Christianity has several denominations but in order to understand it well I would like to focus on the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one or if not the oldest denominations of Christianity and also the most popular denomination. Due to its long historical background on Christianity it is an appropriate case study.so I visited St.Peters basilica church at around may this year and it was summer in the place with a friend of mine.at our time of visit the congregation was composed of generally everybody from the youth to the elderly.so we came across one of the altar boys who actually provided us with information on the structure and governance of the church, he had worked there from since he was around 10 years old so he really knew almost everything about the church.
Location and Affiliation
St. Peter’s Basilica is a church in Rome found near Janiculum Hill and in the west of the River Tiber. It is within the walls of the Vatican City. The church is surrounded by mostly residential houses. The congregation is about 60 years old where most come from the local community. It is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and traditions.
The congregation has socio-economic classes. From observations made I found that the church mainly has a large number of middle class people and very few high class and low class people since most of the congregation own small retail business that sell a variety of products from food stuff to clothes and ornaments and also most of the population work for a diplomatic service called the Holy See’s. So this means that most of them are either diplomats or small time business men or women. Most of the people there also either walk or use bicycles to move around and very few use vehicles. I also noticed that nearly everybody speaks Italian apart from very few who speak English, Latin German, French and Spanish. The population of the congregation of the church comprises of people from 15-60 years but many are in their mid-20’s and 30’s and are of both male and female gender and in balanced proportions. The congregation is comprised of faithful and friendly people who belief in Christian principles of obeying God’s word doing good, being and being friendly to others since that is what they did to us and all those who visited the church.
There are racial and ethnic variations of the congregation of the church. From the facts acquired from interacting with the congregation and the altar boy most of the people are white with very few being Latin, Africans and rarely any Asians. This means that one race is mostly dominant. In relation to ethnicity most of the congregation comes from the same place for example there are those from Rome and Italy, but ethnicity is not that common in the area.
Catholics have a way of designating areas that are sacred to them based on the Roman Catholic tradition. For example the St. Peter’s Basilica is the place where Saint Peter who was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus was laid to rest and also this is where the first Bishop of Rome who was the first in the now known papal succession was also buried. So as a result this is regarded as a sacred place to them.
The building and grounds are arranged in a certain manner to facilitate a sense of divinity. There is the St. Peter’s square which is huge and elliptical and in the center there is an obelisk about 25 meters tall. The obelisk is a symbol through which humanity stretches out to Jesus Christ. There is a double dome which rises to about 120 meters. Beneath the floor of the dome were tombs of Christians who were buried there giving it a divine meaning. In the central doors there is a large stout porphyry block on the floor. This is where Holy Roman Emperors and Charlemagne would kneel for their coronation in front of the tall altar of the old basilica. There is a nave which has pilasters that separate the nave from side aisles. These pilasters have niches whose insides have been filled with statues of those saints who started religious guidelines. In total there are 39 of these pilasters. As you go into the Basilica to your right is St Teresa of Avila who was a Spanish saint who created the order of Discalced Carmelites. These are just but examples of sacred places inside and outside of the St Peter’s Basilica.
There are areas also that are holy than others. For example the Baldacchino and papal altar where the remains of St. Peter are is more sacred than the St. Teresa of Avila mainly because of the roles each contributed to Christianity hence making St. Peter more important compared to St. Teresa of Avila.).While there are areas like St. Peters square where people are allowed to take a transition between sacred and secular activities. Also this is where people gather to rehearse the Angelus and accept the Pope’s blessing from his window.
The clergy sit or stand at pulpits or at the altars where he faces the masses and guides them in the activity of prayer.
There are also religious art objects and furnishings in the church. These art religious objects and furnishings are beautiful and it is through them that religious worshipers get motivated with the message of Christianity. Examples of such art include the 140 sculptures of saints that have been made over the years on top of the colonnade, the huge statues of Sts. Peters and Paul who were the patrons of Rome, the Holy Door which is the northern most door is made of bronze and which on top of it has writings. Other arts like the Pieta give messages as Christians here are reminded of the price they have to pay for their restoration and pray in silence.
The total number of people attending a church depends on its size. Like for example St. Peters Basilica would hold thousands of people but at the day we visited the place there were a couple hundreds of people. So the size actually depends.
The Roman Catholic Church has a chain of command that structures this religious institution which is spread all over the world and helps keeping all resources and people of the church in order.
The parish is the building block of the managerial structure. It is the geographical region that is surrounded by a catholic church or also the people who worship in that church. A parish may be made to serve people living in a particular region, linguistic or even ethnic groups. The parish follows a certain law called the Cannon Law. This is the law of the church and according to this law each and every parish has to have no less than one priest who presides over every activity of the church from celebrating mass, sacraments to standing as an operational leader of the parish
Parishes then come together to form a diocese which is headed by a bishop. This diocese may be part of a bigger grouping called an archdiocese (patriarchate) which is headed by an archbishop or patriarch depending on what size it is. The pope is overall head of the universal church.
The clergy have different roles and are appointed by different people. The bishop’s typical role is to provide idyllic authority for a diocese. The pope oversees the basis of unity of the bishops and the whole group of believers. He is tied to the obligation of strict loyalty to the teachings that have been conveyed down the centuries. He is ordained by cardinals below 80 years old at the death of his predecessor. Patriarchs have authority over bishops of specific churches and also over all faithful people. Cardinals are the church’s princes and are appointed by the pope. He chooses bishops and also gives the pope advice. Besides this clergy volunteers are hired by the church like altar boys and girls. This organization is different from others particularly in the way they relate to their pope.
Besides a weekly worship service they organize gatherings where people go and help out the local community for example cleaning of the town or area they are located in.
The Catholics have a certain way of conducting their services or mass prayers. It basically comprises of four major parts; introductory rites, liturgy of the word, liturgy of the Eucharist and the concluding rite.
Introductory rites: After people have gathered an entrance song is recited as the ministries and priests enter the church and head for the altar. The priest greets the congregation then he or another minister may introduce the day’s Mass. Then he blesses the water and moves in the church sprinkling on people while people sing another song by the time he finishes the song also stops .Then an opening prayer is said.
Liturgy of the word: It is now when biblical readings, homily, creed and intercessions are read and said. The first reading is said as people chant a song followed by a second reading as people acclaim. Then the homily comes where he talks about the day’s scriptures. Then people recite the Apostles’ Creed. Then comes the general intercession or the faithful’s prayer.
Liturgy of the Eucharist: this is when gifts are presented and the altar is prepared. So the gifts are prayed over and then the Eucharist prayer is said.
Communion rite: First the Lord’s Prayer is said then a peace prayer is said all by the priest and people respond with amen .Then the bread is broken as people recite certain words. Then finally the priest recites some words and then people receive the communion which is the consecrated wine and consecrated bread. Then the communion song is recited then silence is followed and a prayer follows and announcements are made.
Concluding rite: The priest greets people, blesses them and then dismisses them then a closing song is recited plus some instrumental music as the ministers and priest leave the church.
People discussed about loving their neighbors and enemy. Also people swayed from side to side and not most people expressed themselves verbally. Some people explained that God helped them in mysterious ways which made the rest even believe in and depend on God.
Stories about Abel and Cain which were later related to our life in the hereafter. Stories about the congregation were not told during the mass. There were also pictures of Jesus that illustrated Christian elements while later on there would be a class on one of the essential Christian narratives.
I noticed that there were ethics that should be followed by everyone and that they were from the bible.
Catholics emphasize on following Jesus’ ways.
Catholics belief they come from the followers of Jesus especially St. Peter and that they are going to heaven if they overcome sin through prayer and belief in God and his son.
Distinctive Features and Comparisons
The congregation practiced baptism which symbolized rebirth and also resurrection and forgiveness of sins was salvation. Their clergy had no spouses which was particular to them. Catholics are organized as compared to other churches when it comes to worship.
Surprisingly everybody was concerned about others welfare which made me feel happy about their actions and this is what I liked most but least is the racial imbalance of their community.
The project gave me a better understanding of the values of Christianity, life one should lead as a Christian and also that most of the core values are shared by most societies including the one I am a part of.
Barry, Rev. Msgr. John F (2001). One Faith, One Lord: A Study of Basic Catholic Belief. Gerard F. Baumbach, Ed.D. .
Matilda Webb, (Sussex Academic Press, 2001
Scotti, R. A. (2007), Basilica: the Splendor and the Scandal — Building of St. Peter's, New York: Plume
(2006), History of Italian Renaissance Art (6th ed.), Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall