Confession: after 5 weeks working out of a Catholic school’s grounds

I am currently working in a managerial role in a Catholic School. I’m not actually working for the Catholic School, I am working for a separate organisation that is renting the site for during the Summer Holidays. And in the spirit on being in a Catholic environment, I thought I might give a small series of confessions. I’ve now met an aggressive atheist (i.e. someone who appears aggressive in their atheism) and I think mass is bug-nutty crazy.

I’ll start with Sandra (not her real name): the aggressive atheist. Until now I have said that I haven’t encountered these aggressive atheists in real life, and I certainly haven’t met proportionally more atheists who are aggressive than religious/agnostics who are aggressive. But I have now met Sandra, a person who seems an odd specimen to me as she is so very relaxed in all things, except her atheism. A monk on site mentions there is a “strong room” for their valuable items while we were touring the abbey and it made her angry to think of the wealth of this monastery when there is such poverty, even locally. She voices her outrage that Catholicism is a premium membership her native country–Germany–where you must be a paying member to be buried in the Church. She also has problems with the concept of abstinence; an “unnatural” command (there’s a nice sentiment for an attractive woman to utter…). And the demeanour in which she expresses herself is sincerely aggressive. Yet, she is so placid in all other areas. Working here I’ve also met José (not his real name) who, while staring at Jesus on the cross and more-or-less unprompted, said “how can they believe this bullshit?”

Now, I’m not chastising these people. There is a certain irony in people sending their children to a private Catholic Church in the certainty of the truth of Catholicism when it contains the seventh commandment; and there is a certain moral outrage is an organisation that makes itself a moral authority also hoarding wealth. And I am certainly not saying these two people are representative of atheism; I have found meeting these people to be remarkable (in fact, blog worthy) events. That shows their rarity, even if only in my experience.

My second confession: Mass is bug-nutty bat-shit crazy. I attended mass for a saint’s day because it was the name day of a student who is Catholic. Oddly enough, I felt I had a duty of care that included me attending. I apologise if it sounds accusatory, but I didn’t want to leave one of my students alone with a group of monks. I implore you, even if you are Catholic, to observe a mass with a cynical eye. We entered on the far right of the Abbey and sat in the left row of seats. As we crossed the aisle, people turned to bow down the aisle. They stopped, turned, and bowed to nothing in particular (so far as I could see). There was a reading from Exodus, where God says (and I’m paraphrasing here): “The Egyptians won’t let the Israelites go unless I really mess them up; so I am going to really mess them up” (and, as we know, what God went on to do was administer blanket torture to the innocent and the guilty alike, until the Pharaoh ‘let [those] people go’). It was seen as a passage of justice. There were several songs and chants, in English and in Latin and there was no indication of whether one should sing along, repeat after the Monk or announce “Amen” or “And to you”, yet everyone seemed to know.

Then the Monks began to set up communion. The wine and the chalices and the wafers were in various different places, and everything was done slowly and deliberately and every time a monk walked past the mid point of the width of the abbey they stopped, turned away from their audience and bowed… seemingly at the table they were setting up on. A monk then sung something that I’m sure the rest of the audience could decipher into the chalice and periodically lifted it over his head at which point the abbey bells would ring three times. Without being called, the entire congregation formed two orderly queues in front of two monks who offered a wafer and wine (wine! at 9:30am!) to everyone except the apparently gluten intolerant person who had been sat to my right. The gluten intolerant person, who I shall call Helga, told me that if I wanted a blessing from the monk, then I should cross my arms in front of myself after I have received communion. I thanked Helga for this information, stood up to let her and Sandra up to go to communion, then returned to my seat (getting puzzled looks from more than one person).

If you are not a Catholic (and even if you are) I urge you to watch mass and observe the pomp and ceremony, the dance and spectacle, as indifferently as you can. I’m not making any theological point here, it is just a strange and weird environment and I want you to share my amusement and befuddlement.

31 thoughts on “Confession: after 5 weeks working out of a Catholic school’s grounds”

  1. I agree that Pope Francis betrays himself as a shameless hypocrite by chiding the human race for its supposedly profligate lifestyle while nearly every member of a worldwide clergy lives in sumptuous economic security.

    But the atheist betrays himself as an intolerant, provincial dunce with his critique of the Catholic Mass.

    The Catholic Mass is a 2000 year old tradition that began in antiquity and is practiced to this very modern day, essentially unchanged.

    To behold the Catholic Mass is to look back in time to a culture 2000 years gone.

    Therefore, by criticizing the style of the Catholic Mass, the atheist betrays the essential bedrock bigotry and shameless, provincial ignorance required to be a postmodern atheist.

  2. And if the atheist were able to relinquish his bigotry and provincial ignorance and simply for the breath hour’s duration of the Mass and listen to the words said during the Mass, the atheist would realize that the Mass is simply a stylized way of saying, “Thank you,” to God, Almighty.

    How is saying thank you to anyone, real or imagined, a danger to anyone?

    1. I never said it was a danger. However, the tradition and it’s perceived normalcy to its adherents is a simulacrum for something that is dangerous: social conditioning. However, this is far from an exclusively religious phenomenon.
      I also didn’t critique Mass, I simply observed it and shared my really-quite-tame thoughts on the issue. If you can claim bigotry on what it is that I’ve written here, you’re exaggeratedly sensitive.

  3. I’ve been to many different types of Christian churches and meetings. Catholicism is no more strange than any of the others. Humans need organization, rules, structure to feel safe or that they are doing thing correctly. It’s a mental flaw. Some of them will complain if you do the incantations incorrectly or don’t bow when you’re supposed to. It’s like cheering for the wrong side at a football match. It’s an acceptable form of OCD. There are hundreds of different types of cross – try wearing the wrong one into St Peter’s Basilica. Like any board game, it’s all made up bullshit but you have to play by the rules or people get upset.

    1. My,

      Who are you, the atheist, to pass judgment on the ancient customs and practices of a religion that is 2000 years old?

      Scrupulous adherence to protocol is a quality standard used by every commercial biotechnology laboratory in the world in order to insure unvarying consistency.

      That you accept a quality standard in a modern laboratory but reject the very same quality standard developed by the Christians centuries before modern science was even conceived, again shows the intrinsic bigotry and provincial ignorance that are fundamental to atheism.

      1. SoM, you’re still just a troll but thanks for proving my point. These are quality measures for the church’s true process: controlling people with the intent of getting them to give away their money and to get them to protect the charlatans in charge of the church.

        As for me passing judgement, I’m a human. That’s far and away _more_ than is required to adequately criticize the church. Clearly there are 10’s of thousands of mere humans that think it their place to judge because they don’t belong to the same cult as you do. In effect, your question is nothing more than saying that only you or your special cult are allowed to do what all humans do naturally. Bigoted much?

      2. My,

        Since atheism requires no intellectual or spiritual quality, it is no surprise that you find it troublesome in those areas that you don’t personally approve of.

        Again, the signature of bigotry and provincial ignorance.

        One of the purposes of religion is teaching virtue.

        And yes, virtual requires control, lots of it.

        Just ask any athlete, master chef, scientist, or a disciple of any one of the great religions.

      3. Your assertions are not supported regarding atheism but that won’t stop you sharing your bigoted opinions. What you can’t deal with is that believers need that control forced on them when atheists don’t seem to have any trouble finding virtue and being virtuous on their own. If the church is teaching virtue why does it collectively hoard so much wealth while the poor go hungry? Now there’s a lesson to pay close attention to.

      4. My,

        My assertions are proven by the contents of this post and the contents of your comments.

        That you are unable to both understand my simple reasoning and the contents of your own comments also proves the intense bias that is also fundamental to atheism.

        Intense bias in the manner of atheism is called, bigotry.

        Further, if I expressed the same bias as is characteristic of atheism toward say, gay marriage, or women’s rights or even proven hoaxes like global warming, you would also call me a bigot.

        Not surprisingly, your first response to my comments was to call me a troll.

        So it is you who prove my point in your own words. And then you argue against the very proof that you, yourself provide.

        I call that, “the atheist arguing with himself and losing.”

        You can’t help but do that. It’s what atheism is all about.

      5. My,

        Anyone who thinks differently than you must be frothing at the mouth.

        Such a comment indicates the ingrained provincial ignorance and bigotry that I have been describing in my comments.

        You demonstrate quite clearly that in reality, atheism is really nothing more than mass produced canned stupid.

        And that is very dangerous to any civil society.

      6. The biggest difference between protocol and quality control in science against practices and traditions from antiquity and religion is that science can point to measurable and explicable things that each detail achieves. Religion does it because they’ve always done it. Although they may both appear strange (although, I would argue against that point) one is highly and demonstrably functional.

    1. Maka,

      Having grown up around people like you I can understand why being so consciously, willfully ignorant seems so natural to you.

      If only one of you could slobber out something remotely reasonable then atheism wouldn’t be so 100% idiotic.

      1. I thought after sometime in jail, you will have your head out of your ass.
        Allalt in concluding his post asks those of who have not attended catholic mass to do so.
        I say, having grown up catholic, I can understand what he says about the mass. What has this got to do with atheists?

      2. Maku,

        If you grew up Catholic and were never able to understand the Mass, how is that not your own problem?

        Even the dimmest mind can understand the Catholic Mass.

        It’s just a stylized way of saying, “Thank you.”

        If you had a brain in your head, you could now claim to completely understand the Catholic Mass.

      3. Alla,

        As I told you before, I don’t do stupid.

        And anyone who can’t understand what, “Thank you,” means, is stupid.

        Both you and Makagatu confessed to not knowing what, “Thank you,” means even though it is said quite clearly and repeatedly during the entire hour of the Catholic Mass.

      4. “people like you” – see, that is bigotry, or at least right on the cusp of it. Especially as your evaluation is that “people like you” are ” so 100% idiotic.” That is bigotry.
        Which makes you a hypocrite as well.

  4. The Catholic church was based on the principle that salvation, or forgiveness of sins, was delegated to the church. In order to allow imperfect man to perform this Godly task, the rituals were developed. Part from fragments of scripture, part from Jewish temple ritual (in which those who developed the church were brought up), part from who knows where. All of it, allegedly inspired by God. And once implemented, tenaciously maintained. Silly to the non-Catholic? Pretty much. Important to the Catholic? Absolutely, in fact, a matter of death and afterlife…

    1. Cat,

      What you are referring to what is called, “the economy of salvation,” of which the seven sacraments, all instituted by Jesus and according to Holy Scripture, are a part.

      For example, the Sacrament of Baptism was instituted by Jesus when he was baptized by John the Baptist.

      The Eucharist (Holy Communion) was instituted by Jesus at the Last Super and gives true meaning to the “mana from heaven” and the Passover of the Old Testament.

      Marriage between one man and one woman was instituted by Jesus also. We have him teaching about adultery, divorce and that marriage is covenant until physical death.

      Jesus gives his imprimatur to the union between one man and one woman at the Wedding Feast of Cana where, at the behest of his Mother, Mary, begins his public ministry of miracles ahead of schedule.

      The Sacrament of Confess or Reconciliation is instituted by Jesus when he tells his Apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Whose sins you do not forgive are not forgiven.


      All Catholic sacraments and practices where passed to the Apostles by Jesus and then later written down in the what later became the New Testament.

  5. This is a great post. It’s been a while since I read from your blog so I’m forgetting what your background is, but I can offer some explanation as to what you were observing from a Catholic perspective since I was raised in it, in-case you were wondering. At the same time, I really appreciate that you were able to look at the mass from such an outsider’s perspective. I have to agree, for someone just walking in for the first time, it’s really weird. Even as an atheist now I take it for granted because I was raised in it, so whenever I go to a Catholic mass for say a funeral or something like that, I just accept the tradition. The ridiculous, wacky tradition.

    Here’s a quick explanation of what you observed though: “…every time a monk walked past the mid point of the width of the abbey they stopped, turned away from their audience and bowed… seemingly at the table they were setting up on.” They’re actually bowing to the tabernacle, which is typically a shiny gold box behind the table (and the table is called an altar). Though if the communion (the wafer and wine) is out, and it’s consecrated, they’ll bow/genuflect to that. Basically, the tabernacle holds leftover communion, which they believe is Jesus.

    “A monk then sung something that I’m sure the rest of the audience could decipher into the chalice and periodically lifted it over his head at which point the abbey bells would ring three times.” He must be a priest, and he’s consecrating the host and the wine (Catholics believe it literally becomes Jesus, and then the congregation does what you describe next, literally eating Jesus. Yup, they take that part of the Bible literally.)

    “Without being called, the entire congregation formed two orderly queues in front of two monks who offered a wafer and wine (wine! at 9:30am!) to everyone except the apparently gluten intolerant person who had been sat to my right.” Some churches, upon request, will offer gluten-free hosts. I had a friend with Celiac disease who had to tell the priest what mass she would be going to so he could always have the gluten free host ready for her. About the wine–they think it’s Jesus’ blood. Again, they take that verse in the Bible literally. Which is why a lot of critics of Catholicism find their interpretation of communion cringe-worthy. I mean–to an outsider, it really does sound like cannibalism. To someone who grew up inside it, it’s just normal. Which shows that humans can get used to pretty much anything, and really scares me a bit about the dangers of social constructs.

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