On Mass and Moshpits

I’ve thought about this, on and off over the years, and while I tend to be fairly loathe to really get into it about anything to do with religion 1, I figure sometimes you have to gather your thoughts and brain-dump them somewhere.

That and I’ve never been one for paper journals. Child of the internet and all that.

Plus I’ve been reading The Power of Place by Winifred Gallagher which touches briefly on some of the thoughts that I’ve had.

So. What was I thinking about? Mostly, the similarities between the experience of being in a moshpit and of going to Mass. Admittedly,  it is possible that there isn’t an obvious connection. For the most part, I suspect it’s a very subjective thing – which, yes, that is entirely what experiences from my viewpoint are. That’s the thing with personal experience. 😉

To begin: The first proper gig I went to was AFI’s Nightmare After Christmas 2 show at the London Astoria in January 2002 – before that, I’d been to the Reading Festival a couple of times. I would have been 17. It was amazing. AFI were and still are a band that I love with all of my heart – in the way that the bands you love as a teenager stay with you for the rest of your life and for me, it’s not just the music they made then, when I first got into them. I’m lucky enough that the direction their music has taken has coincided with the spread of my own taste in music.

Being there at the front, surrounded by other fans of AFI, was a phenomenal experience. It felt kind of transcendent – like we all had the same joy in our hearts and were all part of the same one thing. Which I suppose we were – we were all in the same crowd, pressed together with all the heat and sweat of the pit, connected by love of the same band. I’ve had the same kind of feeling at other gigs since then – usually when I’ve seen AFI but also at a few Alkaline Trio and Gaslight Anthem gigs. I think there’s something special about the first band to really grab your heart though.

Now, as some of you might know, I’m Catholic. I believe in God, transubstantiation, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, blah blah blah and all that.  I go to church on Sundays and holy days of obligation. I go on pilgrimage to Walsingham every year 3.  I don’t feel especially religious 4, but I guess to a lot of people I am due to my somewhat active involvement with my faith. On the other hand, I guess since I’ve got a foot in the door, I get to see all the other people on the inside who are far more involved and active and who I would consider as “religious”. Now, that feeling of almost transcendent oneness is a feeling that I sometimes feel at Mass – mostly when singing certain religious songs, hymns or particularly rousing requiem Masses in Latin. It’s a thing that happens.

Now, I’m sure I had a point (other than this whole thing being a bit interesting) back in August when I started writing this post – but I remember that I got interrupted halfway through and it’s been sitting in my drafts ever since. I figured I should at least round it off a little and release it into the wild.

To finish, however, is a comment I posted on Frank Turner’s reddit AMA on a thread where someone was asking about reactions to his atheist hymn “Glory Hallelujah”.

I really like Glory Hallelujah as a song. I also really like singing along at gigs – it gives me a comparable high/buzz to when I’m really into it singing in Latin about death on Good Friday at church or like…a really good worship hymn that doesn’t make me cringe while I’m singing it.

I have discovered that I can’t sing along to Glory Hallelujah. At all. I open my mouth and nothing comes out. I think my brain short-circuits at the paradox.




1 Because, hey, each to their own really, so long as it doesn’t impact negatively on others.

2  Which after a bit of searching is apparently the greatest show that AFI ever did. Or so I am told.

3 This one is a story all on its own, involving the unlikely but apparently somewhat miraculous event of my conception. Probably not one for sharing all the details.

4 There’s probably also a story here where I talk about how atheists/agnostics I know have told me how “normal” I seem for a practising Christian, how with the blue hair etc I look a little unconventional and how my faith, appearance and taste in music are all tied into not caring if I’m like anyone else.

Author: Rachel

half-girl, half-robot

4 thoughts on “On Mass and Moshpits”

  1. I envy you that feeling, at least at Mass. It's been a very long time since I felt anything but a faint disgust during an actual Mass (funerals are a different matter, of course). I can see the connection you're making though, that sense of shared experience that is so important to religion and to a good gig in equal measure. I do remember similar feelings as a youth at Mass, especially during the really good celebrations we had under the best parish priest St Teresa's ever knew (when a Church is packed to bursting and celebrating it's a powerful feeling). I imagine those at the Nuremberg Rallies would have had an interesting viewpoint to contribute too about the power of shared experience. Music is integral to all of these things, it provides a common point that can carry you into that feeling. Celebrations of faith without hymns always feel flat to me, without power.

    I know what you mean about the difference in perception of what "religious" means too. If you say your rosary every day and go to Lourdes each year, then you might just qualify for my version of "religious". Not to say I think you need such trappings to be a person of faith, and I've known far too many people clothed in religion who wouldn't know faith if it hit them in the face to really put much stock in that. But when people say "Wow, that person is really religious" I don't think "they go to Church", I think statues of the Sacred Heart, prayers before the Blessed Sacrament, etc. Such things come from a strange starting point. though – I was nearly a priest, after all, and never really considered myself "religious".

    1. I suspect it takes a very very special place/community/speaker to generate a similar kind of power within a religious celebration – the book I mentioned talks about the way natural places like forests, mountains and oceans have a certain resonance for people and I think that part of why places like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls are so …um.. epic, are the way they overwhelm you. Now, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls can accomplish this via the sheer scale of them (as with oceans and mountains). With man-made places, if it's not scale, then I think it has to be a combination of sensory overload – so within a religious context and a gig-going context, it's the combination of the sound heard (and I believe felt – the volume at a gig means you can feel the music, and when singing you generate that vibration yourself) and the good-feeling/devotion you feel towards the subject of whatever event you are at.

      Yeah, just "going to Church" is essentially meaningless without the intent behind it. Plenty of people go to Church every week but perhaps they only do it out of habit or because someone is compelling them to do so. Without the willing engagement with the spiritual aspect, I don't think it really counts as religious. It's a fuzzy line though what with being unable to quantify belief etc etc

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