When travelling at Christmas I generally end up going to Midnight Mass, or whatever the Christmas Vigil is called wherever I am. A few years ago I was at a Belgian thing in an out of the way chapel in the middle of a cold and frosty night with a very dear friend. I understood nada, but I also understood everything. We sang Silent Night in whatever language that was, read Isaiah and Matthew and Luke and John, the preacher probably preached about poverty and refugees, about incarnation and obedience and servanthood. Love came down at Christmas, and we witnessed it, and resolved to incorporate it.
24/12/16 saw me at St Peters Cathedral in Rabat, at 8pm, a slightly more civilized time, and a little warmer than Flanders. I had a better chance of singing Silent Night correctly and also had the chance to belt out “Angels from the realms” and “O holy night” (in French, naturellement). What joy! As all the Catholic stuff started happening – I excuse myself from it as I assume I’m not allowed to partake, not having done other appropriate Catholic stuff – the choir got going. They had done the carols in a very cathedralic way, with harmonies and solos, only giving a little local flavour by swaying gently from side to side. But now, without the need to have the congregation singing, they were in their element, and suddenly, we were in Africa. The lyrics sheet politely offered the words to these songs, but they were not John Rutter tunes, and I didn’t know how to pronounce “mfumu eh” (one of the shorter lines). I was enraptured. Earthy, passionate, rhythmic, harmonic and obviously praisy and full of joy and happiness. Luckily the church was packed out with several hundred people partaking, so there was truly time for them to shine. They had to pause briefly at some point to allow the priest to finish up and bless the flock, but they clearly couldn’t wait to start on the extroit, which they continued well beyond the passage of the priest and all the little people who hold and carry stuff in Catholic churches, well beyond the seventh verse, well beyond the point when half the congregation came down to the front to selfie themselves with the choir, and to facebook a live feed of them doing improv. There came a point where I had to go, because, being old and weak, I needed those facilities that old weak people need, but these singers were so good that I had already stayed about half an hour beyond what I would normally consider an emergency.
I had gone to the church because it’s what I do on Christmas Eve when travelling, despite being tired and not expecting much. But this was one of the Rabattian Christmas highlights. Morocco was Christian long before the Arabic conquests, and the Spirit remains, shooting up in singing and dancing when invited.