Everyday Religious Practice 3: Contesting Authenticity: Distant relatives and the Catholic Latin Mass

On an unseasonable warm spring day, a man dressed in a multiple layers of clothes: black coat, covered with flowing white robes and a scarlet red poncho, stands in front of a crowd. Behind him is a towering statue of a Jewish man who was believed to live 2000 years ago, and who was tortured to death by the soldiers of the Roman Empire. The man dressed in multiple layers believes that the statue represents one part of a three part deity that he worships. To his left is another statue, a polytheistic demi-goddess: a depiction of the mother of the Jewish man. Further to his left is a series of 12 paintings of the capture, enhanced interrogation and death of the Jewish man. In front of him is another, even more towering statue of the Jewish man reaching down from the clouds to pull another man up towards him.

The man dressed in multiple layers normally speaks in Latin, the language of the empire that killed the Jewish man, who he believes to be a god. This time he uses English to address the crowd, as he has an important message that they must understand. He says, “Our next meeting will be on Friday the 13th.” Pausing to make a joke, he adds, “I hope none of you are superstitious.”

I know the man dressed in multiple layers. He is my cousin. We went to high school together. I know that he was a peripheral member the high school community. He was persistently bullied with taunts about his alleged homosexuality. On this day, 41 people follow his every word. He has two assistants that hold and move objects for him. They also arranged and straighten his clothes when he moves. He is now a central figure in this church.

After the service is done, I speak to him for the first time in 23 years. Before I know it, some stupid words leave my mouth: “So, are you happy doing what you are doing?” He looks away and after five seconds walks away without saying anything.

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