We wandered to the imposing door as we watched the couple in front of us get met at the door. I turn to Ruth and whisper “he’s turning them away”. After a brief interaction they are granted entry. We tentatively approach the elderly guardian at the portal.
In uncertain French Ruth boldly states “We are here for the mass”.
“Are you sure? Lots of people say that they are here for the mass but get up after ten minutes and wander around” replies the keeper of the door.
We nervously exchange glances and search for words in an unfamiliar lexicon. “Yes, we’re definitely here for the mass”.
“Well if you have problems just go to the back”.
We enter the darkened medieval nave and find a hard and narrow pew on which to place our posteriors. The gate keeper says ‘the back’ so how far are we allowed to approach the holy of holies? Half way seems appropriate. There is no indication of what may happen next. No card. No screen. Ruth texts me a link to some wording in a strange and foreign tongue. A bell chimes. An organ booms. I look at the strange words. I wonder how I got here. Perhaps the sentry was right. There’s nothing for me here.
This morning we went to church at The Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus in Carcassonne. As a priest it was a fascinating look into how daunting it is to go to church for the first time. We have only been learning French for a couple of years so don’t have the language to understand what is going on. At the door we were met with questions we didn’t quite understand at an imposing doorway about whether we were worthy of entrance. There was nothing to indicate what would happen during the service. Fortunately we know the shape of the liturgy and how to find rudimentary wording online.
It was a lovely service and I think I understood about a third of the sermon and my theological French is improving vastly. But I’m a priest and I found it daunting to gain access to the building, much less the worship. Medieval Carcassonne is a phenomenally touristy place but there must be ways to engage occasional visitors with the worship of the church.
Much to ponder about how we invite people into the presence of God.