(With Memorial Day upon us, and with it the unofficial beginning of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to reprint this column from last year, edited only slightly for length. It addresses a problem we find in the Church every year!)
After attending Sunday Mass in Florida not too long ago I came across the following admonition in the Sunday bulletin: “Please come to Mass early enough not to disrupt. Leave late enough not to insult. (The Mass does not end until the final blessing). Worship reverently enough not to distract. And dress proudly enough not to offend.”
“Now that little blurb contains some very useful reminders,” I said to myself. It addresses a recurring problem in some our churches these days — an habitual lack of reverence for the sacred mysteries taking place in our midst, especially when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered.
While all of the points in the bulletin article have merit, the reminder to “dress proudly enough not to offend,” might be the most relevant, especially now as we enter the hot and humid, casual days of summer. The sloppy and even offensive way people dress while attending Mass is something I’ve witnessed personally and regularly receive complaints about.
You know what I’m talking about; you’ve seen it too. Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.
These displays reveal a gross misunderstanding of the sacred space we’ve entered in the church and the sacred drama taking place in our midst. C’mon — even in the summer, a church is a church, not a beach or a pool deck.
Every member of the worshipping community should dress appropriately for Mass, but the obligation is even greater for those who fulfill public ministries during the liturgy — ushers, lectors, servers, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Because they’ve assumed a public role in the sacred liturgy and are in the public eye, it’s important that they give good example to others in the way they dress, speak and present themselves during Mass.
And what about the trend I’ve seen increasingly in recent years, even in our cathedral, of people coming to Mass carrying their water bottles and coffee mugs? Do they really need to be hydrated or caffeinated during that hour they’re in church? Is it a sacred space or an airport terminal? And I wonder how many people even think about the Eucharistic fast (one hour before receiving Holy Communion) when they prepare for Mass? I’m old enough to remember when you couldn’t have any food or beverage, except water, from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. It was a sacrifice, but also a clear reminder of how special it was to receive Holy Communion.
And while I’m venting, I still find it inappropriate and disrespectful to have a church full of people talking and creating a boisterous atmosphere before Mass, completely ignorant of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the spiritual needs of their fellow parishioners who wish to spend a few moments of quiet prayer. The Church should always provide a sanctuary of quiet, peace and prayer for anyone who wants to escape the barrage of noise and technological intrusions and enter into the presence of the Living God.
No moment reveals our attitude of respect more than during the actual reception of Holy Communion.
I’m not one who has a strong preference for receiving Holy Communion standing or kneeling — both are approved by the Church and both can be either reverent or irreverent depending on the disposition of the person. Nor am I one who will fight over the merits of receiving Holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue. Again, both are approved by the Church and can be either reverent or irreverent.
I am frequently amazed, however, over how many of the faithful, young and old, simply don’t know how to receive Holy Communion properly. This ignorance reached its pinnacle a couple of years ago when one lady, a Confirmation sponsor in fact, dropped the sacred host I had placed in her hand and then looked at me, giggling, saying, “I guess I’ll need another one of those,” like she had just lost her favorite snack cracker.
It’s easy folks, really. As you approach the minister of Holy Communion you bow reverently and when you hear the words, “the Body of Christ,” you simply respond “Amen” as you extend both hands carefully or put out your tongue. And note, you’re required to consume the host then and there and not take it with you down the aisle or back to your pew.
The title of this column was taken from a letter of St. Francis of Assisi to his friars, in which he reveals his profound respect for the Holy Eucharist. He writes: “Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O humble sublimity! O sublime humility!”
Would that we might display even a fraction of that reverence when we go to church, attend Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ!