Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Il faut que la France survive 7

So why is it all so important to us that France survive?

The penny began to drop for me when I paid my first visit to Fontgombault Abbey in about 1984 or 5. It was late December, and there were some very hardy scouts in their blue uniforms camping in the grounds. Several of them would attend every office in the freezing church, dressed only in their uniforms (shorts!) without even a jacket. A few even came to Matins, long before dawn. What struck me most forcibly was the devout way these teenagers made the sign of the cross; not the hasty dabs made by other nations, but a slow, reverent, deliberate and beautiful gesture.

It seems that France is a country where it is very hard to do anything half-heartedly; its extremes are very important and held to tenaciously. Again, at Fontgombault, I was struck by the fact that in the monastery there were then at least sixty priests. But in the village, quarter of a mile from the monastery gates, there was a parish church which had to share a single priest with umpteen other churches. It would not occur to the monks for one minute to celebrate Mass for the parish, nor would it occur to more than one or two of the parishioners to attend one of the vast array of daily Masses in the Abbey. The secular priesthood is in a bad way in many parts of France, but the monasteries, not just the traditional ones, are thriving.

In other words, in France you can certainly find the worst, and the worst is very bad. But you can also find the best, and the best is really wonderful. And there are always surprises.

Take Paris, for instance. Given the nature of a capital city, and the state of the faith outside, in, say, the diocese of Sens-Auxerre, one might assume that the faith in Paris would be in pretty bad shape. But not at all; in fact, the diocese of Paris would appear to flourish enviably. I hear that the seminaries are doing relatively well. New movements exist here and there and keep the prayer life going. I visited Paris a few weeks ago, and each Mass I attended, including on weekdays, there was a substantial congregation. I never saw rubrics violated; priests were properly vested and said Mass devoutly. I saw extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Notre Dame, ( the congregation was huge and in terms of Canon Law their use might be said to be justified); the ministers were all men, wore suits and ties and behaved very properly and reverently. The only disedifying thing I saw was at Sacre-Coeur; a worshipper had presented him or herself at Communion time and asked the priest for a blessing instead of Communion. Well, the priest indignantly refused and, holding the Blessed Sacrament, roundly told the person off. Then, before giving the blessing, he went off on one (as my secretary would say) and harangued us all saying that if we weren't fit to receive Communion, we shouldn't be in church at all, that we polluted the very air with our foul sinful breath. It was really dreadful, and I felt deeply for the poor individual who had inadvertently sparked off this intemperate diatribe. My ear for French accents isn't that great, but I think the priest might have been Polish.

The highlight of my visit to Paris was unquestionably the feast of the Assumption. I attended Mass at Notre Dame, celebrated by Cardinal Ouellet. The music was Gregorian chant sung by a small (unsatisfactorily amplified) schola, who took the modern Marcel Pérès approach. It was very effective. Everything was done splendidly and, to my great surprise there were two (two!) processions in honour of our Lady on each evening; on the eve of the feast by boat around the islands, and a walking procession on the day itself. There were huge crowds participating—again to my edification and surprise.

There is a serious sense of purpose in the French Church; at one time I used to say that France was in a bad way, but the pilot light is still lit. In many parts of the country that is true, but I think that one can now find many places where the faith is very strong indeed. The Traditionalist corner is powerful and punches well above its weight, but it is not really very big (though bigger than in other countries). There is a lot of other good stuff, too (as in some of these new movements). It will take time to develop, but I think we can see something of the programme for the Church's recovery beginning to emerge above all in France.

I know very well that France still has massive problems with too few (and sometimes unbelieving) clergy, hopeless bishops, lacklustre liturgies, dying active orders of religious, arrogant modernists and the rest. But there is a great deal of energy, too; it just does not tend to be linked up with the hierarchy yet. Sooner or later, the hierarchy are going to realise that it is in these otherwise despised groups that all the future of the Church is to be found. And then it will have to come to terms with them. But they are very strong, and because of this gallic love of polarised and strong positions, they will put off the evil day for as long as possible. And meanwhile the Fontgombaults, the Communities of Jerusalem, the Communities of St Jean and the like will continue to grow and send out foundations as in the past.

We need something like this in the British Isles, but without that indomitable spirit that the French have, I doubt we will achieve it. The community of St John have already made a foundation in London. Its methods are unlikely to transfer to the English, any more than happened in the past; but their presence is very welcome and may truly inspire some good growth in this land.

You see, il faut que la France survive!


Anonymous said...

Superb posting Father. Is it true that 25% of all people who attend Mass in France attend the EF?

Anonymous said...

Superb posting Father. Is it true that 25% of all people who attend Mass in France attend the EF?

Henri said...

Well, concerning Bishops, a generation change is happenning at a wonderful pace. We have now recently named very strongly orthodox bishops in many minor sees (Bayonne, Toulon, Séez, St Etienne, Quimper, Luçon...). The major sees (archbishoprics) are in the hands of "wojtylian" moderate. The last modernist Bishops to be found here are in little countryside dioceses (such as Metz or Langres, the Bishop of that city beeing called "the devil" by the traddies... indeed, a strange devil because he is a pro-life devil), and in Lille (the last modernist archbishopric. Poitiers had also a modernist archbishop until last year).
So I find your comment about "hopeless bishops" exagerated. Among French Bishops, very few are "hopeless", most are not so bad/quite good, and many (and more and more) are just wonderful.

Woody said...

I heard that on any given Sunday, there were more at EFs (including SSPX) than at OFs.

We have a parishioner here at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, whose parents are in the SSPX orbit there in France; they sound very interesting, not least because they have not stopped fighting the Revolution.

Pastor in Monte said...

Thank you; your comment is very encouraging.

Conchúr said...

Unfortunately a thorough modernist was recently appointed Bishop of Rodez just this Summer past.

Anonymous said...

No disrespect to you Father or Henri, but as an American we tend to have a not so good feeling about
France or the French people. We love Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette for his helping in the War of Independence but what has France done for us lately? Constantly bad-mouthing us and not supporting efforts against terrorists. We helped save France twice and this time when Islam takes over we are going to just sit back and watch.
Loved what you said about the scouts and how reverent they were making the Sign of the Cross. Must have been influenced by Russian Orthodox who live in France. Orthodox tend to make the Sign slowly and completely although I have noticed a laxity in recent years becoming almost as bad a what I see Roman Rite Catholics do regularly. Half-hearted, half performed and insulting to the LORD I'm sure.
One lasst thing, France never did get the whole 'democracy' thing right. I am surprised they still don't cut people's heads off but don't worry, it'll return when the Muslims take over!

Not a Francophile

Pastor in Monte said...

My admitting comments must not be taken as a sign that I invariably agree with their contents.
In this last case I certainly don't!

Henri said...

To Conchur: Bishop Fonlupt was suspected of modernism on the basis of old publications. Now, he is a cassocked Bishop, that respects the traditionnal identity of his diocese, is much more open toward the simple traditionnaly faithful people than his predecessor (who accepted to meet only the "engaged laities", that is heretic people reigning over parishes). I would say that Bishop Fonlupt is a Wojtylian moderate conservatist. He supports the celebration of the TLM in his diocese by advertising it on the first page of its internet site. Under him, many good things will probably happen in this strongly Catholic little rural diocese with lots of seminarians.

Anonymous: I will not take the time to answer with much details to such a comment. We in France think that American people are undereducated, gross, and highfalutin. You just confirmed this cliché. I am sorry for those educated, polite and humble American people who must endure the image of America given to foreigners by people like Anonymous.

shane said...

"We need something like this in the British Isles"

What a pity you mar an otherwise interesting post by the use of this vile and vomit-inducing term.

Pastor in Monte said...

Shane, I presume you object to the term 'British Isles'. Well, that is the generally-accepted geographic term for Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and the various other bits and pieces that don't otherwise fit in, like the Isle of Man. How else would you express it, other than by the long circumlocution that I have just used? The North Western Archipelago? Nice, but nobody would know what I was referring to.

Pastor in Monte said...

And I hope the vomit didn't make a mess.

shane said...

It's certainly not a commonly-accepted geographic term in Ireland. I have never heard it used here even once, in either popular or scholarly discourse. The Thirsty Gargoyle wrote an excellent post
here a few years ago on this horrible term. Even if it was acceptable, the situation of the Latin Mass and the state of the Church in general is so varied in Ireland and each of the British countries that it's hard to see how it possesses any potentially relevant ecclesiastical application. (The Isle of Man and the Channel Isles hardly matter and are part of English archdioceses anyway). Just say 'Britain' and leave Ireland out of it! If the necessity occasions simply say 'Ireland and Britain' or (better still) 'north-west Europe' (including Iceland).

IanW said...

"The Isle of Man and the Channel Isles hardly matter".

Thank you for that illuminating opinion, Shane. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of nationalism: the kind that respects and is proud of its culture and heritage, and the kind that couldn't give a d***n about others. Your comment - all the more illuminating for being made in passing - suggests which you lean towards.

the owl of the remove said...

Dear Father Sean!
I have been meaning to post a comment of thanks for some time about your wonderful series on the Church in France - thank you! I have always felt what you alluded to in the last post - that the Church in France is either completely dead or very alive - there is no middle ground. Some wonderful new Orders are emerging - Mass at St. Gervais in Paris, for example, with the Jerusalem Community. Hope we can finally meet up when I return to Blighty for a visit soon!

Malvenu said...

Fabulous series of posts, Father, thank you. I only wish the French history i studied at inuversity was as interestingly and compellingly presented.

As a francophile i have to include a response to anonymous.
Globally i would have thought that America is much more hated than France and that probably the main reason some Americans don't like France is that it is the only country that stands up to America. For example, The French insisted inspections were carried out in Iraq to find non-existent WMDs while the UK jumped into bed (yet again) with the US and entered into an ILLEGAL war. Bullies don't like people standing up to them!