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Sunday Mass in the Notre Dame Cathedral

April 9, 2009

by Claire Moncla

Claire Moncla, a professional writing major in the College of Arts and Sciences, participated in the Baylor in Maastricht study abroad program. Her essay below is one in a four-part series chronicling her experience in the program.

Sunday evening Mass in the Notre Dame Cathedral inspires both reverence and introspection. It is impossible to stand in this grand cathedral looking up at its careful craftsmanship without contemplating recent personal decisions or whispering quiet prayers.

Although the outside of the 10-story Notre Dame is imposing with its towers, gargoyles and flying buttresses, the Mass inside of the cathedral has a palpably different atmosphere.

Parting with the frosty night air and walking through the ornately carved Portal of St. Anne entrance, organ music greets visitors with a low, calming tones.

The air inside the cathedral is thick with the smoke from numerous white prayer candles mingled with the heavy, cinnamon scent of incense.

In addition to the hundreds of worshipers, tourists mill about the cathedral. The worshippers sit or kneel collectively in the center of the nave, some with heads bowed in prayer and others with their eyes closed, faces set in masks of peace, bereavement or love. The tourists group together along the north and south aisles, admiring the art and architecture or kneeling on the confession benches to take cheesy photos.

Treading softly down the south aisle of the nave, past richly-colored paintings, sculptures and small confession rooms, visitors can catch glimpses of the priest through the stone pillars and candelabras.

The priest, wearing long green robes, stands on the transept at the end of the nave in front of a delicately-carved sculpture of Jesus Christ under a cross. He leads worshippers in a responsive reading, intoning intricate French words that rise along the spiny gothic arches to echo across the vaulted ceiling.

In between the priest's readings, a woman in similar dress leads the congregation in a hymn. The combination of the worshippers' melodic chanting and the organ's resounding notes is haunting - powerful.

Yet even standing in the midst of an awe-inspiring architectural masterpiece, in the midst of crisscrossing arches, mysterious stained-glass windows and cool stone floors, Notre Dame does not feel remote or aloof. In fact, the cathedral has a personal, cozy atmosphere heightened by the close proximity of the worshipers and the warm, hazy air.

The walls seem to still hold the secrets and prayers of people throughout the centuries who have walked the same stone steps and looked on the same alter. These shared secrets and prayers make the cathedral tangible and accessible - a personal, living entity.

No one is truly alone in the Notre Dame. Each visitor or worshiper is connected by the desires that brought them to the church, the promises emblazed on the North Rose Window and finally the blood of Christ.

Although Mass in the Notre Dame Cathedral inspires veneration, at its core, it is not so different from a typical service in the United States. A church is a church no matter the location and a sermon is a sermon no matter the language. It does not matter whether someone is singing a hymn in a Baptist church in Waco, Texas, or in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Each form of worship is connected by a shared religion and a passion for God.

Baylor students should remember as they listen in chapel, sing at UBC or pray at Highland that their worship is as important and unique as the person sitting in the nave of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The God they worship is holy no matter the church, country, continent and language.

Read Claire's other essays on her time in Europe:

Bonnefanten: The Building That Connects Past With Present
At once remaining silent and speaking volumes, the Bonnefanten building has been witness to history and transformation.

Carnival in Maastricht
An incredible four-day celebration, Carnival offers lessons in putting aside worries and stress for spending time with friends and family.

Dunmore East
No gift shop, no t-shirt, and no fancy souvenirs here. Ireland’s Dunmore East offers a landscape of captivating beauty and peace.