Exploring different things in life gives it flavor. If a person was to stay alone and away from society, without interacting with anyone who differs from their own ideals and perspective, it would be a dull and colorless life. I believe that when a person interacts with and examines the lifestyles and life choices of other people, who differ from his or her own beliefs, ideals, and way of life, it is only then that an individual can truly appreciate what he or she believes in as well as respect and appreciate what others believe.
Knowing this I decided that for my social experiment I would visit the Abbey at Benedictine University for their mass at noon. Before I ventured to the Abbey at Benedictine University I had a general idea about the Catholic faith. As a Muslim student on the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Committee at Benedictine University, I already had some background information about Catholicism, but not a good idea of how the actual services take place. This trip was more of a practical visualization of everything I had heard about in the Muslim-Christian dialogues.
My preconceived notions were based off what I had seen in movies, which was pretty generic since as an outsider I can’t differentiate between Churches of different Christian denominations. I knew that the priest (religious leader) stands in front of the congregation and reads passages from the bible. I also had known that certain Churches use music and sing the prayer. I also knew the general set up of the Church concerning pews and altar. When I drove up to the church I could see the cross on the roof.
The peculiar thing was that the entrance to the church was on a side and clearly visible. As I entered the church I saw that there were different rooms dedicated to a different level of prayer. There was a room for individual prayer and contemplation. There was a large prayer area where the Sunday services too place. There was also a smaller prayer are where the daily Mass took place. Initially I walked to the place where the Sunday service took place and saw a water fountain like structure.
I was later informed that it was the Baptism pool consisting of Holy water. Ahead of all the pews was the altar. There is where I was told the consecration of the items for communion takes place. Later we went to the smaller prayer room for mass. There people sat in pews as well. There was reading of passages from the Bible which was followed by singing of prayer. There was a pianist who provided the music for the mass. As an outsider to not only Catholicism, but to the entire Christian faith, there were many things which I was unfamiliar with.
It was a very unique experience, especially since the practices were quite different in some aspects from my own religious and spiritual practices. In Islam the prayer is a physical, verbal, and spiritual exercise, whereas at mass it was the latter two only. The other difference which I didn’t witness, but was informed of, was regarding Holy water and communion. The concept of communion was something which I could not relate to since there is parallel spiritual practice in Islam.
The other primary difference which I realized was the playing of music in sync with the prayer being read in unison. In my religious practice, prayer is led by an Imam (leader) and the others remain silent and follow the physical actions. One of the main differences that I found in social experiment was that the daily Mass was optional and recommended; while in Islam the five daily prayers are obligatory. Leaving them out intentionally is a major sin and can lead to blasphemy. Recognizing and understanding these differences were the highlight of my trip to the Abbey.
Out of the things I learned from this social experiment, one realization appealed to me the most. It was the understanding that one should respect the faith and practices of other people because in essence they are motivated by the same spiritual drive to worship a deity they hold dear to themselves. It is the same principles of salvation and success that motivate people to pray. I think recognizing this aspect of spiritual services was the most important aspect of my social experiment.