Camino minus 3 – History Jumps on my Shoulders

Mass this morning was beautiful and a little overwhelming.

DH and I arrived at Notre Dame in time for their 10 a.m. Sunday Gregorian Chant Mass.

Gregorian chant is the style of music popular in pre-Renaissance era. It was almost always sung in Latin because it was for the Church. The voices sing a melody together very smoothly and with little “vibrato”, just clean and clear. The song carries nicely through a church because there is only one melody to bounce around the stone walls.

We arrived and waited at the back of a line of maybe a hundred people a few minutes before the Mass was scheduled to start. I was disappointed that we would miss the beginning of Church but, oh, well, at least we would get in.

Surprise! Turns out we were on the line for visitors and not for “the faithful.” The faithful line was faster because they wanted us to get in before Mass started. So, in we flew.

The day before I had scoffed at a church big enough to hold 10,000 people. Then I saw the crowd on Sunday. There were maybe 4,000 people attending this service. The International Mass following at 1130 would attract even more.

We sat and were given sheets which had the main parts of the Mass in several languages, including the readings, and some of the music. We were also given a separate sheet with the Gregorian Chant, written in renaissance music style (come on, you music nerds, refresh my memory, what’s that style called?).

The music was glorious. The choir was small, I think only six people, but what a wondrous sound. Rich and full and pure, the sound went to the top of the gothic ceiling and filled the airspace to capacity.  I was surprised to find that I could actually read the music written in Renassance style and sight read! My music teachers would be proud of me, and amazed.

The Priest greeting everyone, first in French, then in English. And that was the last English for the next hour and ahalf. The Mass was done in French, with Latin added when needed.

As I sat, listening to the French homily (it was Pentecost Sunday, a special holy day), my mind wandered. I thought of a time 850 years earlier when Notre Dame was brand new, how amazing the space would have been to illiterate peasants. I looked around and saw the light bathing the sides from the giant rose windows. I saw the glow from the upper level arches. I saw the chandeliers flickering light onto the heads of those in front of me. 

I imagined that 850 years ago, there was a peasant standing right whe I was sitting. He was getting ready for the trip of a lifetime. He was getting ready to say goodbye to family and friends and would go on a long journey to a place on the other side of a far away mountain. He knew he might never see his home again, yet knew he had to go. 

He was going to start his journey to Santiago de Campostella, the home of St. James.

I realized the immense faith taking such a step must have needed. No cell phone, no internet. No backpack filled with a sleeping bag and extra socks. Shoes, a cloak, a staff, maybe a small bag with some food, that was it. When he closed the door on his home and started down the street, his Pilgrimage would begin. 

How could I dare follow in this man’s footsteps? I am taking very little risk. He would be walking through a land with bandits and wolves. And, if he made it to Santiago, he would have to do it all again, in reverse, in order to get home! 

What right do I have to call myself a pilgrim in light of what my imaginary peasant did almost a thousand years ago?

As my mind wandered back to the French homily, it roamed around the church and went into a small alcove on the right. There, in the dark, one of my saintly companions had waited to surprise me the other day as I had toured the Church. 

Big Tess stood there, lookind down in the shadows, gentle and sweet, polished wood reflecting the candles lit around her. I imagined that her virginal pose belied the tough cookie I hoped she would be on my trip and figured she just didn’t want to scare away the visitors.

My ears returned to the French, then my mind to the peasant, then to Big Tess, and I realized that my eyes were unaccustomly moist. I realized that my Camino could not just be a wonderful walk through the country to pray and discover myself. I had a responsibility to honor that long forgotten and imagined peasant’s Camino.

I would follow his footsteps, as those who come after me would follow mine. 

I found myself blinking quickly and heavily. The voices were loud with song and now an organ joined them. The space was big, the sound was big, there were thousands of people around me joined in prayer. I never felt so small and unworthy of the trial I had so cheerfully talked about hours earlier.  Whatever made me think that I could do this?

After Mass, I got my first stamp on my credenzia. The woman stamped it quickly, without looking up. She’d done it hundreds of times. In fact, the person in front of me had gotten a stamp, also. But not a credenzia. Not for a pilgrimage.

My journey has begun, and I’m still not ready.