Posted by: loveleigh | July 20, 2009

Soci 3950: Participation Observation Assignment

While in Ireland I have observed many different types of classes, ethnicity’s and genders, but they all seem to be revolve their lives around religion. Since we are studying in Ireland I thought it would be appropriate to attend a catholic mass at the Franciscan Friary in Waterford. This mass was held on Sunday at 12:15 in the afternoon. The demographics of the attendees were what I expected; mostly Caucasian males and females in their late 50’s and older. Out of about 50 attendees only a few families with small children where there. Everyone seemed to be middle class and dressed casually nice. I thought it was interesting the older men and women dressed up a more whereas the younger generations wore jeans and sweater. I wore a dress and cardigan with sandals and felt a little overdressed for my age. From the outside the friary looked plain and boring, but inside a combination of the vaulted ceilings and colorful paints I got a completely different feeling. I couldn’t help but stare forward towards all the colorful walls and stain glass windows. Wooden pews filled this massive sanctuary and everyone seemed to sit on the outside of pews, so it was a little awkward trying to ask people to slide in or move so we could get in the middle. Biblical scenes lined the walls of the sanctuary and an ornate statue of the crucifixion was at the front on the left hand side. All the pews had cushioned kneeling sections, but there were no bibles or hymns for people to follow along with. Throughout the ceremony I picked up on a few symbols used like the cup used for communion.

The mass was completed in 30 minutes, but I felt within those 30 minutes a lot of participation was involved.  The attendees recited many passages and sang about3 hymnals, and that’s when I realized why there weren’t any bibles or hymnals, every one of them knew the readings and hymnals by heart. It was really incredible to observe this, but it also made me feel awkward because everyone around me was reciting or singing and I didn’t know the words. I also noticed during the many prayers led by the priest, everyone kneeled and then they stood to recite a passage. It was pretty intense to watch all the kneeling and standing and sitting, it was also intimidating because I was constantly looking around trying to figure out what to do next. This part of the mass made me laugh a bit because it reminded me of the video Dr. McClure showed in class about the guy in the elevator who followed everyone else, I felt like that guy. Everyone seemed to know exactly when to stand, kneel, and sit without any direction from the priest and made me wonder if that was something they were specifically taught at young age or was it just one of those social rules they just knew, like how to stand in an elevator?

The one thing that did help me participate was the Sunday letter that was provided, and inside it had the responsorial psalm in which the priest says a line and underneath in bold indicates what the audience is supposed to say.  This pamphlet also had the creed which was recited at the end; it even indicated when the audience was supposed to bow, which was nice. The priest did two readings, the first one from Jeremiah. This was a very powerful reading in which in the prophet Jeremiah is angry at the Sheppard’s for allowing his flock to be destroyed and scattered. He talks of the power of the lord and it is he who speaks. The second reading was from Ephesians and was kind of the opposite of the first reading. This one talked of the lord destroying hostility and he brings peace to man. The priest’s main message was about the commandments and how as a society we should follow the injunctions of the lord to obtain peace of mind. I felt that this sermon was teaching that the only way to become free and have comfort of consciousness is to be submissive to god.

During this sermon I was able to draw a parallel between it and Durkheim. I thought of Durkheim in the beginning because of his discussion of totems which were evident when I first walked into the church. Totems give us a sense of tangible holiness, something sacred we can see and touch. Even though Durkheim argues that it is society that gives these ‘sacred’ objects this power. I also thought his discussion of ‘moral ascendency’ fit well with this sermon because the priest is saying that God wants us love, respect, and for us to worship him. We respect the priest for his moral power and closeness to god so there is no questioning him or the lord. If the priest tells us this is what God wants, everyone believes him and will do as he says. You could definitely get this vibe from the attendees because during the part of the sermon many of them started kneeling, which was interesting to me because the only other time they kneeled was during prayer. So I could definitely get a sense of their respect and loyalty to the priest and also to God. Durkheim also addresses the shared rituals that make people feel a part of some external force bigger than themselves. This was evident to me with the repetition of prayers, standing, kneeling, and singing, if you are not a part of this congregation on a regular basis it is not easy to pick up the timing of these rituals, I experienced that first had. So these rituals bring this particular congregation together making them feel like an external force is guiding them which creates a sense of bonding where people begin to experience their faith and associate the rituals with it. However Marx points out that what creates these ties is society, not God. According to Marx, man makes religion not the other way around so God does not create these rituals, man does. This is the exact opposite of what I experienced at the service because the overall tone I recieved as we left was that congregation truly believes these rituals tie them to their faith and to God.

This experience and the past weeks of studying the role religion plays in society has opened my eyes to the Irish culture and to different cultures altogether. This has motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and experience as many different cultures as I can and observe how their religion affects their society. In Ireland and especially in the Fransican Friary it is evident that the bond between society and religion is very strong. This experience also has helped me understand the essential role religion plays in the daily lives of the Irish.

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