Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Is This the New Shape of the Church?

Welcome to the land of adaptability – we are with the Parish of Saint Armentaire, west of the diocesan city of Nice, along the Mediterranean Sea, in France. And even though the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul was observed a few days ago, in this diocese its feast was actually carried forward to the weekend. You can see, in this picture, the enormous statue of St. Peter, complete with arm braces with which he was carried through the streets of Antibes. Here was the first sign of adapting – when you have limited resources, you begin to bundle celebrations together (like saints' days and Sunday masses).

We stumbled on this parish our first night; and from the start we got a sense of parochial joy from the people we encountered. Here is a picture of some of the congregation gathered after the Vigil Mass that first Saturday evening. Honestly, it was almost like a scene from the movie Chocolat, complete with joyful and quirky and lovable townspeople.

So on a whim, we decided Sunday morning's mass at this parish was where we needed to go. But there was some initial confusion. The church was called a "cathedral," and in the sanctuary there was a crest for a cathedral as well. But there was no cathedra, no chair for the bishop. Later I found out that Antibes actually used to be a cathedral church, but was stripped of this status hundreds of years ago. But the honorific title remained.

After being in magnificent cathedrals, places of international pilgrimage, and basilicas both major and minor, I cannot tell you how good it was to be in a small parish once again. On Sunday morning, right in front of me, was a lovely family who had brought along their two-year old, complete with a coloring book and crayons. To have that familial sense about the celebration was a great joy.

In my next blog, I want to talk about what Michele and I experienced by way of song and music and prayer at this marvelous liturgy. But today, only one comment, one that was passed on to me by Pascal, the organist of the parish.

At the door of the church, we were given a bulletin, filled with the music and prayer responses for the Sunday liturgy. At the top of the page was the masthead "Paroisse Saint Armentaire." But pictured were not one or even two, but seven church façades! And so I asked Pascal about this. He said, "Actually, our priests are now in charge of nine churches in this area," and the churches were all considered one parish.

Nine churches. Maybe two priests. We were able to identify at least one lay minister who seemed to be a permanent deacon. But it was an unnerving commentary on the state of the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Even with a lot of adaptation, this scenario speaks volumes of the landscape now routinely faced in Europe.

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Location:Paroisse Saint Armentaire, Antibes, France

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