Scotland's National Catholic magazine

The most peaceful Mass

Judith Ralston writes of a cold church on a hot day.

Summer is upon us, it’s the holiday season. My bag will be packed as we are heading off to Spain soon upon us to do anything but relax, and boy, does it get easier once your kids are that bit more independent. Parents of wee ones – there is hope!

Whenever I visit a new place abroad, I always cast my eye around for the local Catholic church, to look at Mass times, pop in for a wee prayer, even just for a wee nosey.

Of course the places we most often go on holiday – Spain, Italy and France – are steeped in Catholicism and you’re never far from a church.

Stumbling into a wee chapel out of the strong sun and the insistent summer heat is always a pleasing experience, not only spiritually, but the coolness of these old churches can take the sting out of the heat and the familiarity is always pleasing too – a place of sanctuary in more ways than one.

Much of Europe was baking in a heat- wave last month – it hit the mid-40s in parts of France. That’s too hot for comfort.

I’ll bet there were more than a few people, Catholic or otherwise, ducking into churches for a bit of cool shade. Strangely I think the older the church, the cooler they seem on a hot day. The folk who built them were on to something.

But when I think about Mass in foreign climes it’s actually Bavarian Germany that comes to mind. It was there I attended one of the most memorable and beautiful Masses of my life many, many years ago when I was a student. Whisper it, in the last century.

As part of training to be an opera singer I was studying with a professor who was involved in the Bayreuth festival at the Bayreuth Opera House, which is an entirely Wagner event – the opera house was built by Wagner for Wagner!

It was a memorable Mass because it was entirely in Latin. There was a choir, and a good choir too, with a blending of voices that sounded ethereal.

The boy trebles soared like angels when they swept up to the high notes, the high notes just hanging in the atmosphere, suspended in time.

The words of the Mass in Latin sound so ancient, noble and sacred, but also very familiar to me. I took a moment at one point to look around the church to see if anyone was as moved and entranced as me.

There seemed not to be. I wondered if it was only me who felt so lifted by the experience. Surely not.

I still remember by the end of the Mass how calm I felt, how peaceful and so secure, secure in my belief in God.

As I walked out of the church into the Bavarian sunshine, the words ‘Ite missa est’ were still ringing in my head. I certainly left that wonderful Mass in peace.

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