Wednesday will mark the 400th anniversary of Montreal’s very first mass, which took place by the shores of Rivière-des-Prairies — an event that marked what is considered the starting point of Catholicism in New France.
The event will be remembered with a special dual-purpose ceremony on Wednesday. The event will celebrate both the arrival of the Franciscans — then known as the Récollets — to New France, as well as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.
Back in June of 1615, four Franciscan priests arrived in New France. They had been invited by Samuel de Champlain in order to evangelize native peoples, explained Brother Marc Le Goanvec, provincial superior of the Franciscans. Two of the four priests — Friar Denys Jamet and Friar Joseph Le Caron — headed west with de Champlain to a land that would not become Montreal for another 27 years, explained Le Goanvec.
He went on to say that he was proud of these men, who left France behind and crossed the ocean to a land they new nothing about. They had to survive New France’s freezing winters, sometimes on close to no sustenance.
“In the middle of it all, they wanted to make Jesus Christ known,” said Le Goanvec.
The very first mass is recounted in de Champlain’s notes from the voyage, explained Le Goanvec, which is how it has stayed a part of Quebec’s history. The passage recounts how mass was sung by the river, with a few religious ornaments, in front of First Nations peoples.
It is not clear whether the mass took place on Montreal’s side of the river or Laval’s, although the event is being celebrated in Montreal.
“We are proud, because our community, and Franciscans, were the first missionaries (in New France),” said Le Goanvec. “By celebrating this anniversary, we are also bringing honour to these men, who were the first missionaries.”
Wednesday’s celebration, a collaboration between the Franciscan community, the Archdiocese of Montreal, and the Saint-Jean Baptiste Parish, will take place at 10 a.m. at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church, 4237 Henri-Julien Ave. The commemoration will begin with a short re-enactment of the historic event that took place 40o years ago, followed by the regular Saint-Jean-Baptiste mass. Members of the religious community, politicians, and First Nations representatives, as well as people from all over the city, are expected to attend.
The ceremony will be live tweeted using the hashtag #400eMesseMTL — a practice that definitely did not exist 400 years ago.