Mass at Sea

messe-duveauI have found this poignant painting on Rorate Caeli by Louis Duveau, A Mass at Sea in 1793 (1864) in the Musée des beaux-arts in Rennes. Click on the image to get an enlargement.

1793 was the height of the Terror in France and the persecution of the Church. Saying Mass at sea was one possibility. The sea looks fairly rough and the two-masted lugger seems to be hove-to judging by the helmsman keeping the boat’s bow into the wind. The sails are doused but are certainly maintaining enough steerage. The priest is in vestments. There are no candles or cross on whatever is being used as an altar. He must be having a difficult time keeping his balance and preventing an accident with the chalice. The painting is remarkably authentic and the artist was observant about the details of the lug rig. The boat looks a trifle overloaded with people attending the Mass.

The image was appended to an article about the state of the Church in Italy. I get tired of reading about prospects of divine chastisement because girls are showing a little bit too much tit! I learned a lot in the 1980’s seeing large traditionalist families – father at one end in the pew, mother at the other end and the six or eight children ranked like pipes in an organ, balai dans le cul. They live in the Victorian era at home and in the modern world elsewhere. The tension must be intolerable. Morality isn’t just about being prudish, but about going much more radically into questions of society. Things like contraception and “gender theory” are merely red herrings. Rorate Caeli maintains a conservative traditionalist Roman Catholic position which has its limits.

The painting is impressive.

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13 Responses to Mass at Sea

  1. J.V. says:

    Rorate’s ideology (conservative traditionalist) has a tendency to fall into self parody when taken to its limits. I tend to think this holds for the whole ideological wing.

    This said, one of the fun aspects of Italian Christianity (be it Catholic or the pockets of original Orthodox remaining in Southern Italy) is how much pre-Christian folklore (and, dare I say it, superstition!) has survived…layered with a dose of Vatican gossip (got to love the anonymous Italian prelate there). It is a convoluted matrix – if Don Pietro isn’t a member of a religious order, most Italians will likely want to string him up. Italians are traditionally distrustful of secular clergy.

    • Indeed Rorate is only slightly less “corny” than Fr Z. Usually, Italian priests called “Don” are secular priests. Religious priests are “Padre”. Italian Catholicism is unique, mixed up with some very strange stuff and busloads of people who are only slightly quieter than the Spanish! There is much wisdom in the Don Camillo stories (best seen in French).

      • J.V. says:

        Don’t even mention Fr. Z. I don’t understand the morality of his solicitations (basically to spend a life traveling, eating, and browsing the web). Perhaps more accurately, I don’t understand the psychology of the people providing him said funds. Plainly, I don’t understand clericalism from either end of the stick.

      • Chicken, the snack you can eat between pigouts without exploding…

      • J.V. says:

        Trouble is, you can never, no matter how well you present it, point out the intellectual breakdown that occurs when you take any ideology (in this case, conservative traditionalist) to its ends. I guess that’s why I don’t go much for “one true church,” or one size fits all solutions. I’m able to ignore it more now than I was some years ago.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        De gustibus…? I can imagine this being just the sort of post Fr. Z might enjoy, or (mutatis mutandis) write!

      • Indeed, he reminds me a little of the late Don Gregorio who was a good-living eccentric, something of a Rossini of the priesthood. Perhaps Fr Z is less interested in boats than I and more “into” other things in life. I don’t judge him for liking good food or travelling or whatever. However, I do find him off-putting for some of the more moralising characteristics of his writing. Each to his own, à chacun sa merde

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you! Moving, indeed (no rough-sea jokes intended)! I’ve read, for example, Trollope’s Vendée novel, but not enough about the Church in the Terror, and I don’t think I’d ever heard of such a thing, much less seen a depiction: fine to have the fruits of an experienced eye as to accuracy about details!

    Could people easily board a lugger from other boats and get off again? I can imagine they could be temporarily packed on for the celebration, if so. (All the other boats look quite full, too, though: not as if many had transferred to the lugger.) Would those on board be likely to communicate, or would it be largely spiritual communion? (I cannot easily imagine a sort of communication by breeches buoy or something like that.) What did people do to stabilize any drinking vessels on board, in those days? Would something of the sort be applicable to the Chalice (something securing the foot, for example)? Would the lugger try truly to orient, or would dealing with the wind be too preeminent a concern?

    Anyway, thank you!

    • Thanks for the humorous comment. Don’t forget that frequent communion was not encouraged until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 18th century in France, most people would have had Shrift and Housel (medieval expression for confession and communion) one or two times a year. This would have considerably simplified the logistics of giving Communion to people on a crowded boat and the various rowing barques drifting around on a fairly heavy sea. I would not say Mass at sea – I have never tried it – because of the risk of a chalice accident. I have sometimes said Mass outdoors without candles (because of wind), but always on dry land and with some way of protecting the host and the chalice. For example, you fold the front of the corporal over the host to stop it blowing away. There are limits beyond which a priest would refrain from saying Mass. In conditions of persecution, it would be different, and there was probably a way to hold the chalice in place. The stern of the boat is the best place to be, depending on the ballast and the load. I think that at this Mass, only the priest and perhaps the server would communicate.

    • ed pacht says:

      I’m impressed by the degree of rubrical attention given here in spite of the difficult conditions. There are no candles in the altar, but it is not ‘lightless’ Mass — there’s a torch being held behind the priest. I’d assume a crucifix was laid upon the altar and somehow fastened there. There were indeed a variety of ways to stabilize drinking vessels. I’ve read of many. In this case it was likely a pair of fabric straps to slide the chalice base under. This works when only the priest is to drink from the chalice. A tablespoon of wine and a drop of water would be unlikely to splash over.

      It is a wonderful painting, and has a great deal to say about the church in an anti-church society.

      • Thanks for the observation of the person holding a flaming torch. I hadn’t noticed it. Very medieval. Indeed, it is a wonderful painting so full of the heroic spirit of those persecuted Christians.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thank you both for the additional information and informed thoughts about what would have been likely! I suppose the Missal (lying flat on the left) would probably have had something like fabric straps as well. (Might its ‘Use’ depend on which diocese the priest came from?) It occurs to me that this may be morning (before people went to work) and that a torch was used, because a lantern keeping the flame too still might be in danger of being seen from shore. (Perhaps some kinds of dark lanterns might have been used as well.) Something like this must have taken a lot of coordination under the best of circumstances, but setting off in the dark with such laden boats? – whew! And not a Mass just for the fishermen – all the women and children (I wonder if a scholarly eye could pick out the other landlubbers – and even their livelihoods – by their dress?). I just noticed the mother (I assume) on the right standing (how dangerously?) and holding up her baby, a sort of counterpart to the Elevation – in the hope of impressing the scene on its memory, as a training in spiritual communion? Would the Terror have made people like this long to communicate, or just be more serious about their spiritual communion?

  3. Dale says:

    One can indeed understand the reason for such a Mass at sea during time of intense persecution; but under normal circumstances was not the normal “Mass at sea” the dry Mass?

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