Why travel 5,000 miles for Christmas if you don’t go to Mass at one of the world’s most famous cathedrals?
We chickened out on the idea of Midnight Mass fearing a) the rain might move in before we could get in b) staying awake that late and c) size of the crowds. So we opted instead for the 8 p.m. International Mass.
Security at Ile de France was pervasive. Our closest bridge, Pont au Double, a small pedestrian only crossing, was closed off completely, and we were redirected to the larger Petit Pont (despite the name). Security guards in both blue (police) and camo (military) swarmed everywhere. But the entry and inspection were quick, and even though it was 7:40 by the time we approached the cathedral entrance, we walked straight in and found two seats on the right hand side with full views to the altar.
This was the International Mass. The celebrant was from Benin. I have a hard time understanding French with a French accent, much less French with an African accent. And Pére Romuald was a most expressive speaker, frequently lowering his voice to a whisper and taking pauses so long, I swear I thought he was either having a seizure or had lost his place in the homily script.
This was proof perfect of my long-held conviction that Mass should still be celebrated in Latin, so that no matter where in the world you attend, you know what they are saying.
Nonetheless, the choir and organ were magnificent. Oddly, Notre Dame at night is relatively dim and monochromatic, since no light is beaming through the stained glass windows. The huge vaulted ceiling looked like a sepia toned engraving.
Mass was over by 9:30 p.m., and we saw very few people in line for the main attraction at midnight. Of course, it was still two and a half hours away, but somehow we expected larger crowds, even at this early time.
By 9:30 on Christmas Eve, Paris was very quiet outside the cathedral. We stopped at Cafe du Metro for a quick Joyeaux Noel glass of champagne, and we were only the third occupied table. The walk home up the hill was equally quiet and still, with only a handful of people on the streets. All the bars and bistros were closed. The pulse and energy of Paris had retired for the holiday evening.