into single seats on the hard wooden benches about four rows apart. I sat next to a distinguished-looking gentleman, perhaps my age or older, who clearly preferred to keep his end-of-row position (I always like the end seat too ... it often means extra leg room to ease my bad knees.) The gentleman was one of the few I noticed wearing a suit; his was gray with pinstripes that matched his white hair and beard.

One thing I did not see was the special "Easter dress" and over-the-top jewelry which has long been common for some women in America who seem more interested in who notices them than in the reason for the service. The folks in Argeles are pretty down to earth, and they come as they are to church or anywhere else. 

There were more children than I've noticed going into services on other Sundays, and the two impish brothers in the row in front of me, perhaps 5 and 7, dressed in identical green jackets, had to be taken out before communion because their sibling skirmishes were spilling into the aisle. Mom was not pleased at having to escort them out, Dad shrugged, Grandpa scowled.

The majority of parishioners were on the elderly side, but, as with just about every church service I've ever been in, there was the obligatory crying baby.

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