France - Mass at Mont Saint Michel / Setting off for Lisieux
Saturday 9th February 2008.
Mont St Michel, 9.20 a.m
My fingers are so cold I can hardly write. Went
for Laudes just now in the Abbey. It was beautiful.
Now sitting at a cafe along the street, having a tiny
cup of decafeine. Tastes good. I wanted to order the Verveine
Tea but they were out of it.
Woke up at 7.15 a.m
Was sleepy coz we slept around 2 a.m. But
it was so lovely to walk around Mont St Michel
in the briskness of the early morning. Pretty mystical
to walk along the ramparts and up the many flights of
stairs, in the purple-blue, pink light of dawn, up towards the
For a thousand years, pilgrims have probably huffed
and puffed and walked up the many stairs, up the rock,
to pray. A beautiful metaphor for our faith journey,
the uphill, winding road.
I was alone, taking in the gradual pinking of the sky,
the waves gently lapping against the foot of this rock.
Taking pictures as I walked along, with my guardian
angel rushing me on, so that I would not be late
Walking up the stairs towards the abbey door, I wondered
if I was at the right place. There was no one else there,
just me, awaiting the huge abbey doors to be opened, to
be let in for the 8 a.m Laudes.
Just as I was thinking this, the 'di-di-di' og an electronic
door alarm being switched off could be heard. Ah... modernity
and technology in the midst of the ancient. Pretty cool.
The door within a door creaked open and the young man
within ushered me in. I guess he was one of the novices
of the monastery.
We both waited a couple more minutes for others perhaps
to show, but as the minutes wore on, it became apparent
that I would be the only one there from outside
the abbey to join the monks within the abbey at Laudes.
We made our way past the nave of the main church where
a monk was pulling on a long rope, ringing the baritone,
resonant bells up in the tower that signalled a call
to prayer. In that dimly lit church and altar, it was
awe-inspiring and mystically beautiful to see history
come alive before my eyes...to see the continuity of
this way of life of the monks, the tolling of the bell
everyday at this hour, as it has been done for close to thousand years.
We walked towards the left of the church and down a small
stairwell, into a small chapel, simple, round, shaped
like the cup of a hand. There in the dim light, I could
make out the figures of 4 priests and 4 nuns, prostrate
in silent prayer.
I sat on a bench along with 3 others, lay people, ordinarily
clothed like me. After a few minutes, the lights
were brighted and the monks and nuns began to sing.
It was hauntingly beautiful to hear the soft, smooth
harmonious blending of the voices in 4 part harmonies,
singing morning praises to God as the light slowly streamed
in the small rectangular windows behind the
small tabernacle from the brightening sky outside.
Their voices rose and fell and blended as they sang
Psalm 3 and Psalm 26, the canticle of Zachary.
I tried to sing and follow as best as I could,
which was not much, since I knew neither the language
nor the melody, but I asked the Holy Spirit
to help me 'know' in the depths of my spirit and soul,
to hear and discern the Lord's voice in this foreign tongue.
To think that for a thousand years, men and women have
praised God in that little chapel. Amazing...
Afterwards, I spoke a bit with the brother who had
opened the door for me to the Abbey. I was shown the
'balcony' of the abbey, where we could see
the whole lay of the land below. The water, slowly sifting
in, the grapefruit pink sky merging to blue...it was
a gorgeous view if only for a few minutes.
'See you at noon for Mass!' I told him, as he smiled and soon
the abbey doors were once again closed. And I wandered
along till I found this cafe. Just finished off
a beurre/sucre (butter and sugar) crepe and that
decaffeine. Now I'm ready to go along on my way.
I made my way back to the hotel and woke Kavin up.
I had just discovered that there would be a tour of the
abbey given in English at 11 a.m, so we didn't have much
time to spare.
The tour was given by a middle-aged, bespectacled
French lady who had the tendency to 'shush' groups
of tourists of schoolkids passing by who were talking
too loudly for her comfort. She definitely had a schoolteacher
inclination :) There were also some tourists from England who
were on the same tour as us
After the tour, we headed back to the front of the Abbey,
at a gate, the meeting spot for anyone who wanted to attend
mass at 12.15 p.m. A sweet-faced nun, one of those who had
sung at Laudes in the morning, was there at the gate.
We said 'hi' to her and told her we were going for
mass. She recognised me from the morning Laudes,
gave us stickers, green round ones which stated
'Participants of mass' and told me, with hand signals
and halting English, that mass would be at the same
place as Laudes had been. She also playfully chided
Kavin for not waking up on time for Laudes that morning
(Kavin had mentioned that he'd been sleeping). So cute,
she was even playfully wagging her finger at him as she chided him.
So Kavin and I made our downstairs to the little chapel.
There were some extra benches placed there to accomodate
the 20 people who were sitting down in silence.
We sat on the bench closest to the altar and sat in
silence. I recognised the man sitting next to us
as he had also been there in the morning for Laudes
and we introduced ourselves. Gäita was his name
and he was there on a retreat.
Mass soon began and it was filled with songs sung in 4 part
harmony; songs that harkened to a past, a heritage
of music passed down from generation to generation of
religious brothers and sisters.
The acoustic warmth and the echo reverberating
in that small chapel was heartwarming.
I did not understand a word as everything was sung
and spoke in French and I found myself wishing that
I had read the readings for the day so that I could
understand the gospel being proclaimed in French.
Still, I asked the holy spirit to speak to my soul,
for even if my brain could not understand the words,
the spirit could speak to my soul in a voice of
meaning that transcends language and it could plant
a seed of God's word there; a seed that would
germinate and flower in His time.
The liturgy of the Eucharist was beautifully
celebrated. The celebrant beheld Christ's body
and blood with such tenderness.
After the consecration, the great Amen and
during the Agnus Dei, he distributed the Eucharist
to the nuns and monks there, who lined up on both
sides of the altar, hands cupped to receive His body.
I was so moved to see their faces as they received
Him in their hands, as they beheld His body in their
cupped hands...faces full of tenderness and love,
praise and quiet contemplation as they beheld their
God. I especially lingered on the face of the sister,
the sweet, pretty one who had met us at the gate
earlier. There was such sweetness in her face, such
tenderness and love.
The celebrant had a very fatherly approach too and
he gestured in French that those who couldn't receive
communion could come up for a blessing. Kavin went up
for a blessing and really liked the way that the priest
took his time to specially bless each and every one.
I was pretty much moved to tears after partaking of
His body and drinking His sweet blood, as I sat
there on the bench, looking at the golden chalice that
held His precious blood, getting teary thinking about
his great sacrifice out of love for me and for my
breathren. It was a beautiful few minutes, a moment
of grace given by Him.
After mass, Gäita gave me the drawing that he'd been
drawing during part of the mass. I'd been wondering
why he'd been doodling, thinking that he was bored...
and here he was giving me his drawing. It showed a dragon
being slain by St. Michael and in the background was
Mont St Michel, and at the bottom right, he'd drawn
a girl in spiritual joy. He smiled and told me that
I was the girl he had depicted in his drawing.
I was very moved.
After mass, Kavin and I went back to Auberge St. Piere's
restaurant. This time, both of us had the lamb dish.
Following this, we drove to Lisieux. It took us about
2 hours to reach Lisieux from Mont St Michel.
After checking in to the Campanile hotel, we rested
for a while before heading out for dinner at a crepe
restaurant we'd googled. It was a nice cosy restaurant
run by a French guy and his Vietnamese wife.
I had the Bolognese crepe and Kavin had the ceylon
crepe (with chicken and curry). They were both good.
After this, we had dessert crepes. Sucre-beurre with
a scoop of Pear sorbet for me and crepe with a scoop
of coffee ice-cream for Kavin.
Here's a link to more pics taken at Mont Saint Michel.
Too many to post here.