Sunday, May 18, 2008

Festa Patronale di Santa Maria Liberatrice

This morning I attended the Celebrazione Eucaristica as part of the Festa Patronale di Santa Maria Libertrice (that is the celebration of the eucharist that is part of the festival of the patron Saint Maria Liberatrice). The church in Testaccio is the new Santa Maria Liberatrice. The original church was erected in the middle of the forum and torn down at the beginning of the twentieth century.

I attended the festival mass at Santa Maria in pursuit of finding a particular confessional that I can observe. Entering the church, I noticed that there were four confessionals, two on each side of the nave. I resolved to get some photos of them, but I did not want to alarm the church goers by my strange photographic behavior, so I sat down and began casually photographing the church. Eventually, I made my way around to getting some shaky images of the confessional nearest to me. The experience made me consider the difficulty of documenting cultural practices that are ongoing. It is difficult to do so without allowing the academic perspective trivialize the culture that is being studied.

As the church began to fill, I noticed flashes going off. It turns out that the festival mass is a special occasion that brings the parishioners to church in their best clothes. The mass itself also included a great deal of parishioner participation. The church, which is not small, filled with people; some had to stand in the back. I suspect that all of these realities made today a photo-worthy occasion for the parishioners as well as me and so I felt a little less out of place taking pictures than I might have otherwise.

At the beginning of the mass, the head father came out and began to speak. The room got quieter as the parishioners began to listen to mass. At the same time, and much to my fascination, a younger priest came into the nave and entered the confessional closest to where I was sitting. During the mass, about five or six parishioners came to give penance. I was able to snap a few pictures and tried to be careful not be intrusive or to take photographs that would identify any of the confessing Catholics. In order to study confession responsibly, I think that I will have to respect the anonymity of the sacrament just as the church does.

I did learn some small pieces of information about the process of confession for the priest. The father who sat for confession today brought a book with him. When he arrived at the confessional, he turned on a light and closed the curtain, but he did not feel obligated to keep the curtain closed the entire time that he was hearing confession. At one point he had the curtain open and even appeared to be paying attention to the festival mass.

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