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Group therapy for the liturgically damaged

Posted by Richard on UTC 2015-10-03 11:24.

Jean Dutourd's description in his autobiographical book Jeannot, mémoires d’un enfant of his five or six year old self sitting in church, completely baffled by the liturgy, cheered me up greatly when I first read it. I, a fellow sufferer in this respect, reproduce it here without further comment for the use of those who are also damaged souls.

Ma mère, qui était très pieuse, très chrétienne, ne manquait pas de m’emmener à la messe de Saint-Ferdinand le dimanche matin. Je m’y ennuyais beaucoup, ce qui me contrariait. Je tâchais de me distraire en contemplant les caissons du plafond et les colonnes en marbre de la nef, je me complaisais à penser que les enfants de choeur, qui ne se lavaient jamais, devaient avoir les ongles noirs et être sales comme des cochons sous leur joli costume rouge. Pourquoi moi, qui comprenais toutes sortes de choses subtiles, étais je incapable de percer les mystères de la liturgie, pourquoi étais-je si étranger à la foi, si aveugle à la présence du Seigneur? Cette impuissance m’emplissait de remords. Voyant les visages graves et pensifs des fidèles, je me désolais de n’être pas, comme eux, écrasé de respect devant le bon Dieu. Autre sujet de tristesse : je ne savais jamais ce qu’il fallait faire, ni quand je devais m’asseoir, me lever, m’agenouiller, me signer, etc. J’avais beau imiter le reste de l’assistance, j’avais invariablement deux secondes de retard, et j’étais plein de confusion à la pensée que ce décalage n’échappait à personne, que j’étais le seul incroyant au milieu de tant d’âmes ferventes. Mais comment m’intéresser à cette interminable cérémonie, au cours de laquelle on psalmodiait une langue incompréhensible ? Car tout était en latin, alors. Et quand on parlait français, c’est-à-dire quand le curé montait en chaire pour nous infliger un quart d’heure d’homélie, c’était pire.


Note: Jeannot's pious mother died not long after the time in which this scene is set. He was seven.


Jean Dutourd, Jeannot, mémoires d’un enfant, Plon, 2000. ISBN 2-259-19331-5. p 15f.

Jean Dutourd (1920-2011)

Jean Dutourd (1920-2011) in 2006 ©Thierry Sanchis/MaxPPP

My mother, who was very pious, very Christian, never failed to take me to Mass at St. Ferdinand's on Sunday mornings. I was very bored, which annoyed me. I tried to entertain myself by contemplating the panelled ceiling and marble columns of the nave, it amused me to think that the children of the choir, who never washed, must have had black nails and be as dirty as pigs under their pretty red cassocks. Why me, who understand all sorts of subtle things, why was I unable to penetrate the mysteries of the liturgy, why was I so foreign to belief, so blind to the presence of the Lord? This incomprehension filled me with remorse. Seeing the serious and thoughtful faces of the faithful, it distressed me not to be like them, crumpled with respect before the good God. Another source of misery: I never knew what I had to do: when I had to sit down, stand up, kneel, make the sign of the cross, etc. Though I imitated the rest of the congregation I was invariably two seconds behind, and I was troubled at the thought that this delay would not escape the notice of anyone, making it clear to everyone that I was the only unbeliever among so many fervent souls. But how could I be interested in this interminable ceremony, during which they chanted in an incomprehensible language? Because everything was in Latin then. And when we spoke French, that is to say, when the priest ascended the pulpit to inflict a quarter of an hour's homily on us, it was worse.