Orwell was dismissive of Churches in general and particularly the Catholic Church in Spain – he said most Catalans agreed with him and considered it ‘a racket’. That was in the 1930s and maybe it was. It certainly sided with Franco and the Fascists. Today we got a glimpse of it when we went to Mass in L’Eglise St Paul, on the campus of the University of Perpignan.
Similar to most Masses these days, the congregation was around 50% oldies like ourselves, with the remainder composed of middle-aged people, young adults and a smattering of children and grandchildren. There were even two babies who arrived with their parents towards the end of the Mass and appeared to have been brought for christening. Christenings ain’t what they used to be. When my mother had her eight children, she had each of us baptised practically before we’d been sponged off. These infants looked fairly substantial - between six months and a year, maybe. Limbo continues to be important as a West Indian dance involving a stick, less so as a place reserved after death for the unbaptised.
The church was warm in temperature and in tone too – the congregation were chatty and friendly, many clearly knowing each other. The Mass had one or two variations from at home. When the assisting priest and various Eucharistic ministers received Communion, they took it in their hand and waited until the others had been served, as it were, then all ate the consecrated wafer simultaneously. A nice touch, I thought. And when it came time for the Sign of Peace, kisses were frequent (I didn’t get lucky, alas). Directly in front of me a grandfather and a grandmother leaned across their grandson and kissed each other on the mouth, which made the boy’s eyes bulge. For a couple of minutes afterwards he kept shaping his mouth in a kissing pout, as though trying to recreate the sensation in his head.
Do Catalans today consider the Catholic Church a racket? None of those at today’s Mass appeared to. Nor did they look as if clerical child abuse scandals might dislodge their active membership. They looked like Sunday congregations most places: an elderly group of people come together to try to make sense of an existence which, if viewed in temporal terms, is just a bit short on length and meaning.