Dacuyan, Sherwin Dale
Behind the “Seems”
The Catholic mass is an unfamiliar event only to one member of our group, Sherwin, since he is a Baptist. He has never been to an actual mass. Andre and Bea, on the other hand, are Roman Catholics and were thus familiar to the chosen event. However, both of us are not devoted Catholics. We consider ourselves Catholics only because we were born to a Catholic family. We are Catholics by blood, not by choice. We reflect that all our lives we’ve been kneeling down, bowing our heads, doing the sign of the cross and what not, without knowing what those practices really meant. Maybe it’s the lack of education to Catholicism, or that we’re just skeptics, maybe even both. But whatever the case is, we agreed to choose the event with the aim of also understanding our religion more. So in terms of the level of understanding of the Catholic faith, all three members were pretty much on the same page to start with.
The participant observation was conducted at a 9:30 anticipated mass on one Sunday morning on the grounds of Our Lady of Pentecost Parish Catholic Church.
When we arrived at the church, the opening song and prayer already started and, as such, we participated by singing along to the songs and praying along with the congregation. Afterwards, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel were read. For the Responsorial Psalm, we participated by responding to the reader. At first, Sherwin was unsure of what to do during the Responsorial Psalm, but upon observation of his group mates and the informants he then took part of the activity by reading out the words in the projector. When the Responsorial Psalm ended, the priest began to lecture to the mass. This was the homily. During the homily, we simply listened to the message the priest preached. The priest referred to the reading for his sermon and went on about trust and faith. The homily spanned for some time. It was probably the longest part of the mass, perhaps because this contained the “meat” of the mass which was the lesson or message the priest shared. The homily was then followed by the Prayers of the Faithful. During this part, words were again projected on the projector and, as it turns out, the words typed in bold were the words that the people had to respond with. As a result, we were able to respond to the prayers by looking at the screen, following what was being read and saying along the response with the crowd. We noticed that the response to the prayer was exactly the same each time; the words read “Lord be our Strength and our Shield.“ Shortly after, music began to play and the Offertory commenced. The congregation started to pass the plate around and, of course, Bea and Andre gave amounts to the church as tithes; however, Sherwin was a bit more hesitant in giving the church money that he should have given to his own church. However, as a sign of respect, and for the sake of participation, he gave a respectable amount as an offering to the church. The Offertory eventually finished and soon followed the singing of the prayer Our Father. During this time, many people held hands with those beside them. Some people simply raised their hands sideways but didn’t come in contact with the people they were sitting with. Soon followed the Rites of Peace in which the church called for peace and unity. We responded by sharing sings of peace to each other and everyone around. At this part of the mass, the whole place was filled with the word “Peace” or the phrase “Peace be with you”. Children were going to their parents or grandparents to bless, kiss or hug as a sign of respect and love. Married couples also showed gestures of peace and love through hugs and kisses. After, the priest started to prepare a prayer as the Communion would start to take place. He then invited the entire congregation to come forward and partake it with him. The Communion was the one activity that Sherwin did not take place in primarily because he himself was not of the Catholic faith. As it turns out, the Communion is closed to outsiders; which meant that non-Catholics cannot partake in the activity. However, Bea and Andre were Catholics and did participate in the communion. They both lined up respectively towards the altar and ate the Eucharist and therefore participating in the Communion. The Mass ended with a few announcements.
During the entire event, we had two key informants. They were devoted Catholic friends of the group and are also students of the Ateneo. Unlike Andre and Bea who are the Catholics in the group, they have a good understanding of the Catholic religion and that of the mass. During the duration of the mass, we came up with questions that we kept to ourselves first. We raised our questions to the informants after the event because doing so during the religious celebration was improper. The mass typically lasted for an hour, so by 10:30, we set lunch with our key informants along Katipunan. This was when we conducted our interview and raised our questions.
The questions we raised were mainly about the postures and gestures done during the mass. Why is there a need to kneel? Why do people both stand up and sit down at different parts of the mass? Why not just sit down during the whole event? What does tracing the sign of the cross on our foreheads, lips, and hearts mean? What is the significance of the exchange of peace? These were among the questions we asked to our key informants.
According to our informants, these gestures are extensions of our faith. They symbolize that we fully give ourselves to God. Each gesture has their own meaning and once one fully understands the meanings, they will have a better experience of mass and a better relationship with God. The act of kneeling has changed over time; it used to be about penance but now, according to our informants, it is done to symbolize adoration to the Lord. The act of sitting shows listening and meditation; we sit during the Responsorial Psalm, Homily and after taking Communion. Sitting down would enable us to digest and reflect the readings and teachings of the church without having to worry about other things. While sitting is a sign of listening and meditation, standing is a sign of respect and honor. We stand at the beginning, during the Gospel as well as during the Concluding Rites. We stand not because of pride but because of humility for everything that God has given. The exchange of peace shows that you are at harmony with the people around you and the community as a whole. The gestures are both extensions of ourselves and a sign of unity within the Church, which is why one cannot simply alter these gestures to suit his own needs.
Through participating in the activity and discussing among ourselves and our key informants, we came to a general perception of the Catholic Mass as having an adamant structure, which emphasizes its repetitiveness and ritualistic qualities. In other words, the Catholic mass is a religious occasion that facilitates a lot of rituals. In fact, in the eyes of the Baptist Christian (Sherwin), although his own religion participates in a number of Christian traditions or beliefs, the Catholic Mass seems to be an activity that encompasses a lot of rituals. Examples are the Responsorial Psalm where the congregation seems to mindlessly respond to what the priest says and the Communion where each member of the congregation partakes the Eucharistic bread. However, upon closer inspection from a Baptist perspective, it seems as though the ritualistic qualities of the Catholic Mass has its own counterpart with some Baptist rituals. This caused us to realize that the Catholic Mass is not more ritualistic than any other faith, but it seems that way because the rituals seemed unfamiliar and unnatural as opposed to the Baptist rituals that the Baptist partakes in regularly. For instance, one of the rituals that they may have a counterpart in Baptist culture is the Rites of Peace, wherein each individual wishes his/her peacefulness outwardly towards each individual in the church. In a Baptist setting, there is what is called a ‘Welcome Song’ where each person shakes hands with every other person as a form of acceptance in behalf of the church. It can then be said that the ‘Welcome Song’ in a Baptist setting is synonymous to the Rites of Peace in a Catholic setting. However, the Rites of Peace seems a little bit more ritualistic than that of the Welcome Song because it involves wishing other people peace with the words ‘peace be with you’ as opposed to the welcome song where you simply smile and shake their hands, which seems more natural and as a result we don’t associate it as being a ritual. However, that being said, we cannot dismiss the fact that both activities cater to the acknowledging and befriending people into the church. Another example would be the Communion, wherein the congregation takes part in ingesting the Eucharist bread. However, in the Baptist setting, once a month, the Baptists have the Lord’s Supper, where the church just shares a piece of broken bread (usually just bits of biscuit). However, since the Baptists only participate in this occasion once a month, it doesn’t seem as ritualistic as that of the Catholic Mass wherein they do this every week. Also, the Eucharist bread that the Catholics ingest seems a bit more symbolic and profound than the broken bread that Baptists use. However, both still symbolize the eating of Christ’s body and blood in remembrance of him.
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
By participating, the group was able to compare and contrast the celebration of the Catholic mass with that of the Baptists. According to Sherwin, when he did research about the mass before going to the event itself, he thought that the rituals were too different from what Baptists do every Sunday. In paper, the mass was described to him as something alike his own religion. When he did his observations from videos of mass in YouTube, he felt that it was too atypical. However, as he came to the event itself, he didn’t feel any different from when he is in his own church. He found the practices done during mass were synonymous to what their religion has. It was clear, then, that participating in the event itself made him get a “feel” of what it really is like to be in a mass, which was different from what he got by simply observing through videos and written papers.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Having key informants helped us understand what the different routinary practices (e.g. holding of hand during Our Father, kneeling, ringing of bell) symbolized. Since, again, the group members all lack understanding of the Catholic faith, the key informants were there to attend to the questions and confusions we had. Most of the questions raised to the key informants are concerned with what the different structured gestures mean. The informants aided the group’s understanding of the whole celebration of mass. This allowed them to form more meaningful insights of the event and even compare the Catholic mass with that of another kind of religious celebration done by the Baptists.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
By participating in mass, you get the solemnity and the sense of community. During mass, people seemed to be so united. Everyone’s heads were pointing to the priest especially during homily. Most of the congregation were singing along with the choir. Everyone knew what prayers to pray all throughout the different parts of the celebration. People exchanged smiles and displayed gestures of kindness during the Rite of Peace. These are details which were obtained from participant observation that might not be realized in a questionnaire or interview. One has to experience the event first-hand to recognize all these small details that make up the view of mass as a communal celebration.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
A questionnaire or interview would be better than participant observation when dealing with events where no outsiders are allowed to join in. Questionnaires and interviews might allow access to information to events which block the participation of the researchers. If the event is, to a certain degree, illegal and risks harm, then distributing questionnaires or setting up interviews might be a better way to conduct the study in order to avoid danger. Other factors that might affect participation would be the price of participating (price of ticket, entrance fee, etc.), distance, time span, and confidentiality of the event.