Sunday, March 6, 2011

How Can You Reach People Who Don't Know How to Behave in Church?

We have had the Traditional Latin Mass at our parish for a little under 18 months.  On some Sundays following the Mass, one of the families in the parish arrives to baptize their baby, and that's where you see the collision of two worlds. During the minor elevation today, I had what sounded like an argument taking place on the steps of the church.  I quickly deduced that the offenders were probably part of a family there to Christen a child.  Sure enough, as we exited church, there was an extended family with an adorable baby girl, waiting to come inside.

One of the young women was so scantily clothed, that I had to stop myself from stopping her from entering the church. She was carrying a small child, and all I could think of was that if the child got the least bit squirmy, she was going to lose what little of a top she was wearing.  It's not the first time we've seen women about to enter the church in clothing I wouldn't even call appropriate in a burlesque club.  I know this is deeply disturbing and offensive to the priest, who is thinking first and foremost of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Yesterday, at the Adoration chapel following Mass, a man seemingly wandered in and began talking to himself out loud, or so I thought.  Actually , he had a headset on, and was talking to someone else.  He was oblivious to the fact that people were trying to pray and that the Blessed Sacrament was exposed.   He walked up to a  priest who was trying to spend some time in thanksgiving before Jesus and asked him if he was the pastor. I didn't hear the response, but the priest left, and shortly thereafter, the pastor arrived.  Believe it or not, the man was a funeral director who had arrived early to set up for a funeral.  I'm sure it wasn't his first time in a Catholic church, yet you'd never believe it.  I was never so glad as when the pastor arrived and gave him a lesson in appropriate behavior in front of the Eucharist.

A priest recently lamented to me about the lack of appreciation (for lack of a better word) for the sacraments and Mass.  "People", he said, "seem to have no realization whatsoever that they're in the presence of God."
I told him that in our particular community, I think the sacraments like Baptism, First Holy Communion, and even funerals are nothing more than a cultural rite of passage and an excuse to have a party, at least for some.  How else do you explain people who baptize their children, and then never bring them to church again unless it's Christmas Eve or time to make First Holy Communion?  And how do you change that?

One thing I've noticed is that when a family arriving for Baptism ventures into the church before the conclusion of the TLM, they seem to know they'd better not carry on or say a word.  At first, you might hear some conversation  as they enter, but the demeanor of the congregation quickly lets them know it's inappropriate.  The same thing happens when some of the chatter-boxes who normally go to the Ordinary Form of the Mass attend the TLM.  Maybe it's the women in veils and the men in suits or the perfectly behaved children, but whatever it is, they quickly get the idea that their usual behavior at Mass would be unacceptable here.  The trick is, how do we get them to see that it's inappropriate at the Novus Ordo as well?

I'm simply not the kind of person who can say "Oh, well, so long as I'm on the right track, who cares about the rest of them?"  I feel very strongly that I will be held accountable not only for my own actions but for my influence on others.  The lukewarm souls are the ones Our Lord confided to St. Faustina pain Him most of all.  What can I  do to change that?

I must be a Catholic that others will want to emulate.  I must learn to be reverent without being dour.  I must learn to be committed without being extreme.  I must learn to be prayerful without seeming aloof.  I must be charitable in correction without the use of snide sarcasm.  And I must first acknowledge my own shortcomings and ask God for the grace to bear such strong resemblance to His Only Son that it's Him  they see, and not me.


  1. I completely agree with you on every example you gave here. People like that should be confronted, at least before or after mass. I don't have a problem with casual dress, but trampish is not proper at all, and that goes for men too.

    I did have a contrarian opinion on a similar subject with a nun who wrote an article on being quiet after mass. Her article is an interesting read, though I disagreed. Here's the link.

    Can some of you read her article and my comment? Do you agree with me or should I rethink it?

  2. Actually, Manny, I agree with Sister. Now, that's not to say that I think churches should be unwelcoming, nor do I say there are never exceptions to the rule. For instance, there are times when charity dictates that I must speak, but it's how I speak that can make the difference. At the early morning weekday Mass, a man approached me because he was having a medical problem and he knew I was a nurse. So when he began his question in a volume of voice that I would use at work but never in church, I simply lowered my voice to a whisper and invited him outside so we could speak at length. I told him I was glad to help him, but that I felt uncomfortable talking in church while others are trying to pray.

    Assuming that Mass ends no more than 10 minutes after we have received Jesus in the Eucharist, and that He remains with us for about 15 minutes, is it asking too much to want silence so people who wish can continue to acknowledge His presence and communicate with Him? I don't think so.

    Now, I also know that there are many lonely people in this world and that church is perhaps the only time they socialize with others. Speaking to an elderly person who lives all alone is quite different from the folks who like to yuk it up after Mass like they're on the sidelines at their kids's softball games. But again, the more we become nonchalant about how we behave AFTER Mass, the more disruptive behavior and chatter is likely to invade before and even during the Mass. We have 6 days and 23 hours to serve one another. I think we can figure out how to do that and reserve the one hour God asks for silence and recollection.

    Anyway, thanks for sending the link Manny and for your courage in asking the question. It's a good one and I hope I didn't sound too harsh in my response. We help one another and we learn from one another or else this blog is just a bullhorn for me to shout my own opinions.
    God Bless!

  3. 3 months ago I felt the strong call to
    start going to Mass which led to a late
    arrival in thing that I found
    difficult was screaming babies and kids
    who will not stop whispering and fighting
    in a pew...during the homily no less.

    Now I am used to it...and I enjoy the
    noon mass at OSJ because it is such
    a reverent Mass for adults and all that
    rubs off on me as a is
    only the Sunday Liturgy that I sometimes
    struggle with...

    Last year I was preparing for Baptism
    in a Presbyterian community and there
    was a lot of noise as well, but this
    particular,"church", was geared towards
    that type of thing.

    I have been to the TLM that you attend
    just twice, and the difference is really
    remarkable compared to what happens at
    OSJ sometimes....I have not found a more
    reverent Novus Ordo Mass in center city,
    (OSJ)though I am sure there are plenty in
    old south Philly.

    I like what you say about having respect
    for those who are trying to commune with
    the general atmosphere of the sanctuary
    through the Real Presence.

    People are idiots, and I have been one of
    them so I am careful not to judge.



  4. Not harsh at all Joyce. I need to think over what you said and then come back. I really have mixed feelings.

  5. I agree with Manny in full; his reasoning is sound, and I dare say "Christ-like".

    I have no clue where this "He remains with us for about 15 minutes" comes from, but there is no basis in that belief at all. Christ is eternal and does not work time shifts. His temple is not a glorious parish church; His temple is man. He dwells within us. In all my years, I have never heard of this time frame for Christ to stick around, and disappear, as if He finished the meal from travelers on the Road to Emaus, Easter Sunday, and disappeared when he broke the bread and gave thanks.

    There was a time of cultural control over people.
    In 1973, when Arabs raised gasoline from $4 a barrel to $12 a barrel, folks were asked to be patriotic and drive at 55 mph. They did! And woe unto any driver who went faster. People ganged up in them. Conformity was the name of the game.

    So too with church protocal. Long ago, it was known to the moment, as was dress. But Vatican II opened that up and all churches responded globally in their own way. Teachers of the faith no longer taught a uniform style, and pastors ran a continuum from old style to anything goes. No wonder folks got mixed messages.

    Culturally, sex sells and Victoria's Secret is not a secret anymore.
    But caution is in order.

    I watched a baptism and the infant was over a top font, that ran over with water into a lower pool of water and recycled to the top. A sister watched her baby sister being baptised, leaned over the pool (she may have been 4-ish) and SPIT into the baptismal water. I was catatonic and in disbelief. The family laughed at the antic. My judgment was swift, and I am grateful to this day I shut up.

    I later learned the spit girl is bi-polar; the family deals with consequences of the illness daily. It was a moment of disrespect to be sure, but a moment of almost relief to the family, that something worse failed to materialize.

    As for adios after Mass, there is no greater danger than a Catholic parking lot after a Mass. It is Daytona 500 behind every wheel of every driver to escape away first.

    Manny, and visitors, and newbies, must decide for themselves what Christ would do, not what doctrine says. Christ would likely smile and say "hello my this not a glorious day?".
    He would talk.

    He also remains in His temple....YOU, unless you ask Him to leave. Indeed, His indwelling is what is so appealing to people as they see "something" in you, that they want in their lives too.
    They see Christ in you.

    [If they don't, consider yourself among the lukewarm that HE will SPIT from HIS mouth one day]

    "'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!
    So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."
    ~~~Revelation 3:15-16

    If He hangs around but 15 minutes, something is dreadfully wrong.

    Clothing? God knows all of our bodies, but we need more than 2 band aids and a cork to wear at church,...which is more than I saw on some Florida beach coeds. I would suggest some casual sweaters on hangers at the entrance for people not fully dressed, and an usher escort them to enjoy wearing the clothing and please feel free to hang it up for others who come, to meet with Christ at the church, another day.

    Do this with gentleness and a smile, and welcome them to return, maybe even sit with you...
    unless you are one of the catholic "pew possessors".

  6. My dear mother would wack me if I wasn't silent and still at mass. I think that sticks with you for the rest of your life. But what of the entire generation who were taught that they came to mass to "feel good?" I don't know how they make that huge paradigm shift to it not being about them, but about God.

    Maybe some scathing homilies from priests? I visited a SSPX parish a long time ago and the homily was about how to behave at mass. Though I never went back to that church, I have never forgotten that homily.

  7. If the situation with the funeral guy was at St. Rita's--I have always been struck by the combination of sternness and charity with which the priests there deal with the wide variety of folks that frequent their church.

    Joyce, if you are ever at my parish for a baptism, hold onto your hat. I also dislike all the holiday masses for that reason, and confirmations, etc. I could tell you a story about a foot washing several years ago!....ugh it makes my hair stand on end. So many of the people there are ones that are not at mass any other time,and simply don't know how to behave. Our deacon even comes to the mic and instructs them and they STILL carry on. It is hard when they outnumber the rest of us, to have influence over them. I try to be sort of a black hole of silence, in order to stand out in contrast.
    Sometimes I am torn about the topic of dress and decorum in church, because I was there once! Nobody made me feel as though I was doing something wrong, but God just worked on me. In fact, one of the things that allowed me to come back to God in the Catholic Church, was the fact that I wasn't micromanaged along the way. (Some Evangelicals can tell you about the "brother or sister, do you have sin in your life" approach, I guess since they don't have confession, the substitute is to pry into your life, and determine your standing int eh Kingdom). The Church allowed me time to grow and for God to do His work in me, and I always felt welcome. Now, no I didn't dress like a tramp, but still, I have made changes along the way, and I'm sure I'm Not Finished Yet. :)
    I still get upset at the extreme cases though, and we have plenty of them!
    Manny I am going to go and read this comment you speak of....

  8. Okay I read it. I did see that piece before. I do believe that the church itself isn't the place. There needs to be respect for the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, even when there is not a mass going on. BUT!! _a little story_("where does she get all this time?, you are thinking, simple, I should be doing other things, LOL)

    When I go and visit my daughter in Kalamazoo, MI, I go to the Shrine of Saint Augustine. They have SUCH a friendly, welcoming church-and they do it _without_ any of the aforementioned talking and visiting. If there is any, it's very quiet, not the boisterous kind. What they do, is have coffee and doughnuts in the adjoining school hall. Not a huge crowd in there, but the folks that were asked us all about ourselves, were lovely to the kids ( a great witness to the ones that are not Catholic--yet!) and the pastor even came by. It left an impression on me. That there can be all the reverence and propriety IN the church, and the people can have a venue to interact also. Bravo!

  9. This is a difficulty which I recognised some time ago.Was not sure how to handle it all.Decided to behave in a way that I thought was fitting,but have to say that I think I may give off "unfriendly" vibes.My Refusual to wear a name tag,and take, when offered a particuarly liberal magazine rendered the people around me speechless.I have the normal urge to belong,and it troubles me somewhat when I go to Mass.But cant join in with the chatter before Mass,just cant.
    Cant leave the pew at the sign of peace
    and join in all the handshaking and embracing...I am left with some guilt,these are my brothers and sisters,good nearly all cases more faithful,more trusting ,more neighbourly than I.A dilemma!

  10. Kelly! Kalamazoo is my hometown. Don't you love the stained glass window of the apostles above the altar at St A's?

  11. Well, Keystone, the editing features of this blog do not allow me to edit comments, and I didn't want to delete the one dissenting opinion, but suffice it to say I do not agree with you, particularly about proper thanksgiving after Holy Communion. People do not go out to dinner and expect an usher to dress them. The least they can do is make an effort to look respectable before the Lord. Immodest clothing has no place on a faithful Catholic body in any public place, let alone church.

    "According to the Baltimore Catechism, Roman Catholics "should spend sufficient time in Thanksgiving after Holy Communion to show due reverence to the Blessed Sacrament; for Our Lord is personally with us as long as the appearance of bread and wine remains."
    Through the years, the saints have varied in their recommendation as regards the amount of time to be spent in thanksgiving. A number of saints referred to an hour of thanksgiving. St. Alphonsus specifically advises everyone to devote at least half an hour to it, if it is at all possible." (Source:Catholic Educators Resource Center).

    No less than St. Teresa of Avila and St. Padre Pio, to name a few, were of similar belief about how to make a proper thanksgiving. In His words to St. Faustina, Christ Himself lamented that after receiving His Body in the Eucharist, people "dropped" Him like a "dead thing."

    Again, you have 6 days and 23 hours to love your neighbor. The Lord asks only one of us, occasionally more. What's stopping people from using the rest of the time to embrace their brothers and sisters and enjoy their fellowship?

  12. Julie! how awesome! I would love to chat sometime!

  13. I am hardly the lone dissenter if I am agreeing with Manny in the beginning, and his comment elsewhere (linked). You disagreed with him too.
    Opinions vary.

    Years back, PENNDOT wanted to construct a massive bridge on the Susquehanna. Sadly, summer construction season is short. So they awarded TWO companies bids to construct the bridge; one from the East bank and one from the West bank.

    Construction proceeded all summer, and as the bank-to-middle of the bridge proceeded, it was hoped to be a quick deed. But at the middle of the bridge, the two bridges did not meet or match! Heads would roll now.

    Research was done in reverse to find which company did not follow construction prints to make the bridges meet. One company was checked inside and out for each step of construction they did on their half. It was fine.

    All eyes turned to the other company to determine where the error was made. The exhaustive investigation finally showed the truth; the second company had followed blueprints perfectly and was not at fault at all.

    Yet, the bridge did not meet in the middle.
    A new investigation was required to find out what went wrong, since BOTH construction companies were "without error", but built an unaligned bridge.

    They finally found the culprit. It seems surveyors made their original calculations and surveyors from BOTH companies were correct in their analysis. However, the surveyors used a different reference point to start the project, and in doing so, the outcome was different as well.

    I was raised on the Old Baltimore Catechism and well versed in Latin altar boy 7 days a week, and the only one of 12 children to go to Mass daily in our family.

    But the Baltimore Catechism is not my reference point. It changes over time, and indeed, I was raised to believe in Limbo, while the current Pope jettisoned Limbo out of Catholic lexicon, just a couple years ago.

    My reference point is the Bible; it is eternally correct and everlasting. Not a jot or tittle will change in the Bible ever.
    This is a better reference point to stand on.
    It is the Word of God, while the Baltimore is the word of man.

    A nun told me I would go straight to Hell if I ever walked into a Protestant church. But I knew a man of God who was Baptist, and undeniably, more worthy of heaven than I will ever be in my life. (That's why I am thankful for Christ; He is my Little Way into Heaven).

    The dilemma, and guilt, debating "to go to this Baptist church when I was invited" or "go to Hell" per Sister (unnamed, for her good).
    She was within her rights as she followed and taught me the Baltimore Catechism.

    And I am deeply thankful I went to that baptist service, with my brother in Christ, a Baptist.

    Your perspective and my perspective vary only when we use a differing reference point.
    And I am going to stick with my Bible as reference point to life....eternal.

    In youth, there was NO food or water an hour before Mass; NO meat in Lent at all.
    Amazing how the catechism of baltimore just keeps changing away.

    Much confusion in catholic faith has been a failure to KNOW the faith, as written in the Bible, but to know it as written in catechism.
    Vatican II had a huge hand in that, but I agree with some of the changes made. It could have been made more coherent and cohesive over the years. But those who implemented Vatican II, used catechism that no longer existed as before, instead of the Bible which has never changed. Result? People can not find God, and empty the pews looking for Him, when He is right in front of them, and no one let's them see with open eyes. A generation was lost to early relationship with Christ.

    It is never my intent to offend, but since you are offended by my words, and blog owner, I shall refrain from future comment....rather than err on the side of offending.

    Dominos vobiscum.

  14. You did not offend me Keystone. I just lack the attention span to answer at length as well as read very lengthy comments. And I meant no offense toward you either.
    Et cum spiritu tuo!

  15. Wow, this did get a lot of comment. Thank you Keystone for agreeing with me. After thinking it over, I have maintained my position. I think it's the Christian thing to bond after mass. In fact I think it's biblical. I've been thinking about this all day. I am eventually going to write a blog fleshing out my ideas, perhaps by the weekend. Stay tuned!


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