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  1285: St Médard, Brunoy, France

St M–dard, Brunoy, France

Mystery Worshipper: Ecclesiastical Flip-flop.
The church: St Médard, Brunoy, France.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: A church has stood here since before the 12th century, when a new Gothic style church was built and was enlarged a century later. At the beginning of the 18th century, St Médard was a small unprepossessing country church. In 1722, the wealthy financier Jean Paris de Monmartel purchased the Lordship of Brunoy and set part of his wealth aside for the embellishment of the church's interior. On 25 November 1981, the church was declared a historical monument. Between 1997 and 2005, a major restoration brought the church back to its former lustre of the 1770s. The baroque interior features white panelling and golden adornments. Half-way down the nave on the liturgical north side is a prominent pulpit with stairway and a confessional, both matching this adornment. Also of note, equally matching this embellishment style, are the sanctuary, organ loft and various side chapels. There are five ornate hanging lights. The church is renowned for its stained glass windows, many of which are from the workshop of the late 19th century glassworker Emile Hirsch. Paintings by the 18th century artists Jean-Bernard Restout and Johan-Michael Baader portray the role of the clergy, the sacraments and liturgy, and some of the invocations from the Litany of Our Lady.
The church: St Médard was born in the late 5th century. Anointed bishop of Noyon in France and later of nearby Tournai (now in Belgium), he fought against the Huns and the Vandals, continuing the work of evangelisation in France and Flanders. Legend has it that during the translation of his relics, there was an exceptionally violent rain-storm. For this, he is the patron saint of umbrella makers and traders. Four churches in Brunoy are served by the same team of priests, and the full schedule of weekend masses is divided amongst these churches. Consequently, the mass I attended is the only weekend mass at that particular church.
The neighbourhood: Brunoy is the French twinning town with Reigate and Banstead Surrey. It is located some 20 miles south of Paris, in Essone, in the diocese of Evry-Corbeil, on the River Yerres. The population of Brunoy stands at about 23,500.
The cast: Père Christian Marandet was the celebrant and preacher. Père Marandet was vested in an alb and white stole embroidered with a cross, but without chasuble. He was assisted by three boys – a crucifer and two acolytes vested in hooded albs – and an unrobed lady cantor.
The date & time: Sunday, 28 May 2006, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass for the 7th Sunday of Easter.

How full was the building?
Almost completely full, with most of the spare seats in the side aisles. I estimate the church is capable of holding about 300 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. The priest celebrant was standing just inside the door and shook hands with everyone as they arrived. I asked him his name and he told me. Apart from the peace, I had no other contact at all.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, interlocking wooden chairs with woven basketry.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I stood outside to hear the tolling of the solitary bell. Inside it was reasonably reverential, and I did not register any distractions.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Apart from the cantor announcing the opening hymn, and the singing of the hymn itself, about which more later – "Au nom du Père et du Fils et du Saint-Esprit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The congregation helped themselves to hymn books at the back of the church entitled Les Liturgies de l'Assemblée. I had brought along my own copy of the current edition of Magnificat, a monthly publication in French containing all the liturgical readings for each day of the month in full, together with the order of mass in French. In that way, I was well equipped to follow the service.

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic organ.

Did anything distract you?
Yes, I could not help being distracted by the gaudy ornamentation of the interior of the building, and the paintings already described. I was also distracted by occasional noises from the children, although they did not disturb me unduly.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a simple sung mass in French. There were bells but no smells. It was an all-age congregation. The Apostles' Creed – as opposed to the Nicene Creed – was used. Eucharistic Prayer II was said, which in our language begins: "Lord you are holy indeed..." In between the Lord's Prayer and the peace, the prayer which begins "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil..." was left out, and the doxology was added on to the Lord's Prayer. The hymns were (or appeared to be) "The strife is o'er," "Make me a channel of your peace," "Here I am, Lord," and "Let us lift up our eyes." At the end of the service, a few newly-baptised children together with their parents were welcomed into the church, and the notices were given.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Père Marandet spoke clearly, and the message was short and to the point. His pastoral letter in the news-sheet was a good summary of what he said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We were reminded that 40 days after Easter we keep the feast of the Ascension. This feast is at the same time both a looking back to Easter and a looking forward to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He also talked about the three scripture readings for the day, all of which looked forward to the Ascension.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The moment of receiving communion – given in one kind only. I felt a great moment of togetherness with the congregation, despite that they were all total strangers to me. We were all united together in this one act of worship until we went our separate ways afterwards.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cantor announced the opening hymn only by page number. I have almost fluent French but I sometimes don't understand numbers. I hated not knowing what page to turn to, but I soon realised that what was being sung appeared to be "The strife is o'er" to its familiar tune. Later in the service, other hymns were announced in the same way, and I only heard the page number sometimes.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had limited time to look lost, as the mass had slightly exceeded the hour and I was being met outside afterwards for a quick lunch. In addition, I had to be back on the coach at one o'clock. What appeared to be a baptism followed straight afterwards, and the large congregation seemed intent on getting out. Thus, any prospect of chatting did not seem at all promising.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There did not appear to be any.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – This may be a "for members only" church, and fellowship seemed rather limited. Also, I would prefer a solemn mass as opposed to a sung mass.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and to feel a transitory part of a worshipping community even amongst strangers.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
An ordinary parish community participating in an ordinary Sunday mass in such an ornate building.
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