Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Knowledge 2020 / Undergraduate Ethnography

Swapping Rigid Pews for Comfy Couches: Reorienting Catholic Practice during Pandemic Times, By Isabella Danielle (Ethnography of the University 2020: Focus on Knowledge)

This final paper was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2020: Focus on Knowledge”

It’s 4:45 pm on an autumn Saturday evening, and the Mass begins in fifteen minutes. As I walk up to the church’s robust Mahogany wooden doors, I am reminded that another week has passed. I’m greeted by Federico, a volunteer part of the parish’s Covid-19 committee, who checks off our names on the list and squirts no-name hand sanitizer into our palms. He jokingly asks, “Are you on the guestlist?” since he feels like a nightclub bouncer letting parishioners who reserved their place into the church to respect the government regulation of 25 people per building. I’m escorted to the first pew on the right-hand side. I have not sat this close-up since I was a kid, and all my friends and I would squeeze into the first pew wanting to be as close as possible to the altar. As children, we were intrigued by the church’s vintage wooden structure inspired by a ship’s hull. There is something still comforting about how the light from the chandeliers reflects off the stained-glass windows illuminating the church with a warm golden glow. The organ’s sound fades as the entrance hymn ends, and the priest’s confident voice projects from the speaker: “Hello to all those in the church, in the hall and online. Thank you all for joining us in this celebration!” 

The pre-COVID parish was constrained to the church, the building, and people who physically attended, but it has now become multi-sited. The parish expanded to include all those listening to Mass in the church’s hall, a gymnasium-like building on the other side of the church’s parking lot, and all those who watched the online Facebook live stream. As the beloved parish priest, Father K, shared, “if you would’ve told me two years ago that I would be live streaming Mass online, I would have laughed.” He was not alone in his sentiment since, for most people, the experiences lived in 2020 were unimaginable. The thought of face masks in grocery stores, home offices, online classes and Zoom holiday meals would have been dismissed as SCI-FI, but the current pandemic has rendered them a reality.

In March 2020, when the first lockdown occurred, and all non-essential institutions had physically closed and were operating remotely, the Catholic Church was no different. For instance, Fr. K, a 70-year-old priest known for his humorous and relatable sermons, quick temper and generosity, was one of Montreal’s first priests to transition to the online format, despite his admitted technological ineptitude. During the second week of lockdown, he streamed Sunday Mass from his kitchen table using his iPad and personal Facebook account. As the weeks progressed, with Pat’s generous help, a middle-aged man who was the parish’s I.T. wizard, they started to stream Mass from the church. Watching a Catholic Mass at home through a screen is not a new phenomenon since Mass has been recorded and televised for decades. However, what is unique is that parishioners are now able to watch a Mass streamed by their local parish priest from their parish altar. For many, it is very comforting to have a sense of community and hints of the familiar during these strange times. Regardless of whether in the physical church or the new online format, the experience of Mass and other Catholic practices has changed. Thus, as my research unfolded, I became interested in the question- what do COVID times reveal about everyday Catholicism? 

COVID as a revelatory crisis is a framework inspired by Jacqueline Solway’s article “Drought as a ‘Revelatory Crisis’: An Exploration of Shifting Entitlements and Hierarchies in the Kalahari, Botswana.” She argues that in times of crisis, the disruption to the status quo can expose existing problems in society, bringing them to the forefront and requiring them to be addressed. A crisis can equally be used to conceal and serve as an excuse for not resolving problems (Solway 1993,473). Nonetheless, when a crisis emerges, whether it’s a natural disaster like drought or a health emergency like a global pandemic, the conventional routine is disrupted, and “… actors are given license to innovate with social and moral ideological and behavioural codes. It is a time of experimentation; when taboos can be violated, moral codes flaunted, and tradition invented” (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983 as cited in Solway 1993, 473). Periods of crisis are moments of anti-structure, or as Victor Turner says, of liminality, being betwixt and between. The liminal state is filled with “potency and potentiality” because the anti-structure allows for “experimentation and play” (1979, 466). 

The pandemic forces people to make exceptions and experiment to find new ways to continue the rituals that give their lives meaning while also remaining safe. Apart from transferring online, Fr. K. had started an online Rosary prayer group and a Bible study group to help support the community through the pandemic. At a global level, the Pope had authorized the use of a spiritual communion prayer for those unable to receive the Eucharist- a quarter-sized wafer that Catholics believe through the transubstantiation becomes the body of Christ. So, in the same way that Fr. K was trying to find new ways to make Mass available, the parishioners were also finding new ways to watch and participate in Mass from within their homes. 

As an ethnographer-in-training, I was also getting experimental and playful with my methodology—the traditional route of “hanging out” with people in a social setting and interviewing them face-to-face was not an option. Thus, I had to rely on a variety of methods, the main one being virtual participant-observation. My field site was a quaint anglophone parish1 located in a Montreal francophone neighbourhood. The congregation has changed demographically over the years, but it currently consists of middle-class families and seniors with European origins. Many parishioners described the parish as a “family” or a “second home.” A parishioner shared, it feels like Cheers, the bar from the hit 80’s sitcom since when you walk in, “everybody knows your name,” alluding to the deep sense of community felt among the parishioners. I attended the in-church Saturday evening Mass over the last three months to observe how the ritual has been adapted to abide by COVID safety protocols. Most of my participant observation took place on Fr. K’s Facebook page since I could not socialize in-person with parishioners in the church. The Facebook page, which last I checked, had 1437 friends (i.e. people following his page), had become the hub of the community, which exemplified this transition from the in-person to the virtual. 

Apart from participating in the daily Facebook live events (i.e. Mass, prayer group, Bible study), I spent most of my time reading through comments left under the videos and throughout the page. The comments reflected how the parishioners felt and replaced the before and after Mass chit-chat. I also conducted about 20 interviews with parishioners through Zoom or phone calls. I facilitated two focus groups through zoom to understand how parishioners felt and navigated their faith during this time. My informants varied in age and gender from university students to retired seniors, the majority being middle-aged parents. They are all long-term members, and the majority are active parishioners who volunteer in some capacity (i.e. altar servers, choir members, Sunday school teachers). All my informants fell along the spectrum of “practicing” Catholics, which meant they all at least attended Sunday Mass weekly. However, some were more engaged than others by attending daily Masses, praying and reading the Bible throughout the week. Thus, having attended Mass in-person before lockdown and then transitioning to the online Mass format, my informants had interesting insights to share as they, too, grappled with the strangeness.  

Within the Anthropology of Christianity, Catholicism is often distinguished for its ritual materiality and its use of aesthetics (i.e. the sensory) compared to Protestantism, which is generally depicted as grounded in the literal interpretation of the Bible and authentic belief (Norget et al.2017). There is a known saying, “If you want a workout go to a Catholic Mass!” The saying alludes to the physicality that is interwoven within the Mass ritual. Throughout the hour-long celebration, participants sit and stand, kneel at specific parts, utter responses like “Amen” or “Thanks be to God,” and cross themselves. There is a certain etiquette expected by Catholics when listening to Mass, which they usually acquire as children by being immersed in the space and listening to verbal instructions from adults, in a similar way that students learn how to behave in a classroom. This type of behaviour is referred to as embodied knowledge or, as Bourdieu states, habitus. Habitus is related to the theory of practice since “… as practice insists, contrary to positivists materialism, that objects of knowledge are constructed, not passively recorded, and, contrary to intellectualist idealism, that principle of this construction is the system of structured, structuring disposition, the habitus, which is constituted in practice and is always oriented towards practical functions” (1990, 52). The pandemic disrupted parishioners’ daily practices and thus altered their habitus-embodied knowledge. The parishioners adapted by reorienting their sensory knowledge, adjusting their behaviour to the new spaces and shifting their concept of time. 

Sensory Knowledge: Reorienting the “Bells and Whistles” 

A Catholic church has a particular aesthetic, whether it’s an opulent Cathedral filled with gold and marble or a quaint wooden church. The parish was in the form of the latter. As one parishioner shared, she questioned if it was even a Catholic church when she first visited the parish because it was so humble looking. Nonetheless, the church still had the Catholic aesthetic, often criticized by non-Catholics as the “bells and whistles,” which are perceived as frivolous distractions and over ritualization. God can become “real” for some people through language and bodily experience acquired through learnt cognitive/linguistic behaviour, metakinetic experiences, and relational narratives between God and the devotee (Lurhmann 2004,520). However, for Catholics, one-way God becomes real is through the immersion of the senses, a means to experience the sacred and God’s grace. One interviewee, a twenty-year-old business student, explained that in his opinion, “people like something that they can grasp, that is tangible. Believing in God is something you can’t see, but you can see the pictures in the church, you can taste the host, and see the candles, which is reassuring.” 

The parishioners experience God through their five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. For instance, the parishioner’s sight is stimulated through images of Jesus, statues of different saints and images of biblical scenes on the stained-glass windows. They hear God’s word through the Bible passages read aloud and the hymns, whether played by the organist or sung by the choir. Their sense of smell is stimulated by the incense in the air, which is only used on special occasions at this particular parish, but there is always the smell of burning candles. Parishioners experience touch (in pre-COVID times) by dipping their fingertips into the holy water at the church’s entrance, by holding each other’s hands during the “Our Father” prayer, and when shaking hands as a sign of peace. Lastly, their sense of taste is stimulated when receiving the Eucharist, the body of Christ, a quarter-sized thin wafer that melts on one’s tongue- which is at the heart of the Catholic Mass. 

A Catholic Mass is an hour-long celebration divided into two parts: the liturgy of the word where passages from the Bible are read, particularly the gospel followed by the priest’s sermon, and the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is what defines a Mass. It is when the priest performs the miracle of the transubstantiation, where the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. However, during the pandemic, especially in the March lockdown, Catholics could not receive the Eucharist, and many were grieving this loss. Instead, they were given a prayer of “spiritual communion” to say in its place. This exemplifies the reorientation of the senses that many parishioners experienced through COVID since taste (i.e. Eucharist) and touch (i.e. community) were no longer possible and were shifted to the background. Sound and sight, being most conducive to the online Mass, were brought to the forefront, 

Despite the emphasis the literature places on the Catholic sensorium, many of my interviewees did not initially express missing the church’s senses as they had transferred to listening to Mass virtually in their homes. For many, it was an afterthought that surfaced only once I had asked them to speak about the senses. Adriano, a 20-year-old altar server and well-spoken university student, shared how he had not thought about the senses before our conversation, but after discussing it- they are part of what is missing from the online Mass. He shared that as a child, the church, as a space, was unique with the warm glow of the candles and the at times creepy statues of saints. However, 15 years later, the specialness has faded, and the church’s distinct aesthetic has become normalized like the senses. It is difficult for parishioners like Adriano, who have attended church from a young age, to reflect on the senses because they are taken for granted, deeply embedded and unconsciously used. This is typical of embodied knowledge since, as Bourdieu states, “what is ‘learned by body’ is not something that one has, like knowledge that can be brandished, but something that one is” (1990, 73). Thus, the earlier an individual is introduced to a practice (i.e. the ritual of Mass), the less aware they are of having learnt that said practice. The practice becomes naturalized-something they believe they have always known how to do (Bourdieu 1990,67). 

Most of my interviewees acknowledged that something was “missing” when watching Mass at home and that it was “not the same,” but it was not as disorienting as I expected. Many had found silver linings sharing how the home environment allowed them to concentrate and focus on the “word of God” being spoken. Louisa, an entrepreneurial middle-aged mother of two teenagers, was a little embarrassed to admit that she was often distracted when listening to Mass in the church. She found herself drifting off thinking about why people had walked in late, looking at what people were wearing and what was happening in the pew in front of her. Instead, she was much less distracted at home and focused on the words in the readings and the sermon. She felt that they were spiritually feeding her. Although she shared that she missed receiving the physical Eucharist, it was often something she took for granted, consuming it every week out of habit, without really thinking about the sacrifice it represented. Instead, with the prayer for Spiritual Communion, she is reassured by the words and as she said, “I feel the words going straight into my heart.” She even recalls one Saturday when Fr. K had accidentally forgotten to say the prayer, how disappointed and cheated she felt. Thus, for Louisa, the Eucharist remained central even without physically tasting it. Instead, she focused on meditating on the words uttered by Fr. K’s projecting voice, echoing the prayer’s opening line that Jesus is present in his word. 

Fr. K’s Prayer for Spiritual Communion: 

My Jesus, I believe that you are present, in your Word, in your Church, and in a special way in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. I love you and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come now spiritually into my heart. I embrace you knowing you are already there, and I unite myself wholly to you. Give me your strength, your peace and your love. Never allow me to be separated from you. 


From: Parish Bulletin- Sept. 2020 

Monica, a woman with deep faith and a different perspective than most of my informants since she recently finished missionary work, shared that she had grown spiritually in a way that “all that other stuff (i.e. the sensory) is just accoutrements.” She spoke into her black headset and looked straight into the camera, saying, “I found the essence. So, if I’m attending Mass online or attending it in person, I am attending it as a spiritual person, as opposed to as a human person.”  

Nonetheless, the senses serve as tools to shape a “spiritual person” and guide them in their faith, but as Monica shared, one can learn to go beyond them. COVID has challenged parishioners to reorient their senses to navigate the online Mass format. For some, like Louisa, it has brought them closer to discovering “the essence” of their faith- their relationship with God. However, others mourned the loss of the Eucharist and struggled to connect through their other senses. 

Space: the Virtual, the Sacred & the Domestic 

Adriano was lying on his bed while speaking to me over Zoom, and behind him, his black bed frame leans against his navy-blue poster-covered wall. He is tired of being in the same four walls since, due to COVID, his house was now also a classroom, a gym, and a church. He was grateful to have his part-time job at least, which provided a change of scenery. Adriano’s comment illustrates how people’s homes (i.e. living spaces) have become the center of their universe during this pandemic. The home serves a multipurpose function, a mixing of spheres, becoming more than a place to lay one’s head at night. 

The home, the domestic sphere, is ideally a safe space where parishioners are free to be their most authentic selves and to unwind. A person’s home has a sacred-like quality since it is likely to house what is most cherished both materially and sentimentally to its residents. Although the parishioner’s home is not Jesus’s home (i.e. the church), it is still a place that houses the sacred. The home is an example of an “‘infrasecular’ space” since it is a ‘sacred space’ with both a religious and secular function rendering it an interstitial and fluid space (Della Dora 2018, 59 as cited in Bryson et al. 2020, 361). Even before the pandemic, their weekly faith activities occur at home for most parishioners since they would only attend church on the weekend for the hour Mass celebration. They pray at their dinner table before eating a family meal or in bed before falling asleep or waking up. They read their Bible in their reading nook with their morning coffee. They now also attended Mass in their living rooms. The shift to the online Mass allows for the reorientation of the senses and ritual practice. For instance, the parishioners followed different sitting and standing practices through Mass, depending on which space the Mass took place. Thus, revealing that particular embodied practices are not embedded in the ritual itself but where and with who it takes place. 

When the church reopened at the end of July, Louisa experienced a bitter-sweet sensation. She was happy to be back in the church and see her fellow parishioners but anxious about COVID. However, the church was a shell of itself. The first time she walked in, she was taken aback by the green painter’s tape marking x’s on chairs and pews, indicating people not to sit on them. There was a makeshift gate that separated the altar from the parishioners, the candles were covered, and plastic hand sanitizer dispensers replaced all the holy water. These signs were visual reminders signaling the parishioners that they must abide by the COVID safety- protocol. Louisa also noted a false sense of community- “community without community” since only 25 people (about half the size of an average congregation) were allowed in the church. Socializing among parishioners was limited to distant waves, much different from the handshaking, hugging and kissing she was accustomed to. During the actual ritual of Mass, most of the actions remained the same. The parishioners said their responses aloud from behind their masks and stood and sat when appropriate following Fr. K’s cues. The only significant change was that a minister would bring the Eucharist to each pew instead of the parishioners lining up to receive it. However, the ritual of Mass had a completely different feel in the hall and in the parishioners’ homes. 

COVID Security-Oct. 2020-Fieldnotes 

The use of the parish hall as an extension of the church, allowing another 25 people to receive the Eucharist at each Mass, is an example of the experimentation and creativity that Solway argues crisis inspires (Solway 1993, 473). The hall is a standalone building separated from the church by the parish parking lot, which in pre-COVID times was used for the children’s Sunday school, the church’s social events, and it doubles as a sports gymnasium during the week. The traditional church aesthetics are practically nonexistent in the hall, resembling a high-school gymnasium with no altar or crucifix insight. Nonetheless, it allows the parishioners to safely listen to Mass as a community and receive the body of Christ, rendering it “church-like.”  

Parish’s Altar with the COVID Safety Measures- Oct. 2020- Fieldnotes
Parish Hall- Nov. 2020- Fieldnotes

 The hall has elements from both the home and church environment. Parishioners watch the Mass through the screen away from the priest’s gaze (like at home). However, they share space with community members outside of their households, making it more formal (like in church). Pat, the parish’s main I.T. wizard, who voluntarily sets up the hall each week and helps with the recording of Mass, was surprised that parishioners were sitting throughout most of Mass. It only was when Pat started to sit and stand that the rest of the parishioners followed his example. These parishioners displaced themselves to experience an “in-person” Mass and received the Eucharist, so I was also confused that the sitting and standing was not automatic. Pat assumed it was because they were spared of the priest’s gaze (being in the hall and not in the church), but once some parishioners started to sit and stand, once the community gaze stepped in, everyone else followed. Interestingly, parishioners did not automatically mimic the church’s ritual etiquette in the hall but defaulted to the one used in their personal spaces.  

Mass at Home – Dec. 2020- Picture from interviewee 

Adriano and many others shared that when they watch Mass at home, they sat throughout all of it, not really feeling the need to sit or stand. In the church, remaining seated through Mass would be taboo since standing at specific parts of the Mass is a gesture that signals both respect and adoration towards Christ. Parishioners who remain seated are usually those with health conditions or seniors. Otherwise, it can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect, protest, and a refusal to participate in the community. The sitting and standing is an example of a ritual norm that is broken without a consequence due to the COVID circumstances, echoing Solway’s notion that taboos can be violated in times of crisis. Many of my interviewees shared that they watch Mass in their living rooms, sitting on their couches with their families. Adriano shares that online Mass is a luxurious experience compared to the church’s hard-wooden pews. Overall, for him, it is a comfortable experience being at home away from both the priest’s and community’s gaze. Some parishioners shared that they created prayer corners in their homes with their Bibles, rosaries, and candles to recreate the Catholic sensorium. The online Mass is also portable and accessible as long as a person has a device and an internet connection. Thus, certain people listened to it while walking, others in the office cafeteria while on their lunch break and one person even admitted to listening to it in the bathtub. The Mass was no longer restricted to the church’s physical building. The online format allowed for flexibility, letting the parishioner decide where, when and how they wanted to listen to Mass. 

COVID has reoriented the parishioners’ senses as well as their embodied knowledge. The embodied practice of sitting and standing was revealed to be dependent on the place and the gaze rather than the ritual itself. Many interviewees did not feel that the sitting and standing added to the ritual. It is distracting for some, painful for others with health conditions, and many confided that they did so because they were told to, and they did not know the meaning behind the actions. So, the sitting and standing did not add to their experience of Mass. It was not a type of physical meditation. The sitting and standing is an example of a Catholic practice that parishioners have unofficially reframed during COVID. 

Although parishioners were attending Mass at home, many still spoke about “going to Mass or church” using verbs that signaled physical displacement. For instance, Mary, a very devoted retired woman, shared how she goes to five different Masses at five different churches each day. However, after speaking with her, I understood that she watched five different Masses broadcasted from five different churches on different platforms (i.e. Facebook, YouTube and the T.V. Catholic channels). Monica also shared that since COVID, she has been attending “Masses around the world!” On Sundays, she listens to Mass streamed from Ghana, then listens to one from Honduras, then tunes in to the Montreal parish’s Mass, then her local parish in Ontario. The online platform allows the parish to grow beyond the confines of the diocese boundaries. However, people who followed the parish on Facebook and watched the online Masses were never strangers. They usually had some prior physical connection at some point to the parish and or with Fr. K. For instance, many were Fr. K’s friends who lived in a different province or country and thus could not attend in-person weekly mass but could now support him virtually. Others had visited the parish during their holidays or had family members who attended the parish and shared the page with them. Fr. K was proud that he had people from all over the world who spoke different languages watching the Masses. Monica greatly benefitted from the online platform since she could now reunite with her communities and actively participate. As Monica reflected, she realized that all the parishes she virtually attended, she had at one point had physically attended through her many travels and thus felt a sense of community. Thus, the physical parish extends onto the online space, building from the in-person connections and networks. This local, quaint Montreal parish was both expanding outwards into the world through its online presence yet also retreating inwards as people practice alone in their homes. 

Time: Changing the Narrative 

It’s a Tuesday night, and I am hosting the second Focus group entitled “COVID-19 Check-in Part 2: How Do You Make Time for Your Faith During the Pandemic”. As I stare at my laptop screen, I see the same ten familiar faces in their individual zoom tiles. We just finished the ice breaker exercise where I asked, “Do you believe you have an unlimited or limited amount of time?” Nine out of the ten people raised their hand in agreement that they have a limited amount of time. In contrast, I was the only one to think otherwise. Echoing the Catholic narrative of the eternal afterlife, they all argued that their time as physical beings on earth was limited since it begins with life and then ends with death. Although time is measured on a 24 hours basis, the perception of what can be accomplished in that time changes depending on the individual. COVID had altered for many their perception of time even beyond the Catholic context since the events that usually marked the passing of time (i.e. summer trips, parties to celebrate birthdays) had changed.  

Fr. K raises his hand to speak, unmutes himself and shares, “it’s a matter of time. People’s time is important to them.” This comment might seem obvious and banal, but COVID had revealed to Fr. K that people value their time. Before COVID, Fr. K would often lecture that we had enough time- “It’s just a matter of prioritizing one’s time.” He would often explain to parents that in the same way they organize their weekend around their child’s hockey practice, they could also schedule time to attend Mass, pray and feed themselves spiritually. He was pleasantly surprised by the number of views and comments that the Mass, the Bible study, and the rosary prayer group received. Fr. K expressed how even weekday mass attendance has significantly increased. Before the online format, two or three senior parishioners would attend the church for the Tuesday 9 am Mass. Now, he will have 20-30 viewers listening to Mass. Thus, he realized that people are interested in growing their faith. It is just a matter of timing. 

As Adriano shared with me, one of the positives about COVID was that he no longer had his hour-long bus and metro commute to and from school each morning. Instead, he could roll out of bed, take two steps to his desk – flip open his laptop and voilà, he was in class. Whether it was school or church, the online format does not oblige people to leave their homes. Thus, they do not need to factor in the time to get ready, commute to and from the church, the socializing after the meeting, which turns an activity like a one-hour Bible study into a 3-4 hour event. It has also become more accessible to seniors who are too tired or feel uncomfortable commuting to the church at night. Parents with young families also find it more accessible since many have the children’s’ after-school routine after a long day at work, making it difficult for them to get to the church by 7 pm (the time these events usually started). The parishioners can now choose to watch Mass at their convenience, whether it’s the live stream or the recording. As Valeria shared, she is no longer stressed on Sunday mornings to get to church on time. She would generally rush her children to get dressed and out of the house and still arrive 5 minutes late, to her dismay. Now once everybody was ready, she could just press play! Thus, parishioners no longer had to plan their weekends around the Mass schedules but could fit the Mass -in when it worked best, even if that was on Monday during their lunch hour. 

Throughout my interviews, expressions using the word time and alluding to the passing of time or a period in time were ample. For instance, “these are difficult times,” “ we must take it one day at a time,” “ it saves me time,” “during the first lockdown,” “after COVID.” However, as I listen to my informants, the “time” they claimed they were “saving” (i.e. the commuting, the lingering after Mass) was also the “time” they were “missing”- the in-person contact ( i.e. greeting people before Mass, sharing a story after Mass). For many, Mass had become efficient like an episode of a Netflix series. They had various Masses and prayer groups at their fingertips that they could watch at their leisure, yet the Mass “convenience” came at the expense of the much-desired community-feel. During Sunday mass, the “aliveness” felt that many parishioners missed could only occur if they all gathered during a specific time at a specific place. 

Conclusion: The Aftermath of COVID 

Research during a crisis is challenging because the informants themselves are in that moment of creativity as they disobey taboos and invent new practices to adapt to the fluctuating circumstances. The informants can only comment on the short-term effects in the same way that I, as a researcher, had only access to the current circumstances of the parish and its past. Would the parish continue its multi-sited existence as the church, both the building and the community, the hall and the online? Will parishioners return to sit in the church’s ridged pews once the parish fully reopens (i.e. without the safety restrictions), or will they continue to watch from their couches?  

At this moment, the long-term consequences of this pandemic and how it will affect this parish are only speculations. For instance, Fr. K has mentioned that he plans to continue streaming Mass even when the church can reopen at full capacity. Therefore, the online component is one long-term change that the pandemic has brought to this parish. COVID revealed that for many parishioners at this Montreal parish, their sensory and embodied Catholic practices are not grounded in the ritual but within the temporal and spatial context in which the ritual takes place. Thus, the new spaces like the hall or their living rooms allowed them the flexibility to alter their ritual actions and reorient their senses to accommodate this new COVID reality. 


Please note to respect the confidentiality of my informants, all the names used throughout the paper are pseudonyms, and the parish remains unnamed. To further disguise informant’s identities, certain details have been altered and or merged with other informant’s details to create a character. This final paper would not have been possible without the parish’s support and generosity: the priest and parishioners who kindly took time to speak with me. I am also grateful to Professor Li and my peers from the Ant 6200- Ethnographic Practicum course, who assisted me throughout the whole ethnographic process and whose insights enriched the project.  


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The Logic of Practice. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.  

Bryson, John R, Lauren Andres, and Andrew Davies. 2020. “Covid-19, Virtual Church Services and a New Temporary Geography of Home.” Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie 111 (3): 360–72. 

Luhrmann, Tanya M. 2004. “Metakinesis: How God Becomes Intimate in Contemporary U.S. Christianity.” American Anthropologist 106, no. 3: 518–28. 

Norget, Kristin, Valentina Napolitano, and Maya Mayblin, ed. 2017. The Anthropology of Catholicism. Oakland, Ca: University of California Press. 

Solway, Jacqueline S. 1994. “Drought As a “Revelatory Crisis’: An Exploration of Shifting Entitlements and Hierarchies in the Kalahari, Botswana.” Development and Change 25, no. 3: 471–95. 

Turner, Victor. 1979. “Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6 (4): 465–99. 

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