But it is also one of the most aggressively secular states in Europe, forbidding people even to wear religious symbols such as crosses in schools. And it has some (not positive) similarities with Australia in that although 50-60% of the French are 'culturally catholic', their rate of attendance at Mass is around 10%.
Give traddies a break bishops!
Another similarity between our two countries is perhaps the rather antagonistic position of many bishops towards the Traditional Latin Mass, and resistance to the implementation of the Motu Proprio - although in France things are rather more intense due to the much greater strength of the traditional movement there (including more than twenty monasteries), and its origins there with Archbishop LeFebvre.
No wonder then, that the Pope had to fend off a fairly hostile question on Summorum Pontificum on the plane to France, and point out that Summorum Pontificum was in no way a roll-back of Vatican II, and note that traddies are a very small group whom bishops should show love and tolerance too! You can read the full-text of his comments and debate on what they mean over at Rorate Caeli.
And on the great debate, he made a few particualrly interesting comments:
"I believe there is a possibility for both types to be enriched. On the one hand, the friends of the old liturgy can and should know the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy, [a papal pump for the appraoch of Michael Sternbeck's book on the Mass!] etc. But on the other hand, the new liturgy emphasizes the common participation, but it is not just the assembly of a particular community, but rather it is always an act of the universal Church, in communion with all the believers of all time, an act of adoration. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a mutual enrichment, and it is clear that the renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time."
Particularly good to see the Pope take a potshot at those who look forward to priestless parishes and the like, and to hear a Pope talk about vocations, and mean what is traditionally meant by vocations - namely those to the priesthood and religious life!
Of course discernment is important for everyone. Of course we must all commit to living out our call in whatever state of life we are truly led. And of course married life is vitally important. We are all called to holiness, and sainthood can be achieved in any state of life.
But the broadening of the term vocation to mean everything from married life to the single life in the world to the priesthood has tended to down play the idea (defined as dogma at Trent) that the call to virginity or celibacy is an objectively higher one than to the married state. And the Church needs those 'special' or 'higher' vocations to survive - it especially needs the power of contemplatives who are dedicated solely to the worship of God in the liturgy; and it needs priests now more than ever!
Accordingly, he appealed to the young (and, explicitly, the not so young!) to respond to a call to the religious or priestly life:"Every time the Mass is celebrated, every time Christ makes himself sacramentally present in his Church, the work of our salvation is accomplished.
Hence to celebrate the Eucharist means to recognize that God alone has the power to grant us the fullness of joy and teach us true values, eternal values that will never pass away. God is present on the altar, but he is also present on the altar of our heart when, as we receive communion, we receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist. He alone teaches us to shun idols, the illusions of our minds.
Now, dear brothers and sisters, who can raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord in the name of the entire people of God, except the priest, ordained for this purpose by his Bishop?....allow me to issue an appeal, confident in the faith and generosity of the young people who are considering a religious or priestly vocation: do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to give your life to Christ! Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests at the heart of the Church! Nothing will ever replace a Mass for the salvation of the world! Dear young and not so young who are listening to me, do not leave Christ's call unanswered." (Mass at Paris)
The need for beautiful liturgy
He has also particularly emphasized the need for beautiful liturgy.
At Vespers he gave a beautiful meditation on the beauty of Notre Dame de Paris, and the importance of architecture in supporting worship. And he said:
"Your cathedral is a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act, unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God entering our history in the fulness of time to redeem us by his self-offering in the sacrifice of the Cross.
Our earthly liturgies, entirely ordered to the celebration of this unique act within history, will never fully express its infinite meaning. Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, who is himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a foretaste of it!"
Monasticism, Church-State and more...
As well as some of his now standard messages about the importance of reading Scripture, and engagement in the public square, the Pope has said a lot of interesting things on French 'laicite', devotion to Mary (see the picture below, taken at Lourdes - both pictures courtesy of the Pap Ratinger Forum) and much more.
His best speech so far from the perspective of my personal preoccupations (not least to the topic of the thesis I'm currently working on) was a speech to UNESCO and representatives of the United Nations, at which he talked about France's monastic roots. But more on that anon...
In the meantime, if you want to start reading what he has said so far, go here.