Seeing as we basically live around the corner from Notre Dame, and we’re only in Paris for one year, it felt like we really should go to the Christmas Eve midnight mass at Notre Dame. I did some research and found that seats go quickly and in order to give it your best shot, it would be necessary to show up around 9. Well, we figured, what else are we going to do? After a lovely festive dinner, we bundled up and headed over to the cathedral. We arrived at about 9, in the middle of the “International Mass” and made our way inside. We joined hundreds of other “early” people at the sides of the church and waited until the mass ended. And then the chaos started. You would have thought you were lining up for tickets to see some concert. Once the people who had just attended mass started leaving, those waiting throngs surged forward. I’m not really sure how the original people were even able to leave. We were carried by the wave of people to the middle section of seating and grabbed some seats. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. And the people kept coming and coming and coming. There was standing room only and then people started sitting down in the aisles. Which made the jobs of the elderly volunteers really difficult. I felt really bad for this one elderly Frenchman – he kept trying to clear space but it was him against hundreds.
Knowing that the church would be flooded with over-eager tourists, the church smartly provided some diversions for those, like us, who show up hours early. We watched a movie on the history of the cathedral and it was very well done and informative. Once that was over, the crowds got really pushy. I think a lot of people thought that they could skip the movie and just show up around 10:30 or 11. Once they got there, it was just chaos. Being in the second section of seats, meant that, while we could sit, we couldn’t really see because people filled the aisle separating the first and second sections. And then they stood there during the rest of the production.
Following the movie, there was a beautiful choir concert. We managed to see glimpses of the adorable children’s choir and the music was beautiful. I found that it was best to just close my eyes to all the shuffling, iPhone filming, camera flashes, jostling, and just soak up the music.
Following the choir concert there was a period of relative quiet. I think that at this point, the cathedral had reached absolute capacity and they’d had to close the doors. So there was less jostling. It was actually pretty amazing to be in the middle of all these thousands of people. And then my favorite part of the whole evening happened. The organ started booming, filling the cathedral with its somber, yet celebratory, tones. And the massive front doors of the cathedral swung open. Everyone stood for the procession and it was a beautiful moment when everyone’s attention was focused on the same event. We looked backwards, beyond the hundreds of people gathered, saw the candles of the procession, and beyond that the huge Christmas tree twinkling outside the cathedral. Beyond that there were hundreds of additional peope, standing in the cold air watching the service on a large screen that had been put up for the occasion. The procession of priests, bishops, and the Archbishop of Paris, slowly made their way forward. The organ continued to play and the air-filled with the smell of incense. It was amazing. We had been there for nearly three hours at this point, and this moment made it worthwhile.
The service was beautiful – solemn and somber. Mass was served and consisted only of the bread. I am sure that this logistical consideration also reduced the hygienic concerns of at least some of the attendees…myself included.
The service ended at 1:45 and we made our way home through crisp, cold air. I’m really glad we attended. The service itself has become quite the tourist attraction so we were there with people from all over the world. The downside of this is, of course, that it can be very distracting. And people are constantly taking pictures, using their flashes, holding up their iPhones. We hadn’t planned on taking any, but Scotty managed to discreetly take a few during the lulls in activity when nothing was happening – flash off, of course! So that’s why there are no pictures of the actual service.
Scotty’s already nicknamed it the mass-athon, since we were there for almost five hours – but it was worth it!