Friday, September 2, 2011
RKIA's Guide to Behavior in a Catholic Church pt. 1
Dear Rev. Know it all
I am tired of all those people who come late for Mass and cause a ruckus as they walk up and down looking for a place to sit. I always arrive early and sit in my usual spot three rows from the back door. I have to endure the late comers and the distractions they cause. Can't you do something about it?
Sincerely, Ed T. Kette.
No, I can't. But you can. It really is a manner of courtesy as you point out, but the discourtesy is not always on the part of the late-comers.
This is probably the only time you are going to hear a pastor say this, but there a lot of good reasons to be late for church. The hamster died, Grandma got into the cooking sherry again. The youngest of eight children managed to get his head stuck in the laundry chute, etc. etc. Any one whom God has blessed with children knows that getting to church on time is like trying to organize a hurricane.
I would venture that the real discourtesy rests with those who come to church and see plenty of empty seats in the front and plop themselves down in the back of church. Leave the pews in the back of church for those who come late. If you are fortunate enough to have successfully raised your children who are now away studying at the Hackenbush Institute for Advanced Advancement, sit up in front. I know it's harder to get a nap up in front, what with the clergy waving their arms and shouting. (That's called the homily) But hogging the back benches really isn't the kind thing to do.
If you see an empty pew in the front of church, go and sit there. This brings up a whole area of concerns. I would like to take the occasion of your letter to write "The Rev. Know it all's Guide to How to Behave in a Catholic Church." There are a few ground rule assumptions for appropriate behavior in Church.
The Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That means you shouldn't do anything at Mass that you wouldn't do at Calvary. Imagine that Mass is a kind of time machine that transports you back to Calvary. Our Blessed Mother is there weeping, as John, the Beloved Disciple consoles her. There is the good thief joyful even in his suffering to know that this day he will be with Christ in paradise, There is sorrow, and there is joy caused by such wondrous love, but there is no sitting in the back pew gossiping about your irritating neighbors. There was singing at Calvary. Jesus led the onlookers in Psalm 22, and psalms were chanted, but there was no applauding the choir. There is no chit chat, there is no reading the bulletin, and above all there were no cell phones at Calvary. I remember once having to leave the altar to ask a woman who was up in years, to turn off her cell phone. It had rung three times and she just let it ring. After mass her daughter apologized and explained that Mama never answered her cell phone because she was deaf as a stone. The mind boggles.
Mass is an act of worship, not an entertainment. In fact, we Catholics believe that it is the only perfect and complete act of worship. Everything else is more properly called praise. At Mass we stand on Calvary, placing our lives in the hands of the Father. The Catholic life is a continuous sacrifice to the Lord.
Perhaps you know the beautiful prayer called the morning offering:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, sufferings of this day,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.
I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart;
the salvation of souls, the reparation for sin, the reunion of Christians;
and for the intentions of the Holy Father. Amen.
"In union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." Our whole life is offered at Mass, with both its joys and sorrow. St Paul says, "I make up in my flesh what is lacking in Christ's sufferings." (Col.1:24)
What could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? Simple: my participation. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I do, and even greater works." (John 14:12) Is there greater love than Calvary? Jesus wants us to do what He does. He wants us to be co-redeemers of humanity. He want us to sacrifice our lives with His.
We go to Mass, in order to offer our lives with Christ. It's hard to climb up on the cross when you're sitting in the back pew. Jesus said "Where I am, my servant also will be." (John 12:26) I imagine that, in the wider sense, our Lord is in the back row, but He is present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity up in front. It is no great act of humility to sit in the back row. Sometimes it is real act of sacrificial love is to sit up front, allowing those beleaguered late comers to have a seat instead of standing in back with their eight children who have tried their best to get here, despite their grief at the untimely demise of the hamster.
To be continued.....and continued....and continued......