Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Normandy (2): Corpus Christi in Lisieux

We spent the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in Lisieux, visiting the sites in Lisieux associated with St Therese. Given the huge popularity of Therese, and perhaps with an expectation created by the numbers of pilgrims who visit Lourdes, the number of pilgrims present seemed somewhat underwhelming. At Mass in the Basilica on Sunday morning there were groups from Poland, Tahiti and a local French school.

In the town itself, the main sign of devotion to Therese appeared to be a blue line. This line identified a walking route linking all the places in Lisieux associated with Therese. Our guide books suggested, quite unfairly we thought, that the town had been rebuilt in rather uninspiring manner after its destruction during the liberation of France in 1944. The roundabouts in the town had some character - the first one below appearing to have been sponsored by a well known low cost airline.

At Mass in the morning, the Rector of the Basilica took as his text a poem by St Therese. The poem had been printed out and was handed to those arriving for Mass, and we were referred to it during the homily. It was the poem "Mes Desirs aupres de Jesus cache dans sa Prison d'Amour", in which Therese reflects in turn on each of the Liturgical items that come into contact or proximity with the Eucharist. Each verse is represented in the mosaic roundels above the sanctuary of the Basilica. As Father preached, a server displayed the item and a spotlight shone on the relevant roundel. It really was, I thought, a very effective catechesis both on the Eucharist and on the decoration of the Basilica. Father concluded his homily by emphasising the need to receive Holy Communion with reverence and adoration, including when receiving in the hand. My attempt at summary/translations of the eight verses of the poem:
1. Little key, oh I envy you.
Because each day you can open
The prison of the Eucharist ...

2. I wish to be consumed in the Sanctuary close to my God
Like the Lampe of the Holy Place ...

3. Each dawn, I envy you
O Sacred Rock of the Altar.
Like in the blessed cowshed
Upon you will be born the Eternal ....
[At this point Father spoke about the altar stone, with its relics]

4. O Corporal ...
I see Jesus my only treasure
Change my heart, Virgin Mary
Into a Corporal pure and beautiful
To receive the white host
where is hidden your Sweet Lamb.

5. Holy Paten, I envy you
Upon you Jesus comes to rest..

6. Oh, how I envy the blessed Chalice
Where I adore the Divine Blood ...

7. Jesus, holy and sacred Vine...
I am a gilded grape
Who must dissapear for you ...
Under the press of suffering

8. Ah, what joy, I am chosen
From among the grains of pure Wheat
Who lose their life for Jesus
The last, and central, roundel above the Sanctuary of the Basilica does not display an image from the poem. Instead - and most interestingly - it shows an image of a priest and the words written by Therese about the vocation of the priest as she was expressing her aspiration to be and to live every vocation in the Church (these words are sometimes cited, quite unfairly, to suggest that Therese wanted to be a priest as such). These words have a particular resonance as we come to the end of the Year for Priests: lovingly I'd carry you in my hands when you came down from heaven at my call; how lovingly I'd bestow you upon men's souls!
After some lunch, we visited the Carmelite Convent where (most of - there are relics in the Basilica and in a reliquary that visits around the world) Therese's body is preserved. The buildings of Carmel somewhat miraculously survived the bombardments of 6-7th June 1944, which hit the nearby railway station and caused a severe fire in the very street in which the Convent exists.

This was followed by a visit to Therese's family home at Les Buissonets. This was a lovely spot, with a small but steady stream of visitors during the afternoon. We just beat the school pilgrimage, who were being divided into smaller groups for their visit. The sculpture below shows Therese asking her Father for permission to enter Carmel.

And then back to the Basilica for Vespers and a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Numbers were disappointing for this, so I made a point afterwards of thanking the Rector for the procession, explaining (in my best French, of course) that we had come from England and had seen the notice the procession on the website. Father's reply was "Vive l'internet!". Benediction was given from the altar at the Stations of the Cross behind the Basilica, everything having been done with a splendid degree of care and devotion.

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