I will never forget the day I was at Sunday Mass, when a well-meaning dad pulled out a very large plastic bag from the Dollar Store. In it, he had a big new toy for his little son Johnny – something to keep him entertained at Mass. I can still remember how awkward it was seeing that big green logo come out from behind the kneeler, interrupting my attempts to pray.
Some parishioners were of course stunned watching the large garish neon plastic toy given to little Johnny. Since the toy was brand new, of course it had to be opened, unwrapped, right in the middle of Mass. I was mortified.
I fought all my motherly instincts to go over to that man and give him a good motherly scolding! I really wanted to give the dad a good tug to his ears, pulling him out of the church and say…
“What are you teaching your child? Do you want teach little Johnny, that no matter what is going on around him, he is entitled to be entertained and have fun?”
With the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation upon us, most parishes are seeing an influx of visitors to Mass. I think most people would agree that the experience is both joyful, but at times extremely frustrating, for two specific reasons.
First, as a parish community we are all wondering, will we ever see these kids and their families at Mass again? Secondly, it often becomes abundantly clear that many people just don’t know how to behave at Mass. As a society, we have seen a general loss of decorum and civility in behavior.
Not too long ago, the entire world watched the Royal Wedding. Part of the fascination with the royal family is that it represents an era of dignity and civility, wherein a modicum of civil behavior is not only expected, but demanded.
My father-in-law often takes me to see the Toronto Symphony perform at Massey Hall. I am inspired by the back of the program where there are pages that outline clearly the defined standards of behavior for folks attending the symphony. There are sections under several categories which define the expected etiquette and courtesy to be extended to others at the symphony.
Why can’t we do the same for Mass?
I am thinking of publishing a booklet and a poster to distribute to parishes. It would read something like this:
Mass Etiquette: How to behave during a Catholic Mass
Remember you have entered into the house of God for the purpose of prayer, adoration, reflection, or to celebrate a sacrament. Now is not the time to talk to your friends, but to talk to God. Please do not bring in any cups of coffee!
In order to help you enter into a sacred space we ask you to remember,
1. Turn off cell phones. Do not text messages or check your Facebook account from the pews or the back of the church. Leave your social media devices in the car. It’s time to focus on God. It’s distracting for others who are trying to pray. If you are waiting for an important phone call, consider going to Mass at another time. Cameras, likewise should be left in the car, unless you are coming for a tour of the church and you have checked with the tour guide.
2. Do not chew gum during Mass or put it in your side cheek, to chew on it later. Spit it out before entering into a church. Did you know that you are supposed to be prayerfully fasting for an hour before Mass? There is a possibility that if you keep the gum in your mouth and resume chewing after receiving the Eucharist, you may unintentionally spit out a bit of the body of Jesus. That would be sacrilegious.
3. Dress with dignity for Mass. It seems that many women and girls in this day and age have a need to always have a ‘sexy’ look. Mass is not a cocktail party. Mass is not a hockey arena. Come dressed with decorum, an aura of dignity. Consider teaching your children that different types of dress are important for different occasions. For everything there is a time. Please remember to dress modestly and insure your daughters do, too. Bare shoulders and visible bra straps are not a good idea. They are highly distracting.
4. Do not bring children’s activity bags, granola bars, Cheerios, juice boxes, water bottles, or toys, including a child’s DS, Playstation, Game Boy, iPod Touch or similar items of amusement to church. Mass is only one hour long. Children would grow in virtue if their parents expected them to detach from these things for at least an hour a week. For little toddlers there is a beautiful series of little Catholic books put out by Father Lovasik. There are plastic rosaries or books about saints. Immerse your children in spiritual treasures during mass.
5. Parents have a duty give their children ongoing, on the job training, all the time. That includes the obligation to train their children in the appropriate times to kneel, sit, stand and face the altar. If children are engaged in playing with toys, or eating, and drinking, they are surely not being taught about the fact that Jesus is really up there on the altar, the significance of prayer, self control, and the importance of participating in the Mass. Parents themselves get distracted with managing the dispensing of food and toys. On top of that it is a distraction to others in the pews who are hungry themselves, or who are trying to fully participate in mass.
6. Do not drink bottled water in a house of worship. If an adult, for some reason needs to drink water to take some medication, please leave the church premises or at least the Mass, and drink the water outside the celebration of the Eucharist.
7. If you are late for Mass, please do not walk down the aisles looking for a seat until it’s appropriate. You are disrupting others. The Toronto Symphony does not allow late comers to waltz in at ‘whatever’ time. Church ushers should be trained to enforce this. Please do not leave Mass before it ends. You will be missing the supernatural graces of the final blessing. Besides it’s a bad example for your kids
8. Do not be an observer of the Mass, but a participant. Don’t ask yourself, “What is this Mass doing for me?” Instead, ask yourself, “What can I do to participate in the Mass more fully?” Make an effort to listen, follow the readings, pay attention to the homily. You can read the scripture passages before Mass, learn the prayers of the Mass, follow along in the missalette, and sing! You will become an outstanding role model for your kids.
9. Do not have conversations during the mass. You would never have a conversation during a performance of the symphony. If you did, you would be asked to correct your behavior or leave. Quite simply, it is rude.
10. It might be useful to ask yourself: Who am I? Why am I here? The answer: To know God, to love him and serve Him — especially at Mass!