As I write this entry I recognize that both the Christmas and Easter mass services have come and gone. However, during these two holidays I observed a whole bunch of odd behavior at my local church from those folks who just don’t get to church too often. Sometimes we call these people the “annuals” (i.e. those who go to church annually on Christmas or Easter) and sometimes we call them CEOs (which stands for churchgoers on Christmas and Easter Only). Whatever name this group has ascribed to them the truth is that they’re a little clueless on church etiquette (and basic manners in general, which I’ll write about another time).
To help remedy the reality of rudeness, here are 11 tips to assist those who don’t get to church too often.
- Welcome! There is nothing that regular churchgoers love better than seeing more people in the church, so WELCOME! Seriously, even though my own parish gets a pretty good turnout during the four weekend masses, it’s great to see an overflow crowd praying and worshiping together. In fact, there are even places in America that are engaging in “mass mobs” which is the same concept as a flash mob, except they focus on bringing dozens if not hundreds of people into a Sunday service. It’s a pretty cool concept.
Anyway, welcome back to church! You should know that the Church welcomes you back, the parish welcomes you back, and the parishioners welcome you back. And hey, after Christmas and/or Easter are over – why not consider coming back once in a while for a traditional Sunday mass? Not only are those masses shorter, but they cover different topics that you might find interesting.
- Get to church on time. Okay. I know. Sometimes something pops up and you make it to church late. Hey, I walked into mass a few Sundays ago 10 minutes after the service started and I felt bad about it. Yet, there’s a difference between someone who goes to church every week arriving late to a non-holiday mass and an annual/CEO showing up 15 minutes late to a holiday mass. The difference is that the excuse of something “popping up” actually applies to someone who attends mass every week. For an annual/CEO the excuse that something popped up to prohibit you and/or your family from getting to mass on time on the one day of the year that you actually attend is malarkey. You had an entire year to prepare yourself for your annual pilgrimage to church – don’t believe your own lies and think that it’s okay for you to walk into church late because something “popped up.”
What popped up is that you didn’t really plan your morning well enough… even though you had a year to do so. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re going to be walking into a Sunday service 5 minutes late or later, then you should probably wait until the next service and go then. If you have an appointment coming up that requires you to attend this mass versus a later one, then at least pray for forgiveness for being so self-absorbed that you couldn’t plan out your morning better even though you had a year to schedule it.
- Don’t sit at the end of the pew. This is always a bone of contention for folks who talk about mass attendance. Where should any of us sit when we attend mass? In terms of how far back in the church you should sit, I don’t think there’s a particular unspoken rule or generally accepted bit of guidance on that item. Personally, I like to sit in the fourth row at my church because I can’t quite make out what’s going on at the alter if I sit further back (and that’s with my contacts in). On a rare occasion I’ll sit in either the first or second row, but it depends on how many people are attending mass and how early I get there.
And that’s the key here – if you arrive at mass early (which most people do on Christmas and Easter), then you absolutely should NOT sit at the end of the pew! When I write “the end of the pew” I mean you walk into the church, choose which row you’re going to sit in, you kneel down, and then sit right there at the end of the pew so that every other person has to walk over/by you in order to sit down. This is rude and obnoxious! If there is no one else in the row, then move into the middle of the pew and sit there. Of course, if you have a medical condition that forces you to leave the mass during the service or if you have another extremely rare situation that requires you to get up and leave in the middle of worship, then you should sit at the end of the pew. But if you’re just old, if you want to be the first one out of the church, if you feel entitled to sit wherever you please, or if you just don’t want to be in the middle of the pew – those excuses don’t count. Don’t be rude, move into the middle of the pew, and make it easier on everyone else.
- Yes, YOU have to turn off your cell phone. I always find it amazing when the Deacon or Priest makes a specific request before mass starts that everyone turn off their cell phones and then someone has their cell phone go off during the service. Look, we all make mistakes. I get it. Still, when the Deacon or Priest specifically asks us all to turn off our cell phones, my goodness – the least you can do is put the thing on vibrate! Just remember that when someone says to turn off your cell phone before the service starts, then YES – they are talking to you. Put the thing on vibrate or turn it off.
- The response is “And with your spirit.” A few years ago, the church changed America’s “And also with you,” response to “And with your spirit.” As it turns out, the entire world was saying “And with your spirit,” except for those of us here in the United States. I remember when the change took place – it was only a few months after I returned to church on a more regular basis. Believe me, it was mass chaos (pun intended)! People were saying “And also with you,” over others saying “And with your spirit.” There was a comedy about all of it, but after a few weeks most people had the new response down. Sure, a few of the folks who have been attending mass for decades still had a hiccup here and there, but even they’ve gotten the hang of it.
And then Christmas hit that year and the annuals were inflamed that people were saying the new response versus the old one. But, as we know, the annuals come and go… and usually don’t come back. So then Easter hit and the cries of “Foul!” were heard all over again from the annuals/CEOs. Those folks who had been attending mass regularly since the changes sort of looked at the annuals at that point and thought, “God, help them.” Today – more than two years since the change in the wording has taken place – feigning anger or consternation over the now-not-so-new wording is just ignorant. With these changes in the wording, the entire world now says the same thing during the mass (in their own language, of course). Get with it.
- Be quiet! There are many frustrations that regular mass attendees face during Christmas and Easter. Chief among them is the lack of reverence for the sanctity of the mass. The Easter Vigil mass is one of the most solemn if not the most solemn mass of the year. It’s the longest mass of the year (about two and a half hours at my parish) and it’s the one where the most reverence is required. Many people go to the Easter Vigil in an attempt to not go to mass on Easter Sunday, so there is usually a huge attendance at this service.
And most of the people who attend have no care, concern, or consideration for the reverence of the service. They don’t care that an entire community of churchgoers has been waiting for this mass all year so they can reverently pray and reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I put this one on the list because of the Easter Vigil mass that I attended this year. I had the unpleasant experience of sitting in front of a troop of girl scouts during the mass. Now look – we have a problem in this country (and Western society in general) where we train our young girls to be vapid, mindless bodies who require excessive amounts of assurance and social agreement in order for them to just feel normal. Why we do this to our girls in this country is beyond me and probably a topic for a future post (though I have a strong suspicion that the problem is linked to the American form of hyper-feminism that has perverted traditional gender roles only to leave future generations in the dark about issues of self-confidence). However, these young girls talked through nearly the entire service. There were not two seconds that went by for the entire two and a half hours where this group of young girls were not gabbing with each other in a hushed whisper. They were doing the fake laughs of approval that are popular among that age group, they talked through each of the readings, they talked through the homily, and they even talked through the Our Father which really amazed me. The only time that these girls gave themselves more than a one second break in their babbling was when they were kneeling down during the preparation of the Eucharist. I think it was because they were positioned where they couldn’t easily interact with one another.
If you’re attending mass for the first time this year or the first time since Christmas, then do everyone a favor and show some reverence for the service. And if your kids are the ones whispering and not paying attention during the service, then separate them from one another and try to spend some time before mass explaining to your kids about respecting the service and the reverence of the regular churchgoers. Again, if you’re only going once or twice per year, then the least you can do is be respectful during the service.
- The issue of babies and kids making noise during the service. For me, this isn’t an issue. I don’t mind a crying baby and I don’t mind a kid who makes noises here and there. I have three baby cousins and I imagine that if they were at mass each week, they would probably cry or make a noise from time to time. The issue here is the parents and their ability to be aware of their surroundings (see the bullet point about being aware of your surroundings). If you have a baby with you and the poor kid is crying nonstop throughout the service, then you should really get up and go into the vestibule or the family-designated room until the baby calms down. You have to be aware of your surroundings. If you’re in the Christmas or Easter service (or any Sunday service for that matter), then chances are that you’re surrounded by hundreds of people who are trying to worship with some peace and dignity. No one is going to care about the occasional cry or whine or noise, but when that noise is constant (like those Girl Scouts in my example above), then you should respect the people who have gathered in the church and move to another location where the noise will not be a distraction.
Let me offer a brief example because I know there is some ignorant parent out there thinking, “You don’t know what it’s like to have kids!” (Amen!) There is a parent in my parish who has a young kid – the boy has to be 4 or 5 years old. Whenever they’re at mass the kid has a running dialogue that goes through the entire service. Understand what I’m saying here, folks. There is a running dialogue from this kid. He talks nonstop – NONstop during every portion of the mass. He’s not loud and I think that’s why people don’t get particularly mad at the parents (I know I don’t get mad at them, just a little baffled). But after about 30 minutes of nonstop talking (albeit in a hushed tone) it is amazing that the parents don’t take the kid into the vestibule to let him get the rest of his dialogue out before coming back into the service. Of course, you each have your own experiences with something similar, I’m sure. For some of you, the babbling little boy is a 6 month old baby that cries for 45 minutes straight while the parents don’t get up and leave. Whatever the case may be, a good rule of thumb for churchgoers is to never get mad or angry at noises from kids unless they go on for a prolonged period of time and begin to distract from the service. A good rule of them for the parents of noisy kids is to remove the child from the public space after about a minute or two of nonstop noise.
- Wait for the person ahead of you. If there was one piece of advice that I could give to most people who are in public places, it would be to be aware of your surroundings! One of the most frustrating things for anyone at mass is for them to go up, receive the Eucharist, and then get in the line for the wine only to begin walking back to their seat and having to climb their way over 7 or 8 people who couldn’t wait an additional 15 seconds for them to finish the wine before rushing back to the pew. While I was at Easter mass, I waited for an older woman who was sitting next to me to get the wine (I didn’t get the wine) and in the process, about 10 people got backed up because they were rushing back to the pew. One woman (in the most passive aggressive way) whispered towards me, “Kinda holding up the line.” Since I don’t respond to numb-minded idiots, I looked past this rude, self-obsessed, dullard of a woman towards the older lady making her way through the jumble of people and offered her to walk ahead of me in the pew so she could go back to sitting next to her equally older husband. The older lady smiled and said “thank you” and I told her “you’re welcome.” Of course, there was an ENORMOUS older guy who couldn’t wait for this older woman to get in the pew so he went ahead of both of us… and then he wouldn’t get out of the old lady’s way. As we began making our way through the pew, the HUGE guy looked at the old lady and smiled. She said she had to get by and he smiled at her again. She then pointed to her husband at the end of the pew and the fat guy looked at the husband and then leaned back maybe half an inch. The woman very politely said to him, “I think you’re going to have to sit down.” So he sat down and we both climbed over him back to our seats.
The lesson here is that you should always wait for the person ahead of you to go back into the pew before you do. And you should always be aware of your surroundings and how you interact with them!
- Wait for the closing hymn to finish. One of the rudest things that takes place on both Christmas and Easter is the rush of the annuals and CEOs to get out of the church immediately after the final blessing. It doesn’t work like that, folks! Granted, the ritual part of the mass is over when the priest gives his final blessing, but out of sheer respect for those who are tasked with the music ministry and out of some semblance of dignity for the sacred service that you’re at, WAIT until the final hymn is finished before you leave your pew and head out the door! Trust me, you’re not that important that you can’t spend another minute and a half listening to the closing hymn before you rush back to your likely-boring life. Show some respect and let the music ministry play or sing you out before you run for the door. Besides, you only go to church once or twice a year – if you want to run out so quickly, then don’t come in the first place.
- Don’t hang around primary walkways. This is really a piece of advice for all people in all public places. If you’re attending the church service and you’re either on your way in or on your way out of the building, try not to stop to have a conversation with whoever it is that you’re talking to while you’re standing in the middle of a primary walkway. Look, chances are you’re talking to a neighbor or a friend that you see each week or possibly even every day. Do you really have to stop the flow of people entering or leaving the church to have a 2 to 3 minute conversation about something that is probably a bore and/or meaningless? You can’t cover those topics during the other interactions that you have with this person?
Is it okay to stop and hug someone that you haven’t seen in a while? Of course. Is it okay to stop and have a 30 second conversation with that person while you’re in the middle of a primary walkway? Of course not.
- If you’re not going to participate, consider not attending. This one is a tough piece of advice to give out because as I noted above we welcome everyone to the church and we want you there – particularly on holy days of obligation! However, if you’re not going to pay attention and talk through the entire service or if you’re going to be so preoccupied with your life outside of the church that you can’t give the Lord an hour or so of your time and attention, well you should consider why you’re attending mass in the first place. Somewhere in the Bible it says that going through the motions doesn’t count. In other words, if you go to church just to say (or know in your mind) that you spent an hour in nice clothing listening to a service that you didn’t understand, well… no one is impressed by that except you. If this is your perspective, then chances are you’re breaking most of the suggestions above. Chances are you’re not aware of your surroundings, you’re hanging around primary walkways, you sat down at the end of the pew, you talked or whispered throughout the service, and you’re packing your stuff to leave as soon as the final blessing is over. If that sounds like you, then really consider the question of why you attended in the first place.
While I understand that some of these pieces of advice come off as harsh, the truth is that none of these would even be necessary if we spent more time in this country working on basic manners. And since we don’t spend any time on real manners any more, thus I write this entry to help those of you returning to church either for the first time in a year or the first time since the last major holiday.
Welcome back! Be respectful. Enjoy the service.