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The Typical Quebec Mass

The faces that hide the Face
Not easy to see Jesus' Face during a typical Quebec Mass!

Note for anglophones: Têtes-à-claques or "Whack-A-Heads" are short online comedy skits, currently very popular in the Province of Quebec, partly because of the visual gag of faces where only the globular eyes and buck-toothed mouths move, partly because of the horribly low-quality French-Canadian dialect, partly because of the actual contents of the skits, which panders to the lowest common denominator.

1) Introduction

What does a typical Sunday Mass look like in the Province of Quebec, these days? Here is, for posterity, my attempt to describe the odors, sounds, colors and emotions of such a happening.

2) The gray snowstorm and the years of Purgatory

Of course, you arrive a bit early. If you're very lucky, there will be a Priest in the confessional. After having signed yourself with holy water upon entering, and having made a good genuflexion (knee on the floor long enough to say: "Jesus-Eucharist, I adore You!"), you sit down. The pews in front of you fill up with gray and white heads, a bit like large snowflakes that arrive by walking slowly. Behind you, the roar of the snowblower (i.e. the people who gab loudly and incessantly) makes it difficult for you to pray.

Mass begins with the entrance hymn, inevitably tasteless in its contents and ugly in its interpretation. You cheer yourself up by thinking that putting up with such a hymn is certainly equivalent to many years in Purgatory. The choir leader is never where she is supposed to be, behind in the choir loft, but always up front, high and nearly in the center, so as to compensate for the absence of singers with the windmilling of her arms.

Actually, it's not only the choir leader, but the whole swarm of senior citizens arriving at the front in a procession, who will do their best to attract your attention during the religious ceremony. Behind them, there is often a superb high altar topped with a magnificent Tabernacle (usually devoid of the Real Presence, which is pushed off into a corner elsewhere in the church). You know the story about the simpleton who stared at the finger, while someone tried to show him the Moon? Well, this swarm at the front will try to transform Holy Mass into a long ceremony to honor the Finger.

(Come to think of it, there was a lot of wisdom in the old tradition of having the Priest face God instead of facing the people.)

3) Two-speed Liturgy

As soon as the Priest opens his mouth, you know whether you're going to suffer for an hour. Indeed, Priests come in two flavors: two-speed and single-speed. Single-speed Priests say the Mass solemnly and correctly.

Two-speed Priests, as their name implies, spend their time grinding the gears of the transmission by changing from one speed to the other: "Jesus-speed" and "Whack-A-Head-speed". They are convinced that everybody in the church has lost Faith as much as they have, therefore they try to make the liturgy "more interesting". They do a bit of official Catholic Church Liturgy, then change speeds to do a bit of their own liturgy, then come back to the real Liturgy, and so on. Even the quality of the English is not the same:

Hey everybody! Wow, dudes, there's still gobs of place up front! I ain't gonna eat you!

[grind... squeal... crunch...]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...

[grind... squeal... crunch...]

Well today our matey Jesus is gonna tell us agin' that all our sins are automatically forgiven...

[grind... squeal... crunch...]

God of power and might, all that is perfect belongs to You. Fill us with love of Your Name: increase our zeal and nourish what is good in us; watch over us and preserve what You have nourished...

Etc., etc.

You do your best to let yourself be uplifted by the Liturgy Jesus tries to give us through His Church, but the metallic milling, boring and crushing sounds coming from the transmission make you grind your teeth.

4) The rose water and glucose homily

The homily should explain the Biblical readings that have just been made. In other words, the homily is supposed to explain the Word of God from the dogmatic point of view (what we must believe to be good Christians), and the moral point of view (what we have to do here and today to get to Heaven).

These days, the homily is often reduced to one long paraphrase of the reading of the Gospel, peppered with automatic canonizations of everybody and his brother. Basically, the Priest doesn't want to offend either the wolves, or the sheep. So he avoids like the plague contradicting the spirit of the world, or if he does, he uses a coded language.

Normally, I'll go outside to say two decades of my Rosary (three for the most persistent), or I'll read a good book like the Imitation of Christ. Of course, if I wanted to read the TV Guide (the little magazine which summarizes the week's television programs), I could also listen to the homily...

5) The stampede to the trough

After the long Eucharistic Prayer (which, fortunately, is the least-vandalized part of the Liturgy), it's the first cattle stampede. To understand this moment, you have to recall the relay race at the Olympics: one athlete must pass the baton to the next athlete, while both are running full speed. As soon as the second runner has grabbed the baton, he must not stop, but on the contrary run away even faster while keeping the baton tightly in his hand!

Often, after the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion has given me the Body of Christ, he will walk away and abandon the other faithful behind me. Indeed, my shoes are bolted to the floor for a fraction of a second, between the moment when I recieve the Host, and when I consume the Host. This fraction of a second of immobility is enough to convince him that there are no more runners on the track. Often, while I'm walking back to my pew, I hear the "Hey! Stop!" of the faithful trying to call back the minister, who thought his work day was over.

(Here too, come to think of it, there was a lot of wisdom in the old tradition of having people kneel at the Communion rail, instead of standing up.)

Immediately after Communion, you have to bear the fingernails screeching on the blackboard of the Parish newsletter. After, once Mass is over, you have to support the third stampede, so the second half of the congregation can leave (the first half left before Mass was over). Finally! You can pray and give thanks to God for all the graces He has given us! (But unfortunately, the gray snowblower usually starts revving up again at the back of the church.)

6) Conclusion

The fact there are still a few young persons in the Province of Quebec who still go to Sunday Mass, despite the best efforts of bad members of the clergy, is obviously a proof of the existence of God and of the Catholicity of His Church!

7) The EOO Survival Kit

Contents of the EOO Survival Kit: skin-colored ear plugs, a good book, and a donation.
Contents of the EOO Survival Kit: skin-colored ear plugs, a good book, and a donation.

These days, I suffer a lot less during the typical Quebec Masses, thanks to the "EOO Survival Kit". The EOO acronym means "Ex Opere Operato"; it's the very important Catholic doctrine which says that when the priest does what the Church wants him to do, the Sacrament is valid because it's Jesus who acts. Thus, when the priest says in the confessional: "I forgive all your sins", it's Jesus who forgives. When the priest says during the moment of Consecration: "this is My Body", it's Jesus who transforms a little piece of bread into Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity. It's the beautiful doctrine of "Ex Opere Operato" which makes me go to Mass, despite bad priests.

The EOO Survival Kit first contains ear plugs rated for at least 25 decibels noise reduction. They are essential to mitigate the bad sermons and bad singing, but also the screams of children of bad parents, who think a church is a playground. Since a heman can't wear a hat in a church, and that my hair is short, I use skin-colored ones so they are less obvious.

The Kit also contains a pious book to be edified despite the sermon. I can't recommend The Imitation Of Christ enough. Finally, a donation for the collection is important: all this stuff about "Ex Opere Operato" is nice, but these priests have given their lives for us, and they deserve to be able to eat and be clothed.

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