Friday, February 24, 2017 - Updated: 7:00 am
QUESTION: There are guidelines for acceptable behavior in lots of places and situations. Why not in church? Is there such a thing as “church etiquette?”
ANSWER: There certainly are areas of life that have very clear points of etiquette. Golf is one example, but so is bowling, playing bridge or attending the opera. But it seems that some who willingly follow every aspect of etiquette in some of those areas feel that any type of behavior is “good enough for church.” But from experience most priests and lots of others can site several examples where church etiquette would be appropriate.
The rationale for those points would include: what we do in church is, first of all, worship of God. Secondly, what we as individuals do affects the whole community. Finally, common sense has to play a part in what we do in common.
If anyone is thinking of writing that book on “church etiquette,” here are a few thoughts that come to my mind:
• If one is coming to Mass to pray and worship with the community, is the church vestibule the best place to do that? It may be crowded in the back few pews, but it is a Catholic church. There is always room up front. Please don’t “hang out” in the back of the church.
• Evangelization begins with a sense of welcome. Can your behavior at Mass be understood as making newcomers and visitors feel welcome and valued? For example, “claiming” the end seat of the pew and making people crawl over you to get to a seat cannot be construed as a welcome.
• Some worshipers feel free to come and go as they please at Mass. For them, Mass begins when they get there and ends when they decide to leave. Priests report that at the end of some Sunday Masses, by the time they get to the back of the church, at least one-third of the people have already left. Everyone knows there are emergencies and special needs, but arriving late and/or leaving early every Sunday can’t be anything but disrespectful.
• Loud talking and conversations in church, especially at weddings, is an incredible breach of respect for a sacred space and the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. What you would not do in a library or at a concert hall should not be done at church.
• During the distribution of holy Communion at funerals it is becoming more prevalent for people who have just received the Eucharist to greet and have a conversation with the grieving family in the front pew. While this is irreverent toward the Eucharist just received, it is also an intrusion on the private moments of the grieving family. Save that for the funeral home or at a reception afterward.
• Photography (and videography) at weddings also has to rank high on the level of church etiquette breaches. At some weddings, professionals take over the church as if it were their own studio. After Mass, sanctuary furniture is moved around and items are placed on the altar as if it were a shelf.
Yes, there really should be a book about “church etiquette.”
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.