On the last Sunday of September the Diocese of Amiens in northern France celebrates in honour of its first Bishop, St Firmin, whose relics are kept in the cathedral (which is, I think, the largest Gothic cathedral in France). In the parishes Mass is celebrated on Saturday evening and the priests and people assemble in Amiens for Mass on Sunday afternoon.
The Saturday evening Mass at Pont Remy gave us the opportunity to say farewell to Fr Bernard, who has been priest in our parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (the étangs are the ponds or pools which link the river along this part of the Somme valley) for the past eight years. I concelebrated the Mass with Fr Bernard and Fr Dominique-Marie (the parish priest of Abbeville), and at the end a tribute to Father was made by the mayor of Pont Remy, who spoke movingly of his care for the people of the parish. After Mass we gathered at the back of the church for a glass of wine and a slice of Gateau Battu, a type of Picard cake.
On Sunday – weatherwise a glorious day – the Bishop of Amiens concelebrated Mass in the Cathedral with his clergy and a congregation of about 1,000. From 10.30 in the morning there had been music, drama and dancing in the square at the west end of the Cathedral, and a shared lunch.
The participation of the congregation was devout and enthusiastic, aided by the French custom of the ‘animateur’ who leads the singing indicating the notes to the people and where they should join in. I find though, that I miss the hymn singing tradition of the English. Most French liturgical music comes from the period after the Council, and there is a certain ‘sameness’ about it. I recall attending the Grande Messe at Notre Dame de Paris in 1969, when the Ordinary of the Mass was still the Latin de Angelis setting, once so well-known in France. A small choir in the west gallery sang the Gloria and the Creed alternate verses with the people. The mighty Cavaille-Coll organ shook the building as it accompanied the singing of the vast congregation. I wished we had heard more of the Amiens organ, and rather less of the electric piano. Still, it was quite an occasion and Mgr Leborgne presided and preached with his usual enthusiasm and verve.