Staying last weekend in the St Omer region of the Pas-de-Calais (as part of a friendly “twinning” arrangement with Deal in Kent), I had the opportunity to attend a monastery Mass. French monasteries were abolished during the French Revolution of 1789, but permitted to re-open in 1833.
The Mass I attended was at the Benedictine Abbey of St Paul, at Wisques, just off the A26 autoroute between Calais and Paris.
Sunday Mass at the monastery was solemn and, at 90 minutes, longer than we’re used to. The monks, in long, cowled habits, entered the simple chapel two by two, while the concelebrating priests wore fresh green vestments, with the adult male altar servers in white. The Mass was sung in plainchant, and Communion was taken kneeling and by mouth only – not in the hand.
An air of quietness and holiness prevailed at the monastery Mass, rather in contrast to the usual modern experience of constant participatory activity. It’s extraordinary to think that this form of Mass and Holy Office has been performed in much the same way since St Benedict formed the order in 547.
The Mass was reasonably well attended. There was no collection, but afterwards, the monks opened up their adjoining shop so that contributions could be made that way – by shopping. And what a range of goods there were: exquisite, unusual and delicate jams and preserves made by their own hand, from the flowers of lavender, of roses, of gentians. A marmalade made from milk. Honey from their bees. Organic baked bread and cakes, unusual beers and cordials, handmade soaps, pottery and many religious books and objects.
This, too, monks have done for centuries, making available what they have wrought from their own natural sources. An idea that’s very old – and yet, with the contemporary demand for everything organic, in another way now very much in the latest fashion.
While the Mass had been duly solemn, the monk at the till seemed a cheerful, smiling character. And St Benedict’s tradition has happily (and sensibly) adjusted to the modern credit card too.
Are we making too much fuss about exams these days? There seems a huge focus on exam papers and how pupils and students handle them. You wonder whether all this hullaballoo increases the stress on young minds.
Examinations always carried some importance for those sitting them, but they weren’t headline news. It was even considered bad for a young person’s character to place too much weight on exam outcomes. If they were clever and their exam success was highlighted, it would give them a “swelled head”; if they were not clever it would diminish their confidence in other areas, which might be just as damaging.
Perhaps things were more lax and easy-going in the past. I knew a chap attending Trinity College Dublin who was allowed to sit his medical finals seven times, having failed them on six occasions. He was an excellent rugger player so TCD apparently felt he was justifiably deploying his gifts elsewhere. When he eventually did qualify, he became a well-loved GP. He had the human touch, rather than academic brilliance.
I’ve had a nagging feeling that I ought to watch Love Island, the television “dating” series that I hear so much about. Am I missing out on an important part of the “national conversation”? Thankfully, Giles Coren in the Times has described this programme in such lurid detail that I now feel relieved of the duty of checking it out:
It is a vile, sexist, apocalyptically tasteless, immoral, sick, vomitous abomination, made by morons for morons, starring brainless young boys and girls from the lowest reaches of the underclass, who are treated as little more than whores to be frotted by strangers in public for material gain and the amusement of the chattering classes, [and] which glamorises casual sex and promotes the sort of bestial carnal activity that has riddled this world with sexually transmitted disease, death and social breakdown.
As an ironic coda, he adds: “But at least it’s diverse.” We can’t say Mary Whitehouse didn’t warn us about the standards of television culture …
Madeleine Teahan reviews Love Island on p29. Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4
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