The booming organ music was our signal. My flatmate and I hesitatingly stood up from our pew and hurriedly scanned the mass handout in a futile attempt to orient ourselves. This would become a frequent occurrence over the course of the next hour or so, seeing as the handout was written entirely in what might as well have been Ancient Greek. The priest took his spot on the altar, and Mass began like normal.
“Au nom du Père et du Fils et du Saint-Esprit.”
“Amen,” we eagerly responded.
And that was about as far as my very, very limited knowledge of French got me. It was 10 o’clock at night, and we were in the stunning Basilique du Sacré-Cœur in Paris, France. I’d been studying abroad for the semester in Scotland, and we were taking a two-day trip to Paris. This was the first time I had ever attended mass in another language. And I was somewhat apprehensive. I was exhausted after a full day of walking around the city. We had just taken on the steep 270-step climb up to the historic basilica. It would have been difficult enough to sit through a mass in English at that point. How was I going to get anything out of a mass that wasn’t even in my language? It’s so easy to focus on yourself in uncomfortable situations like these, and I felt myself slipping into that mindset. But as I resigned myself to the next hour of tediousness, I abruptly realized that I was completely missing the point of going to Mass.
We don’t go to Mass to ‘get something out of it’. Mass is not a form of entertainment for us to sit back and mindlessly absorb. We go to Mass because the creator of the universe is so good that He manifested His love for us on a cross. Mass is an incredibly beautiful opportunity for us to be with God in the most intimate way. He is so deserving of our time. It doesn’t matter whether the prayers are in English or not, every Mass is a chance to deepen a real relationship with the Father. It’s literally heaven on earth. I’m not going to lie to you, sitting through a fifteen-minute homily when I understood absolutely none of it was challenging, to say the least.
That mass may not have been mind-blowing or life altering. But it was familiar, and meeting Jesus felt like home. And that was more comforting than I ever could have imagined when I was (precisely) 3,821 miles away from College Park. As we walked out the front doors at the end of Mass, my flatmate and I were met with a ridiculously beautiful panoramic view over the city at night, which we had both managed to totally miss on our hike up to the Basilica.
The Catholic faith is really universal, and looking back now, I’m very grateful to have experienced it firsthand. Because I was unsure of myself in what felt like a new and awkward context, I looked to Jesus for security and familiarity. And hey, at least the Latin responses were still Latin, even in France.