Have you ever brushed ground-up Cheerios off the pew or better yet, had a Goldfish cracker slide down your back at Mass? As a Mom, I can empathize with any parent who has had small children at Mass. I also understand that some parents feel driven to pack some snacks because they can think of nothing else to keep their children quiet during the Liturgy. What about teens wearing low-cut jeans where you can see the top of their -- um -- gluteal cleft? Ever want to grab their pants and pull them up? How about at the end of the Mass when certain individuals leave right after receiving the Eucharist? I have seen some take their coats with them in the communion line so as to save them even an extra second upon departure. Need I remind them of who was the first to leave the Last Supper? Would they even know the answer?
Our Pastor includes a paragraph in the bulletin once or twice a year about appropriate attire for Mass attendance but only recently has he included what many have longed for; 'Tips on Manners at Mass' and the following are the tips as suggest by Fr. Mike combined with suggestions from the Diocese of Venice, Florida:
Attire: The idea of “Sunday best” should be honored; churchgoers of all ages should dress conservatively. Coat and tie is appropriate for men, but not required. Women should wear modest dress. Tank tops, very short skirts, low cut necklines or tight-fitting clothing would be considered disrespectful. Shorts are not appropriate for either men or women. Yes, the weather is getting warm but in preparing for Mass you should ask yourself this question: what would I wear to a wedding? What would I wear to a special banquet or awards ceremony? What would I wear to meet the president or world leader? What am I going to wear to meet Jesus at His banquet?
Arrival: Prepare your offering envelope ahead of time at home and arrive at least 10 minutes before Mass begins. This helps reduce distractions and provides time to get settled - it also allows you to put yourself in a prayerful atmosphere to begin the Mass. Gum or candy should be disposed of before you enter the building. Remember to leave your cellphone in the car or turn it off in the parking lot.
Entering the church: Once you leave the entrance area (the vestibule) and enter the church proper try to refrain from over-socializing with friends. Remember that others are already engaged in prayer in their seats. As a sign of respect for the Blessed Sacrament, either genuflect or bow toward the tabernacle before entering the pew. If you are sitting on the end and notice people looking for a seat, please either move in to let them sit down or get up and let them enter the pew. If Mass has already started when you arrive, please wait in the back of the church and proceed to a pew when it will not cause a distraction to others.
Seating: No parishioner has an assigned pew or the claim to any one certain pew for Mass. If someone happens to be seated in an area where you usually sit, please do not tell them to move. Instead, be courteous enough to find another place to sit. There is always room down near front! Be especially sensitive to visitors who may have never been to our church before. Being told that they are in the wrong seat is not only rude, it is certainly NOT what Jesus would do!
Quiet time: It is understandable that children have difficulty sitting quietly, but when they become distracting, take them out briefly until they settle down. They may be too warm and need a change of environment.
Sign of Peace: People usually shake hands briefly or exchange a quick kiss, but if you have a cold or cough, you can politely say, “Peace be with you,” without shaking hands.
Consecration: Elevation of the Host and the Chalice after the words of consecration are spoken is a sacred time, and there should be silent reverence with no movement around the church, except in an emergency.
Communion: Again, refrain from socializing when leaving the row to receive Communion. It is perfectly acceptable to receive Communion on the tongue or in your hand. Receive the Holy Eucharist with reverence, bow slightly or genuflect and respond “Amen.”
Leaving the church: Singing the closing hymn is still part of the Mass. Leaving before the hymn ends is inappropriate. After the hymn, genuflect (or bow) toward the altar before leaving. Refrain from greeting and visiting each other until out in the gathering space. Have respect for those who wish to remain in prayer.
I would also like to add suggestions of my own, of course.
- Read the bulletin after prayer if you are very early for Mass. Do not read it during Mass. If you cannot resist, do not pick one up until you are exiting the church.
- When you leave Mass, you are carrying Jesus within you as you go to the parking lot. You were just commissioned to 'Go in the peace of Christ.' I've seen tempers flare and impatience bloom after many Masses.
- If you see an elderly or infirm person in a nearby pew, motion for them to go before you at Communion time. The Eucharist you will receive will be the same exact one if you receive a few seconds later.
- If you see parents struggling with their children who are well-behaved but active during Mass, don't give them a dirty look. Offer them a smile instead. Introduce yourself as you exit the church and let them know how great it is that they bring their children to Mass.
A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.