#11 — The Tactile Church

Georges de La Tour 011

Georges de La Tour: Büßender Hl. Hieronymus

I am aware of the tactile sensations of my body in a Catholic church in a way that I never was in any Protestant church.

Part of this goes back to my first experiences with Catholicism in Poland. Going to a Mass with someone — most often, K — I knew would be painful. It was not that I hated the liturgy or thought it a waste of time. I knew it would be physically painful: there was very, very rarely free space in any pew, so we spent the Mass standing or kneeling. On a stone floor, this was always tough on my already-injured knees and prematurely-paining back. It added an ascetic dimension to Mass.

Yet mortification of the flesh is not the only — or most common — sense that I think of Catholicism as tactile. Anointing, genuflecting, crossing oneself, baptizing, and kneeling all heighten, in one for or another, one’s awareness of the body. As a non-Catholic, I often feel the distinctness of my lack of action when the individual before me genuflects before entering the row of pews and I don’t, or when my neighbor crosses herself along with everyone else and I don’t.

I wonder if that would change were I to follow suit…

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