This blog post is simultaneously a culture, language, and religious commentary and comedy. Let’s just say that I’m definitely going to Catholic hell after what happened during my first mass. This story starts with a conversation I’d had with my host parents so, let’s flashback to the weekend before…
The day was Sunday. I’d previously been trying different Christian (but not Catholic) churches in Nantes with another IES Abroad student. We’d passed one Sunday morning at a Unitarian church by accident on one of the previous Sundays of trying a church. This Sunday’s service was a lot more like American church, even playing one or two songs by Hillsong. After church, I’d decided to have lunch with my host family, something I hadn’t done much of during the weekends because I’d either be out with friends or out eating with friends. I’d never talked with my host family much about church or religion. In fact, I couldn’t say whether my host family was Catholic or not like a traditional French family. The extent of my family’s knowledge of my Sunday morning whereabouts was very limited. During lunch, my host mom asked whether or not I’d had a good morning walk… I was like, “Je suis allé à l’église aujourd’hui avec Clare.” My host mom was like, “I like going to mass.” I was sort of taken aback, because I think I’d seen my host parents go to church only once so far during my study abroad (other than the monthly mass for boy and girls scouts). Feeling like I should probably explain myself, I said something like, “Mais c’était une église protestante.” My host dad then asked me whether or not protestant church was like Catholic Church, but not knowing how they were different, I explained how I couldn’t imagine a big difference. That was my mistake, because flash forward to the next weekend…
I’d planned to go to London this weekend, but because of COVID, I changed my plans and decided to go to Quiberon with my host family once more before the end of study abroad. My host brother, Barnabé, was learning how to drive and decided to take us in the Tesla for the first part of the journey from Nantes to Quiberon. The weekend was a very relaxing one (and much needed before finals week). For most of the weekend, I worked on my blog posts by the wood-burning stove, completely transported to another world. Outside, the rain created the perfect atmosphere…
Sunday morning. I woke up to my host dad yelling up the stairs for Barnabé and Pétro to wake up or else they’d be late…late for what? I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to be yelled at either, so I also got out of bed. Opening my door to get ready in the bathroom, I made eye contact with my host dad while he was trying to get the kids out of bed and downstairs. He turned to me, sort of not realizing he also woke me or maybe temporarily forgetting my existence, and said good morning and paused before asking whether I’d like to go with them…go where? My host mom called up saying they were going to mass, and my host dad added the classic: “comme tu veux” (only if you want to). I said, “pourquoi pas” (why not). I mean, I’ve never been to a Catholic mass, so I figured this would be my opportunity to try. My parents had started out Catholic before leaving for more mainstream Christian churches, so unlike them, I’d never been to Catholic church other than touring cathedrals and such. I quickly washed my face and brushed my teeth, running down the stairs while taking my jean jacket off the couch on my way to the car.
Needless to say, we were running late. It didn’t help that my host parents were high-key backseat driving while my host brother, who was driving us to church, was trying to park in the already full parking lot. The church was a stone fortress-like building that was tucked in the grassy meadow by the beach. The stone walls were stone cold (in the literal and figurative sense), and my jean jacket proved insufficient against the wind coming through the cracks during the mass. Compared to Christian church, there was a lot more movement…standing, sitting, and standing again. Although there were a few songs that everyone sang together, there was organ-like music and a choir of 60+ year-old grandmas who sang the hymns for the tiny church congregation. The format of the church service was very traditional, which is very different from the more contemporary churches I’ve been to both in Nantes and back in the States. Throughout the mass, my host brother and sister were poking and teasing each other… a lot like my sister and I when we were younger. Granted they’re 12 and 16, so some of the other church-goers were definitely staring and my host mom was turning around and saying, “tais-toi” (shut up), every like five minutes.
The church service was coming to an end, or at least according to the program bulletin which I’d been trying to follow throughout the service. Then out of nowhere, everyone was standing up row-by-row and walking to the front of the church. Completely clueless as to what was happening, I followed my host brother and sister to the front of the church. As we were walking up to the priest, Pétro said something like “fais ça” (do this) and crossed her arms…I said “d’accord” (okay), not knowing when or where to do the arm crossing hand motion.
Soon enough, I was standing in front of the priest, not knowing what he was doing or what I was supposed to do…after a moment of confusion (on my part) he placed a wafer in my slightly shaking hand and said something, which I completely missed because I was busy thinking about what I was going to do with the wafer which I’d already taken. I quickly said “merci” and started walking away with my hands in my pocket. I was already making my way back to my host family, when I heard the running footsteps of the priest chasing me down in front of the whole congregation. I was confused and safe to say, very embarassed. He demanded to see my hand. Taking my hands out of my pocket revealed the wafer between my sweaty palms…I quickly slapped my hand over my mouth and replaced my mask before trying to contine back to my seat. He then began to speak in very loud French at me, saying “il faut” (you must) something, something, something…before making me remove my mask so he could verify I had completely eaten the wafer. I understood a signficiant part of what he was saying: "either eat the communion" or "don't take it at all." But in the moment, I had lost my ability to speak French and could only nod and say "oui, d'accord" (yes, okay). It was at that very moment when I realized my mistake: J’AI MIS JESUS DANS MA POCHE (I PUT JESUS IN MY POCKET)! I don’t know why, but I knew for sure I wasn’t supposed to take the communion because I’m not Catholic (or whatever), so I thought that putting the wafer in my pocket would be a lesser blasphemy than eating the communion as a non-Catholic. There was, of course, one minor detail which I’d overlooked…which is the difference in which Catholics believe the Eucharist is the real body of Christ. So yeah, Jesus in my pocket didn’t play out the way I’d imagined.
Anyways after the service, we quickly left the church to get back to the car (I was walking faster than ever). My host brother and sister asked what happened, and after explaining my story we all laughed. “Jesus in my pocket” became the joke for the rest of my stay with them.
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<p>My name is Micah Doctolero and I'm studying in Nantes, France during the Fall 2021 semester. I'm a first-generation college student studying French and Management Information Systems (MIS) at Santa Clara University. Exploring the outdoors, whether the beach or the mountains is one of my favorite pastimes back home in California. I'm a 20-year old with a knack for discovering new places and meeting new people!</p>