Dear Friends in Christ,
It saddens me to have to write this article, but I suppose we all need a reminder from time to time. Last week I received a message from a retired Methodist Minister who had visited S. Stephen’s a couple of weeks before. I don’t remember meeting him, do you?? Anyway, he says he was ‘in disguise!!’ He thanked me for the welcome he had received and went on to say a big thank you for the music and for the sermon(!). But sadly he ended his message thus:
“I am so sorry to have to say that the only thing that spoiled my visit was the NOISE before the service began, and even worse, the constant chatter of a few people all the way through – including the prayers and Sacrament (He meant Holy Communion I expect. Fr A) I don’t mean the children, a few cries and squeaks, we expect that, but the adults mostly. I’m afraid even you Father, joined in the melee before Mass. It was a real shame.”
I’m afraid that he was absolutely right. Many of us have forgotten how to behave in church, from the beginning to the end. Recently I watched as a few people laughed and chatted all the way through Holy Communion. One couple chatted through the prayers. I know that I have entered into unnecessary conversation in church before Mass.
It’s just not right, and we must all try to do better.
I hope that the points below may serve as a reminder to us all.
Reverence and respect
As Christians, we believe that at Mass we come into the REAL PRESENCE of GOD himself in Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus is present body, blood, soul and divinity in the tabernacle, His throne, right in the middle of the altar. We need to honour His presence by our choice of clothing, posture, recollection before Mass and attentiveness at Mass. Socialization and conversation should be reserved for the church hall, narthex or courtyard before or after Mass.
Upon entering church several gestures should be observed.
Holy Water-a receptacle filled with blessed water reminds us of our baptismal promise and it marks us with the sign of the cross.
Genuflecting-before entering the pew we pause and turn to the tabernacle and pay homage to the person we are there to worship by bending down on one knee in a sign of reverence as we sign ourselves with the cross. If unable to genuflect a profound bow at the waist may be substituted.
Kneeling-is a sign of both penance and adoration. We kneel as we pray silently before Mass. Before Mass is NOT the time for extended conversation.
How do you dress when you attend a formal occasion outside church? Always remember that you are in the presence of the King of Kings. If you are invited to a wedding you dress in your finest clothes. We are going to the wedding Feast of the Lamb and should therefore dress appropriately.
Recollect yourself before Mass. This involves prayer, quieting your-self before the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In order to fulfil this you should arrive at Mass in good time..
No food ,beverages or gum should be brought into church and all electronic devices should be turned off.
Fast before Mass
You should refrain from food or beverages other than water for one hour before Mass to receive communion. Water or medicines does not break the fast.
NEVER chatter on the way to Communion. Receive Communion reverently. This means making a reverent bow before kneeling and an Amen should be your response when the priest says ‘the Body of Christ’. You may receive on the tongue or in the hand. If you receive in the hand you must cup your left hand in your right and let Eucharist be placed in your hand before receiving. The host must be consumed immediately. It is forbidden to give the host to children who have not made their first communion and the host should never be taken out of the church. If you are not receiving, or if you have returned after Communion, kneel or sit in silence.
This is the time for chatter and socialisation. That’s the time when we SHOULD make every effort to speak with others. Except very occasionally, it’s actually quite rude to disappear without greeting one-another. After all, we wouldn’t be very pleased if we had invited someone for a meal at home only for them to rush out of the door as soon as they had eaten!
Let’s all try to do better. I will. I promise. Will you?