Thursday, August 28, 2008

Church etiquette

FRIAR'S CORNER, August 31, 2008:

I heard a story recently about a study that showed that a majority of people seeking to enter the workforce are unaware of the proper etiquette for a job interview, and there are even classes now to teach you how to dress, act, etc. That got me thinking about a number of church etiquette issues that I have either observed myself or have received emails that say, “Father, everyone needs to know…” So, here are some good reminders for us all.

1. Yes, we still genuflect. Not too long ago, I overheard a conversation between parent and child. As they were entering a pew, the person in front of them genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament. The young person, who didn’t recognize this gesture asked, “What are they doing?” The parent responded, “That’s called genuflecting. We don’t do that anymore.” I am amazed at how many people enter the Church without genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament. It seems as though we become so casual in our approach to God and to Church that we lose sight of the fact that the Church is unlike any other place in the world because it is God’s House and God physically dwells there in His Divine Presence in the Tabernacle. We have to think sometimes, if I were approaching the Altar of God in Heaven, what would I do? I think we might crawl there recognizing our unworthiness to be in God’s Presence. It should be the same in Church. The standard practice is for us to genuflect when entering and when leaving the Church. Some people additionally genuflect every time the get up or return – this is a wonderful pious practice. Genuflection honors God and reminds us of where we are.

2. No shoes, no shirt, no service. Especially in the summer, we are used to seeing those signs in stores, but I’m often amazed at the way people dress in Church. I came across a photo from our Church taken in the 1970s. In this photo every man is wearing a tie and jacket and every woman is in a dress, many wearing beautiful Sunday hats. Now, I know that we no longer dress that way. But, surely, there is no need for shorts, tank tops, exposed undergarments and the like in Church. If the term “Sunday best” no longer has meaning in our society, at least we could dress as well for God on Sunday as we would for an employer at an interview.

3. Cell phones. I always love the commercials you see at the movie theater before the film begins. They have found very clever ways to remind us to silence our electronic devices. The same should be true in Church. I recently heard the theme to “Bonanza” playing out loudly on someone’s phone – and you know you can never quite find your phone when that happens. I know I’d be mortified if my ringtone – the theme to “Law and Order” – were to play out in the middle of Mass.

4. Gum and candies. I can’t tell you how often I look out into the congregation and see people chomping on gum or unwrapping and sucking on candies. This is so disrespectful of God’s House and even more disrespectful of the Eucharist. I have seen people chewing gum in line for Holy Communion. We should remember that we do still have a Eucharistic Fast – we are not to consume any food or drink (including gum or candies) for one hour before Holy Communion in order to properly prepare ourselves to receive Jesus.

5. Getting to Mass on-time. Speaking of properly preparing, it is very important that we get to the Church on time. Now, the occasional, unavoidable delay is not a problem. What can you do? But, it seems that some are chronically late for Mass. This should be the most precious hour of our week. It is our time to be built up as God’s Holy People, to hear His Word, receive the Body and Blood of His Son, and how often we come in 5, 10, 15 minutes late or more. In those cases, if we have come in late, out of respect for the Eucharist, we really should not receive, as we’re not properly disposed or prepared. I think of the words of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, “Could you not spend one hour with me?”

These are just a few examples. If you can think of more, send me an email (

Love, Fr. Tom

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