I had wanted to attend mass at St. Ephrem, the Syriac Catholic church, last Sunday, but to my disappointment it was closed. We decided to walk a few blocks to Notre-Dame to see if we could catch mass there, and fortuitously there happened to be one about to begin in 15 minutes, the international mass. We broke out of the already-crowded queue for tourists and went through the door for mass-goers, found seats in the front section, and breathed a sigh of repose as we quieted ourselves for prayer in the midst of the hustle and bustle of sightseers. The cordoned-off area for mass was like an island of sanctity amid a chaotic stream of circling tourists and endless flash pictures being taken (which never relented all around us throughout Mass).
A soloist in a visiting choir from England sang a haunting prelude that set a tone of reverence for the liturgy. Then the great organ began the processional hymn, "Nous chanterons pour toi, Seigneur," to a tune familiar to English-speaking worshippers as "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." Though at first this cathedral had not inspired in me the same strong emotional reaction that I had had at Chartres, at the sight of the tall gold cross being carried aloft in procession something stirred in my heart. I thought of hundreds of years of hopeful pilgrims and people of faith seeing that sign held high, visible even in a large crowd. The music of the great organ filled the whole space, 115-ft vaulted ceiling and all. I felt as if my spirit were being held aloft with it.
The mass began like any other, with a welcome. The priest gave the welcome in French. Then he repeated the same statement of welcome in beautiful Spanish. I was impressed. Then he did the whole thing in perfect Italian. By then tears were beginning to come to my eyes. By the time he got to English, I was completely drawn in, moved by being part of an international community praying together in the ancient space of Notre-Dame cathedral. One thing I love about Catholic liturgy is you can go anywhere in the world, and the ritual is recognizable, like a home away from home. The spirit of unity fostered by the priest's multilingual welcome was inspiring.