Tuesday, June 21, 2016

*rewrite* St. Paul's

St. Paul's Cathedral was the most overwhelming cinetrek thus far, every detail in this church is one of extreme thoughtfulness and precision. As we approached the church, I thought about Barthes' mythology of a wrestler. He argues that the audience at a wrestling match knows what is going to happen before the action takes place because of the signs and signals the wrestler gives. "...wrestling is a sum of spectacles of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone..."(Barthes 14). St. Paul's has these signals as well. Walking out of the tube around 11, I could already hear the church bells. Like Barthes' wrestler, these bells are a signifier for the congregation. Once these bells sound, services start and the congregants make their way to church. While bell signals are not necessary anymore, (we all have reliable ways to tell time) the bells still ring before services begin because that's what is expected of the church.

Before mass began, most congregants sat quietly with their heads bowed and eyes closed. Taking a moment of prayerful reflection before mass allows them to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually. If they attend mass regularly, this will no doubt be a ritual they do weekly. Likewise, when the organist played his opening notes, the whole congregation stood up as the priests, choir, and altar boys and girl made their way through the church. Like the bells, the opening hymn signals the congregation to stand up and welcome the procession. 

Signs like this were rampant before, during, and after the mass. These signs and signifiers allow worshippers from around the world--who have never stepped foot in St. Paul's--be able to assimilate, participate, and successfully worship at this particular service. It helped me recite the Nicene Creed, make peace with my neighbors, and properly display my hands (right over left, of course!) when receiving communion even though it's been years since I've been to church. All of these ceremonial displays are signals for us, the spectators. While religion is way more nuanced than this, and I am not belittling the tradition and active participation needed, it is interesting to look at religious services through this lens. I enjoyed doing just that at St. Paul's.

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