Friday, October 14, 2011

RKIA's Guide to behavior in a Catholic Church... part 7

CAUTION! These are easily the most insulting series of Articles the Rev. Know it all has yet written.

The Rev. Know it all’s guide to how to behave in Church Part 7

Still more complaints..... There are a few more things that are crazy making that I would just like to mention.

Genuflecting! It is customary to genuflect upon entering a pew. The word genuflect is a Latin word meaning “to bend the knee” by this gesture we fulfill what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians (2:10) that “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Parents, teach your children to genuflect. Let them know who lives in that little box behind the altar (or in some churches hidden behind the potted palms). If one is old, dignified, and not petite, like the present writer, a simple bow of the head will suffice. The point is to honor the Lord who is truly present in the tabernacle. I have seen people fall to their knees and prostrate themselves as the people immediately behind them trip on the sudden speed bump that has magically appeared in their path. All our gestures should draw attention to the Lord, not to ourselves.

One can under-reverence or over-reverence. The two extremes are the same. If I bop into the pew with my baseball cap jauntily set backwards on my head, and plop into the bench and start texting while waiting for the show to start, or if I am the show, demonstrating my great piety by exaggerated gestures, the motive is the same: ME and how I feel! Remember it’s the sacrifice of the Mass and it’s about the Lord and His bride, the Church.

If you are in one of those nice modern churches where the Blessed Sacrament has been given His own room near the broom closet, where the congregation won’t bother Him too much, it is customary to bow toward the altar, which, though not the REAL presence of our Lord, is still a symbol of Christ. Speaking of genuflecting....

Kneelers! I have two complaints. First of all, try to let the kneelers down gently when it is time to kneel. The sound of a hundred or so kneelers hitting the floor is a bit distracting as we enter the most sacred moments of the Mass. Second, if you are among those irritated by the sound of kneelers hitting the ground, stop telling me, your pastor, to do something about it. It makes me crazy too! I have mentioned it and now am writing about it. I might as well tell the wind to stop blowing.

The sign of peace! The sign of peace is an ancient gesture that was shared as a preparation for Holy Communion. In the earliest days of the Church it seemed to precede the offertory. In the Latin Rite it is exchanged after the Our Father. In the sharing of a gesture of peace, the person next to you symbolically represents the whole Church and the whole of humanity. That person answers the lawyers question to Christ, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

It is sufficient to greet the person next to you. In greeting them you have greeted all believers. You needn’t climb over the pew to hug some perfect stranger in the back row. In some churches this ancient and beautiful custom has come to resemble the pep rally before a high school basketball game. I particularly enjoy the wave of peace done at smaller Masses. The small congregation is dispersed through the entire church and, being unable to physically greet those in distant pews, everyone begins to wave and rotate. It looks pretty funny from up at the altar, something like the Disney World ride “It’s a small world after all...” Everyone waving and rotating and smiling. At larger Masses, people hug and smooch and stretch as far as they can reach, so as not to offend anyone by leaving them out.

Remember, it’s a symbolic gesture, not a cocktail party! Just greet the people on either side of you. That will do. You can kiss them all at the coffee hour after Mass. Trying to get the congregational focus back on the Lord is near impossible after the festivities break out. I have seen visiting non-Catholics put on their coats and prepare to leave when this happens. They assume now that pandemonium has broken out the church service must be over. Sometimes they are correct. It’s like half time at the football game and people are about to go to the concession stand for a beer, except Holy Communion substitutes for a beer and a hot dog. I’ve seen celebrants go down into the congregation and kiss all the babies and hug all the parishioners from the first row to the last as if they were running for county treasurer. I have seen the sanctuary mobbed as the whole congregation comes up to kiss the bride at the wedding. It’s all about as sacred as a beer bash.

Sometimes the festivities begin at the Our Father, when someone grabs your hand and holds it, sometimes raising it over his head and yours, ending with a sudden upward lunge at “the kingdom the power and the glory...” You have been holding hands with a perfect stranger for a few minutes, and then, when you are about to be set free, the priest invites the congregation to exchange some sign of peace. Then the perfect stranger squeezes you in a bear hug and you are praying that his or her intentions are honorable.

There are some people who actually don’t enjoy holding hands with strangers or being hugged by people to whom they have never been introduced. One man’s expression of love for all humanity can be another man’s signal to contact the proper authorities. If a person doesn’t want to hold your hand or embrace you like a long lost cousin, then respect that. Don’t force anyone to participate in your personal expression of Christian bonhomie (That’s French for “Won’t you be my neighbor?” I, for one, always found that song a little creepy.)

Now, for those of you who don’t like hand holding and bear hugs. No one is forcing you to hug back. If you are adverse to even a hand shake, my advice is nod and smile. You don’t have to raise your had if you don’t want to. If a person insists on hugging you, you are free to discreetly whisper, “I’d rather not, please.” Try to smile when you are saying it. If they then glare at you as if you were Attila the Hun, that’s their problem. The normal gesture in this part of the world is a simple handshake, not a bear hug nor a threat to call a lawyer if someone so much as touches you. Once again I repeat the words of the great American philosopher Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Oh, two more things: If you have a crying or chattering child, quietly go to the vestibule. If there is a cry-room don’t sit there unless you have a crying or chattering child. If you are behind a beleaguered mother (or father) of the crying or chattering child, don’t glare at them as they wrestle with their little dear, offer to help them! Remember, you were probably a pretty awful child yourself. One of my earliest memories was banging my little white baby shoes on the back on the wooden pew in church. The noise was glorious and the look of panicked distress on my parents’ faces was wonderful. I was a horrible child. Or so they tell me.


  1. FYI, a second problem with lustily landing the hinged kneeler is the possibility of the flight deck being fouled. (On a aircraft carrier, if the flight deck is obstructed by people, machinery, etc., it is referred to as "fouled").

    If my foot happens to be under the kneeler when it lands and then when you plop yourself down, please do not be surprised if I make a sound that cracks the beautiful, 1970's vintage, glass chalice.

  2. I never reach for other people during the Lord's Prayer. Once in a while, I find myself next to someone who thinks that the only thing we're lacking at that point is a campfire to encircle.

    If they go so far as to tap me on the shoulder, I just give them a sideways glance -- still holding my hands in prayer, and keeping my head bowed -- and raise one eyebrow, a la Spock. (We've usually gotten as far as "Thy Kingdom come" by this point.)

    Maybe not the most politic way of doing it, but I try to convey something like, "Ya mind? I'm busy."

  3. I find that holding your Daily Roman Missal (doesn't everyone have one?) in hand - both hands, actually - works wonders at the Our Father (Look - no hands!).

    Works for the 'Sign of Peace' too...