In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. Therefore he is to visit families,.. strengthening them in the Lord..” (Code of Canon Law’,529,1). Poland is a profoundly religious country where approximately 90% of the population is a belief of the Roman Catholic church (Religion’, n.d.). Religious traditions are strictly practiced over generations, often unmoderated throughout the pass of time. One of those practices is a pastoral visit in the homes of his parishioners, where the priest accompanied by the altar boys visits the houses of families within the community in order to bless them and their households.
On the day of the visit, families prepare religious objects necessary for the ritual, as well as the objects they wish to be blessed. As the pastor arrives, the ritual begins with carols, brief conversation about the householders’ wellbeing and worries, afterward the priest blesses the house and its residents, wishing them Lord’s goodwill for the upcoming year.
The ritual ends by the parishioners handing in an envelope’ to the priest with the sum they wish to donate to the church (Mfa, Christmas Carol).
The following exchange of the envelope and blessing is a form of gift exchange and reciprocity, as it builds a connection between people and demonstrates moral value.Throughout the length of this paper, several concepts and theories will be discussed in order to understand the enigmatic motives and intentions of the gift exchange during the pastoral visit in Poland by applying the concept of substantivism, which is the suitable way to view Poland when taking into the account how important church is for the people.
The paper will also examine the social and moral human nature models, in order to explore whether the gift exchange is driven by the hope of social acceptance or guided by faith and moral righteousness. However, it is important to acknowledge that this paper will be looking at the priests and parishioners’ actions and intentions in the light of moral and pure Christian posture, not including now so common actions of wrongdoing in the name of religion or people who are a part of Christian society while lacking the faith and not following it morals and values.
While investigating the nature of gifts and reciprocity, no other insight is as relevant as the one by Marcell Mauss’s which he provided in his book ‘The gift”.
Mauss’s understanding of gift giving and reciprocity states that no gift is for free, the gift will want to return to its original giver and that people feel obliged to reciprocate. From the other side, gift exchange can enhance a relationship and tighten its bonds, as it requires effort, is intimate and represents gratitude (Mauss, 2011). Another relevant concept has been developed by Marshall Sahlins in his book Stone Age Economics’ and consists of three types of reciprocity. The three types of reciprocity are generalized, balanced and negative (Sahlins, 1972). Although this paper will only have a focus on one of them, generalized reciprocity. Generalized reciprocity enhances the gift giving process without taking into the account how much has been given. The gift reciprocity is not immediate and it does not keep the track of the amount exchanged. Often occurs within the family, where parents provide for their children, possibly with the hope of some of the care returned back when needed in the future (Wilk & Cliggett, 2007). This type of reciprocity tightens the bonds within the parties included. This concept helps to understand how the relationship between parishioners and priests works, as well as the instance of reciprocity.
The three models of human nature consist of the self-interested, social and moral model and have been described by Richard Wilk and Lisa Cliggett in their book ‘Economies and Cultures: Foundations of Economic Anthropology”. The three models present what drives human motives. The self-interested model assumes that human beings in nature are selfish and will put their own well-being before anyone else’s. The social model adopts the belief that humans are social beings and need to create social bonds and structures including institutions, such as church or school. The moral model as the name suggests, that one’s belief of righteousness is what drives one’s motives (Wilk & Cliggett, 2007). The social and moral model are the most relevant to the concept of the pastoral visit and its intentions, motives and how it matters for social structure. Formalism and substantivism are the last concepts covered throughout the length of this paper. They were proposed by Karl Polyani in 1944. Formalist approach by Polyani includes the maximization of wealth, taking the capitalist and neoclassic position. While the substantivism approach comprehends more than just market as the base of people’s livelihood strategies. It accepts that institutions such as church take their share of national income as the people choose their morals and values to drive their economic share.
An example of this is the church and how embedded economy is with this religious institution. In the aspect of the economic-religious institution, the economy can be associated with kinship and tight community (Wilk & Cliggett, 2007).AnalysisIf returning a gift is an nearly an obligation, then why do it at all (Mauss, 2011)? This is one of the questions that Marcell Mauss asked, the answer for it can differ depending on the country’s culture. First of all, above all the cultural diversity, gifts, in general, strengthen the bond between people. Gift exchange represents to some extent one’s contribution to the case and how utterly one is engaged. Back forward to the case of problem, assuming that the pastoral visit did not occur, the priest does not visit parishioners home once a year, and solely passes his blessing during the Sunday’s mass as well as the monetary donation would be only collected during the regular Sunday, neither of the sides would have an adequate way to show appreciation and care. Moreover, without this whole ritual of the pastoral visit, no intimate link between the two parties would have existed.
As mentioned previously, during the visit, the priest is informed from the residents about their sorrows, illness and joyful events , therefore without being on day to day contacts, he is still able to keep a tight relationship with the people from the parish, at the same time giving the possibility for people to cleanse themselves and houses, as well as to keep their status within the society. Hence the gift exchange circulates and peaks during the day of visit and the gift is returned back to the family under the form of a blessing, where for a religious person, a blessing can be more precious than material goods or wealth. The quantity of monetary donation to the church is objective and can vary from house to house, and from a year to year, depending on circumstances, and therefore no precise expectation is required of the people besides ‘give what you care” (the literal translation from the Polish language).
Since you give the amount which represents your care, and in traditional and idea Christian Catholic demeanor, the care for the church and the its surrounding society is great, the relationship between the priest and the people is also great, thus it can be considered as a relationship on a level of relatives, since both parties included care for each other, provide blessing/monetary support when needed, this type of bond can be almost seen as nearly family-like bond. Hence the generalized reciprocity discussed by Mauss comes to relevance. Just like described by Wilk and Cliggett, parishioners provide for the church, in hope of ‘love, affection and care” and the other way around (Wilk & Cliggett, 2007, p.162).
Additionally, Wilk and Cliggett state that generalized reciprocity is an occurrence within the closest family, in the Polish language, the priest beside the corresponding, literal translation of this word, is also referred to as ‘Father’, hence once again representing the dear and tight relationship. The social model about human nature shares characteristics with the studied population group, for instance, mutual beliefs, sacrifice for the greater good and the formation of groups that one can belong to are what makes parishioners fit under the social model of human nature. However, the moral model seems to explain more in depth why would the people receive a Catholic missioner at home and donate the money to an institution. Compared with the social model, there is no much room for self-interest in the moral approach.
No fear of isolation or simple desire to belong to a group and therefore participating in religious rituals is a way of the moral path. A simple explanation, yet the most likable to comprehend why people participate and invite the priest home is because it is a moral and thus the right thing to do. The moral model provides more holistic insight into the nature of the pastoral visit, compared to the social model, as it is the closest to the pure faith, where one truly believes and follows the righteousness path at the same time it being the moral way. The motives behind the pastoral visit when implied with the moral model are an illustration of faith, morality, and decency, while the social model can stand for more unclear and depending from person to person motives, whether those are staying within the social group, hope for better privileges or upgrading the social status. A moral stand by Catholic followers is to share goods with those that need it more, no selfishness and staying on the right path leading to heaven.
When looking for an answer whether Poland is a formalist or substantivist country, one needs to understand the importance that the Catholic church plays in the state and households. According to substantivism view, the country as religious as Poland places a lot of its economic share in the church. Therefore, it can be argued to see Poland in the view of substantivism rather than formalism, as people do not behave in a way of maximizing resource of wealth since they contribute their economic share to the religious institution.
The average wage in Poland in the year 2018 was approximately 3530 PLN (830 Euro) (Average salary in Poland – 2018 report’, n.d.), although around 13,5% of all Poles did not earn more than the minimum wage which is around 1850PLN (430 Euro) (Bankier.pl, 2018) .Yet it is often common for those that have the least, to contribute the most in the church and parish, specifically meaning the countrysides and provinces. This illustrates that the poorer ones instead of maximizing their wealth, they instead choose to distribute their earnings with the church and the parish, in the belief of morality and affection for the religious community. Conclusion The enigmatic ritual of gift exchange during the pastoral visit is more complex than just simple exchange of goods with friends and family, yet it is a well-known tradition that occurs in approximately 90% of houses in Poland every year.
The motives behind the gift exchange of blessings and monetary donation can have different motives, yet when looking at the ideal Christian Catholic posture, the motive is shown by the moral model of human nature, where the parishioners and the priest exchange gifts in the name of morality and doing the right thing. To some extent, the model of social human nature can also aid to understand why this old tradition is so important to Poles, as the greater good and common belief help people tight their bonds and provide a base for a functioning religious society. Within this tight society, generalized reciprocity occurs, as the priest is often seen nearly as a member of the family, who attends important events and provides aid and blessing when needed. At last Poland can be seen in the view of substantivism as people give the share of their income to the institutions in the name of morality, community and rigorousness, rather than trying to maximize one’s wealth. This tradition is not well known in western society, and therefore, might not be utterly reliable, as not enough research has been done yet on expanding the topic. Although, a visible connection has been found regarding the theories used and the matter of the paper.