I don’t remember when I started haunting the Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul in Lewiston. Maybe it was Ash Wednesday. Or maybe it was during a “Lady Alone Traveler” trip to Lewiston. The exact day is not clear; my life is a whirlwind of rushing to and fro, trying to accomplish a few things before I die.
During the week the Basilica’s chapel, located in the lower level of the church, is open from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. It’s called a “chapel” but it’s actually quite large, carved out of the footprint of the upper church. One day, I visited for a few moments of quiet contemplation and was perfectly alone in the chapel. I decided to sing and I was surprised by how clear my voice sounded in the giant space. I don’t remember what hymn I sang, maybe something I knew most of the words to, like “Amazing Grace” or “Faith of Our Fathers.”
I wanted to return with my Trinity Hymnal one day, so I could sing more songs that I loved. But each time I returned, there would be someone else there, enjoying their own moments of quiet contemplation.
This experience of singing in the Basilica chapel and my quest to become fluent in French encouraged me to join the French Mass choir. It’s been challenging and heartwarming and encouraging. It’s complicated and it’s probably a blog post for another day.
(I can hear the “tick, tick, tick” of my life’s whirlwind clock beating like Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell-tale Heart.)
On Saturday, the ensemble’s leader, Ann, was sick. Another experienced singer in our group of five, Madeleine, was home as well. Sister Renee was serving as lector. It was just Mr. Roy and me. One of us would have to serve as “cantor” and welcome the parishioners, announce the entrance hymn, and sing the responsorial Psalm.
Sing the responsorial Psalm. Solo…and en Francais, of course.
I’d practiced the opening welcome before, but not seriously because I never imagined Ann or Madeleine would miss church. And even though it seemed exciting in my mind, when the time came, the Franco-full church of faces, expectantly waiting for me to open my mouth and sing something in their language was intimidating. Would they realize I was an imposter? Would they laugh at my bookish pronunciation of their words?
Maybe a few of them would remember seeing me with my mother at La Rencontre and be gentle in their critique? Had I earned enough credibility with these small acts?
And in the “you can’t make this stuff up category” there was someone there from the newspaper doing a story about the French mass. I kid you not. I saw a woman with a little reporter’s notebook interviewing the greeters. A tripod was set up in one of the side aisles. A photographer was zipping around the building snapping pictures all through the mass.
Talk about pressure.
(Translation: Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Psalm 85:7)
Well, it all turned out well. My voice didn’t crack and our talented director and accompanist, Paul Caron, smoothed over the rough edges with his masterful playing.
Just in case it happens again, though, I’m going to change my preparation routine.
Practice makes perfect…even though I don’t know how to say that in French yet.
This is quite impressive, JAB! Given that you are just learning to speak in your second language, singing and doing it in a public setting was quite a big deal.
I guess I’m going to have to darken the doorway of the Basilica (an amazing church edifice, btw) at some point to catch a return performance.
Merci! Rendez-vous à l’église!
I haven’t seen the story yet, been looking, is it out that you know of?
Well, it looked like newspaper coverage, but maybe it was something else.