Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Religious "Education"

P The other day - a sunday, in the morning - I saw my grandfather watching mass on television. He was sitting up very straight, with his hands together on his lap, which is very far from how he usually sits. He used to go to mass at a nearby church, from what I recall of past years, but I suppose his aching knees are getting to him a bit.
P He tried to feed me religion when I was little, and I say feed because he just put it in front of me without explaining what it was or what it was for. He took me to church a few times, in the mornings (elevenish, I think); it was certainly an education, but not in the way he hoped: all I understood was that you had to sit, and then sometimes you had to stand up (everyone at once), and then, after what I thought was a hellish length of time standing without moving, you got to sit again. All the masses he took me to were the same: sitting and standing and sitting and standing and sitting and standing until it finally ended and we could go home, where my grandmother would be waiting with lunch (but not without dropping a few coins into a little wicker plate that was handed around before the end, though).
P Then there was the sound. The church where my grandfather took me was a ghastly modern building with dreadful acoustics, so when the priest all the way at the end spoke into the microphone all I heard was an incomprehensible mumble. One thing that fascinated me, though, was that, at regular intervals, everyone would mumble in unison, which meant that many people there must have been understanding the priest's mumbling, and that somehow, sometime in the past, these people must all have been trained to say these things. I know they spoke in my language because I understood some of the words spoken by some of the people closer to me. I suppose they didn't need to speak clearly because everyone was expected to understand the mumbling - and they did, as evidenced by their ability to respond in synchrony (a French friend who is a practicing catholic was surprised by this when she visited last year - apparently, in France, only the priest mumbles).
P And since, as a child, I couldn't see past the row in front, all I knew of mass - and of church, for that matter - was the sitting and the standing and the mumbling. Oh, and, at the end, some of the people would line up near the priest and he would give each of them a plain cracker; when I asked my grandfather why we didn't join the cracker line he said it was because we were not registered at that particular church; since my grandmother had plenty of crackers at home, I didn't mind.
P Then there was the praying. At night, before bed, my grandfather tried to teach me something which included drawing imaginary lines across my face and chest, which I found quite peculiar, and reciting something about asking for salvation if I died before the next morning, which I found quite dreary. He had to show me how to do and say these things all of the three or four times that this happened, because I didn't remember them from one time to the next. Frankly, I don't think I remembered it even while I was doing it, probably because of how pointless and random it all seemed.
P And now that I know what those things were, I still find them pointless and random.