By Fr. CLIFFORD HOWELL, S.J.
THE Church of St. Jeanne d'Arc in Nice is a big 1. modern building holding at least 2,000 people, and it was packed full by 9 a.m. on Palm Sunday last year, when it was my privilege to take part in a very instructive and stimulating service.
The altar stands well out in the sight of everybody; it is quite high up, in the middle of a circular predelia, and the priest celebrates facing the people.
For the Palm Sunday service the priest entered "the long way," going down a side aisle from the sacristy and up the centre. He was preceded by an altar staff of about 20 men and boys in purple cassocks and white surplices.
During the procession the entire congregation sang a hymn, in French, to Christ the King. It had a splendid chorus and it put everybody into the mood for acclaiming Our Saviour in His triumphal procession on the way to His Passion. 'This, after all, is the central idea of the Palm Sunday service.
Arriving at the altar, and facing the people over it, the priest sang Dominus robiscum and everybody replied. He then sang the first prayer, to which the people answered Amen.
But after that he lowered his voice and read the Latin quietly "to himself" as far as the end of that Gospel which comes in the palm ceremony. Meanwhile a layman read out all the corresponding text in French.
After that came a short litany, to the usual litany tunes, but in French. To show you what it was like I will put it in English (for I still have one of the leaflets, with the text, given to each person as he entered the church).
To the tune of Sancta Marla, Ora pro nobis : Clots People
These peen brandies. Bless them for la.
;To be curried before Bien then for us, Thy Divine Sun. Lord, For par precession in Bless thews lx us, HIs honour. Lord. That we MAY one day Bless then, for us, To the tune of Peccatores, Te Togamus audi nos : Sing In Tils glory to Lord. Paradise, These many branches We offer them to treated by Thee, Thee. 0 Lord. Deign to bless nod We offer therm to them em holy, Thee. 0 Lord. 5114, the places where We offer them to ne shall lake them, Thee. 0 Lord. Blew our houses and We offer them to our gardens. Thee. 0 Lord. To honour Chest and We offer them so sing of Ells slefory, Thee, 0 Lord. To Praise Hk henettIs We oger then, le and make known Thee. 0 Lord.
That we may nbrALYg We °tree Mel" so be one nilh Him. Thee. 0 Lord. be one nilh Him. Thee. 0 Lord. AA thexe branches We offer Mem Se war an one with Thee. 0 Lord. their tree.
The people sang their answers splendidly. Everybody without exception seemed to join in lustily.
Then the curate, who was in the pulpit, announced: "The priest will now bless your branches, so hold them up, please."
All the people held up the branches which they had bought from palmsellers outside the church door. Some had great branches, some smaller, sonic olive branches all had what they themselves had chosen or brought from their own gardens.
The priest then sang in Latin the prayer of blessing, making the Sign of the Cross over the branches. A lay
man read out the translation, and the branches were lowered.
Now came the (Latin) preface to which the people sang the (Latin) answers; and all joined in the (Latin) Sanctus to the simple plainsong tune (No. 18 of the Kyriale).
The priest said the next group of prayers quietly in Latin, while three different laymen took it in turns to read translations of the three main prayers.
Then the branches were held up again: the priest said Asperges and sprinkled them with holy water. (Consult your Missal so that you can know your we are" in this article and see how it all fits in.)
Now came the distribution of palms solely to the altar staff and to about 20 men (of whom I was one) in the front benches. Each of us got a big palmthe sort which, in England, is usually given to the celebrant.
Much time was saved by the fact that only about 40 palms had to.be distributed, for the people already had their own.
During this distribution the Puerl Hebrcrorum was sung in Latin once by the choir and was repeated by all the people to the same plainsong tune, but with its text translated into French words of the same rhythm so that they would fit that tune. It went astonishingly well.
Next we men and the altar staff and priest went outside the door; the choir stayed inside the door, and the Gloria laus (in Latin) and doorknocking was done as usuaL Then we entered; and while the priest said the Ingredlente quietly in Latin, the whole crowd broke out into another hymn acclaiming the Conquering Christ.
Here came what was, for me, the biggest surprise and the greatest thrill of all.
The hymn-verse being finished, some man in the crowd shouted out at the top of his voice: "Hosanna to our God!" All the people waved their branches and shouted Hosanna Hosanna!
Then another man, in some other part of the church, shouted another acclamation, and the people waved their branches and shouted in reply; a third man ... a fourth man ,
To give you an idea of it, I now translate the whole lot of these acclamations from the French:
All the people : One verse of a hymn to Christ the Conqueror.
First man : Hosanna to our God All : Hosanna ! Hosanna !
Second man : To Jesus born of the Virgin Mary! All Hosanna ! Hosanna !
Third man : To Christ Who worked at a trade till He was thirty ! All : Hosanna! Hosanna 1
Fourth man : To the Master Who taught us to love God and each other I All : Hosanna ! Hosanna !
All the people : Second verse of the hymn.
First man : Hosanna to Christ our Brother ! All : Hosanna ! Hosanna !
Second man : To Him Who loved the poor All : Hosanna ! Hosanna !
Third man : To Him Who healed the sick I All : Hosanna Hosanna !
Fourth man : To Him Who worked miracles ! All : Hosanna ! Hosanna!
All the people : Third verse of the hymn.
First man : Hosanna to Christ Who died for us! All : Hosanna Hosanna!
Second man : To Christ Who loved us to the end I All Hosanna ! Hosanna !
Third man : To Jesus offered on our altar ! All : Hosanna ! Hosanna !
Fourth man : To Christ the King of Love and King of Peace ! All Hosanna ! Hosanna !
These shouts from the men and the answering Hosannas from the people made the whole great church echo and resound ra all waved their branches with each Hosanna.
The children, especially, loved it; their strong clear voices rang out above the powerful shouts of the crowd.
Honestly, it was one of the biggest thrills I have had for years to take part in such a live and meaningful ceremony which so perfectly expressed, and brought to the understanding of even the children, the full spirit of the Church's liturgy of Palm Sunday.
For that, after all, is what Palm Sunday ought to mean for usacclaiming and thanking Christ our King as He goes to the triumph of that Passion, Death and Resurrection whereby He conquered Sin and Hell.
Many of our people think. I fear, that what matters on Palm Sunday is to get a palm. That is not the point at all.
The point is to wave that palm and shout for Christ I (To be more exact, the point is to arouse in our hearts sentiments of loyalty and gratitude to Christ. But how much easier it is to engender such sentiments if we can be one amongst a shouting and palm-waving crowd like these French people.) The Mass which followed was as usual except that the people replied, in Latin, to all the responses; and while the priest read the Passion quietly at the altar, three laymen (taking the parts usually sung by three deacons) read the Passion in French to the people. They read it magnificently, dramatically, and it was truly moving.
Though the clock showed 10.45 by the time the Domine non sum dignus came, there were hundreds and hundreds at Holy Communion. Pretty nearly half the church, I would guess. How did so many manage this late Communion? By the simple process of filling themselves up with cups of hot coffee, cocoa or chocolate before they came to church. The French have had a dispensation for this since 1947.
Now that a similar privilege has been extended to us, the way is open for our people. to emulate them at least in this respect. Let us hope they will not be found wanting.