Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Tom Continues in Lourdes, France

Wednesday, [June 11th,] I got up early to go to 7:30 am English mass at the Grotto. The celebrant had an accent that reminded me of [a former pastor of ours], and sure enough, in the prayers of the faithful he added a prayer for all countries, especially his own of South Africa, to become more faithful to Christ. We also had a concelebrant who had an Indian accent. It was neat to understand all the readings, homily, and commentaries during mass.

Mass took about 40 minutes, so I had time to get a candle and light it at the grotto in prayer for you. I got a 3′ long 3/4 inch candle for 2.50 euro but there are much bigger ones you can get. Some enormous ones seem to have been placed by entire parishes or pilgrimage groups.

There is an organized area for leaving candles:

Candle area

It goes about eight more of those cubicles to the right and then there is a whole another row to the left that are not in the photo. The grotto is just behind in the center of the photo.

Then I walked over to the underground basilica of St. Pius X for the 9:30 am international mass which takes place on Wednesday and Sunday. It is kind of a strange place, an enormous chamber buried under the ground. They have banners of saints all around the basilica. Here is one that struck my eye:

Saint Gianna

The tiny print says “wife, mother, and doctor”. According to Wikipedia:
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (October 4, 1922 – April 28, 1962) was an Italian pediatrician, wife and mother who is best known for refusing both an abortion and a hysterectomy when she was pregnant with her fourth child, despite knowing that continuing with the pregnancy could result in her death. Gianna was quite clear about her wishes, expressing to her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other – I want them to save my baby.” She died from complications seven days after successfully giving birth via Caesarean section. She was canonized in 2004.

The information I had said [that] you could sing in the choir if you showed up for rehearsal next to the organ by 8:30 am. So I did. We had this energetic choir director. He conducted the entire rehearsal in French, but he was obviously used to multilingual choirs, because he was very dramatic in his gestures. And the choir was roped off at 8:30. By then we had about 40 to 50 people in the choir. Later supplicants were turned away.

The director started off by seeing what native languages he had. I was the only native English speaker, although my neighbors could manage a lot of English. There was a lot of German, some Netherlands, a lot of French, and two Italians. He got into a friendly argument with a lady up front who raised her hand [for] German, saying [to her] (in French), “You don’t speak German, I mean, as a native; I can say “Buenos dias, Senor” but that does not mean I can speak Spanish, so come on now.” It was hilarious.

We had a handout with the music on it. He went through it in reverse order, lining out and practicing the melody parts on each piece. He was very good. He insisted on getting good choral pronunciation: (in French) “Nothing down in the throat, here, (pointing) Luh, Luh, Luh, Luh, no, no, up here, (pointing) La, La, La, La”. It was great. The French must have a terrible time singing with all of their weak vowels.

Rehearsal was over at about 9:05 and we were permitted to go to the bathroom. You had to take a bathroom pass, though, or you would not be allowed to re-enter the choir. The director explained this clearly in very demonstrative French. It was great. I don’t know why the French have such a hard time running a railroad [referring to the rail strike]. Obviously, someone like our choir director is not in charge.

About 9:15 they started welcoming pilgrims to the Mass. A Father stood up on the side of the sanctuary and welcomed pilgrim groups by name; some groups even had banners that would process around just outside the sanctuary. Groups were welcomed in their native language (this took changing Fathers between languages): Italian, Spanish, German, French, Netherlands, and English. There was also one Polish group, welcomed in English because I guess they could not find a Polish-speaking Father.

In the photo here you can see Father standing in the sanctuary and other Fathers down near the banners getting things organized. That is about one-half of the congregation on that side of the sanctuary. On the opposite side there is a crowd just about as large. The photo was taken from the choir.

Sanctuary from choir

Between each language, the choir would sing “Jubilate Deo, Jubilate omnis terra, Jubilate Deo”. At least, that’s what I thought we were singing–we did not have music for that one. Here is a photo of our choir director after we have just finished singing “Jubilate Deo”:

Choir Director

The Father for the next language is just walking up the steps of the sanctuary.

Projection television screens were placed strategically so that people could see what was going on. Promptly at 9:30 the procession started. We had about 40 priests and 4 bishops concelebrating, including a cardinal, who presided. I don’t think I’ve ever attended mass with more than one bishop before. The cardinal said or chanted the mass in French and Latin. I’ve gotten wise to this, and I had both my French and Latin crib sheets with me. My crib sheets don’t include the extra responses that a Bishop uses, however.

The readings were each read twice, in two languages. I think it was French and Italian for the first reading and Spanish and German for the gospel. Meanwhile, the screens showed text in two other languages. The Creed (sung), the Our Father (sung), and the Mass parts were in Latin. Father Cardinal gave a homily in French, about how what we did in the past does not matter, but like Zacchaeus, what matters is how we respond to Christ and what we do next.

The photo below shows the recessional. The white line going out through the crowd is the acolytes and priests, with the bishops in the back. I could count the four bishop hats from where I was standing, but I don’t know if they show up in the photo:


Remember, this is only one-half of the congregation. On the opposite side of the sanctuary there is another wing just as large.

We had an organist, trumpet, and four soloists singing with us. They were all obviously professional musicians. The soloists disappeared quickly after mass, but the organist and trumpet stayed for a postlude:

Organist trumpeter

Quite a few choir members stayed, too, to listen. The trumpet player was good. We gave bravo applause when it was over.

The mass lasted about 90 minutes It was great.

Love, Tom


[Regarding the healing aspect of Lourdes, Tom later told me that in the underground basilica, there is a large area closest to the altar, where invalids are brought. The invalids are put near the front of any procession leading into the basilica. Some might be in wheelchairs or “wheelbeds”; they can’t even sit up. So they are near the altar during any liturgy. There are lots of doctors in Lourdes, to help the invalids, and to examine any miracles claimed by a person at Lourdes. People can volunteer to be a helper of invalids — pushing a wheelchair, etc. — but there’s some rigorous process and/or training to be accepted into the volunteer group. It’s about a 6-8 week stint for which room and board are provided.]


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