This is a series of articles on Christian manners for men taken from a book entitled, “The Christian Gentleman”, by G.C. Davy. (1960) … … We hope it will serve you well.
continued from December 2004
At Holy Mass you must remember to show courtesy to the priest, particularly when he speaks to the congregation from the pulpit. His task, already a responsible one, is made more difficult when he looks down on a congregation of glazed eyes and nodding heads. No matter what his powers as a preacher may be, he should not be subjected to the bad manners of those who openly yawn, consult their watches or read a book.
Another form of discourtesy is unnecessary coughing during the sermon. Much of the coughing that punctuates sermons could be classed as unnecessary, since with a little thought for the comfort of others it could be suppressed, or at least greatly moderated. Coughing in church is often due to a kind of infectious habit, and when it reaches epidemic proportions it can render the priest’s words almost unintelligible. Not only during the sermon, but particularly at the moment of Consecration the priest will appreciate your courtesy in reducing coughing and all other distracting noises to a minimum. Jokes also, about how one slept during the sermon, are normally of little taste.
Confession and Holy Communion
It is an edifying sight to see people flocking around the confessionals in a Catholic church, but the effect is sometimes spoilt by the bad manners and lack of restraint shown by those inveterate queue-jumpers who are determined to be served first at any cost. Unseemly haste or jostling around the confessionals should be altogether avoided as discourteous and unedifying. It is unfortunate that in many churches the custom has arisen of queueing up outside the confessionals. It is preferable to wait in the seats near the confessional and take your turn in an orderly and reverent manner in keeping with the dignity of the Sacrament. If you did nothing else, you would be giving good example to that objectionable type of penitent, the human torpedo who, as soon as the confessional door is opened, dashes in from an unexpected quarter. Fortunately our confessionals are not like the pool spoken of in the Gospel, where only the first man in was cleansed.
When you enter the confessional, remember that the priest despite his sacerdotal powers is still only a human being. Therefore be sure to speak in an audible, intelligible voice. A careful preparation before you enter the confessional will help to ensure this. Remember also that a brief “Thank you, Father”, before you leave, will not pass unnoticed.
When it comes to Holy Communion, we come to a most delicate situation. In many churches we find wardens directing the flow of people to and from the Communion rail. At first sight this may seem desirable, but, in fact, it is not so. The greatest danger to such order is that there will always be those who should, and indeed would like, to decline from going to receive Our Lord because of a serious sin committed or indeed any other reason. Finding themselves in the flow to the Communion rail due to the warden’s careful solicitude for order, they are overcome by human respect and dare not remain in their seat, believing that everybody will notice it. Therefore, while the utmost respect and reverence must be safeguarded for the Most Blessed Sacrament, wardens and a strict order is not desirable. A simple and humble courtesy from each individual is called for without any exaggerated politeness.
Dressing For Church
It has been a long-standing tradition to dress up in one’s best clothes on Sunday as a mark of respect for the Lord’s Day and an acknowledgment that attendance at Sunday Mass is the most important duty of the week. Such indeed is a beautiful practice, but it must not degenerate into something akin to a fashion show. Clean and becoming clothing are always necessary. Above all, immoral dress is NEVER to be worn at Holy Mass, and in fact, NEVER AT ALL!
Courtesy To Your Parish Priest
Be considerate in the demands you make on the priest’s time. He will, no doubt, always be ready to receive you, but a little thoughtfulness on your part will help to make his task lighter. Some people thoughtlessly call at the sacristy to speak to the priest just when he is about to commence Holy Mass. Also, when he has finished Mass, the priest will want to be left undisturbed, at least for a few minutes. It is for this reason that in many parish churches, a knock on the sacristy door is to no avail since it will not be answered.
Remember your duty to contribute to the support of the priest through the collections that are taken up at Mass and on other occasions. This is more than an obligation of courtesy; you are bound to it in justice as soon as you are earning an independent wage of which you have the free disposal. The priest himself will be slow to emphasise your obligation in this matter. It is unfair that he should ever be put in the position where a reminder to his parishioners is needed.
Co-operate with the priest in whatever work needs to be done for the spiritual or material welfare of the parish. A parish priest has heavy responsibilities, and he should not be expected to carry them unaided. In many parishes the work of organisation and development falls upon a few zealous helpers. Even though you may have little organising ability or powers of leadership, there is a place for you in the full and active life of the parish. The parish exists for the benefit of all, but it cannot achieve its aims unless all the parishioners co-operate with the priests and with one another.
Those lace-clad angels that wriggle and bounce around our altars are privileged beings -more privileged than most of them seem to realise. An altar-boy has an important and necessary part to play in the liturgy of the Church. Approaching as closely as he does to the altar and the most solemn ceremonies he should be outstanding for his spirit of reverence and his faithful attention to his duties. Good training backed up by mental alertness and a spirit of faith will ensure that he rises to the high standards expected of him in performing his duties. He is charged with a share of the responsibility of carrying out the rubrics of the liturgy, and the rubrics themselves may be regarded as age-old gestures of heavenly courtesy which emphasise the solemnity of what the priest and his attendant boys are doing.
It is a fact that many altar-boys are restless in the sanctuary. Often this is due to over-eagerness or a natural lack of deportment. However, if an altar-boy realises where he is and what he is doing, his movements will not be too ungraceful. He must, of course, be always alert to assist the priest and anticipate what is needed both in the sacristy and at the altar. When in the sacristy or in other rooms close to the sanctuary he should take care to avoid unnecessary noise and loud talking.
The position of altar-boy is a responsible one, not only because of the duties he has to perform but also because others are depending on his carrying them out faithfully and punctually. In normal circumstances Mass cannot proceed without a server; consequently the unpunctuality, or what is worse, the absence of an altar-boy set down for duty, causes inconvenience to both priest and congregation. If you are an altar-boy, make it your business to know well ahead exactly when you are expected to attend. When for any reason you are unable to do so, courtesy demands that you arrange a substitute or notify the priest or other person in charge.
Finally, take care of your altar-boy clothing. Have it washed or cleaned at regular intervals. It is unbecoming to see boys in the sanctuary with cassocks badly creased, surplices unwashed and collars awry. On the other hand, a neatly dressed server, moving about the sanctuary with dignity, reverence and confidence, and giving responses in a clear, strong voice, can make a definite contribution to the beauty and impressiveness of the liturgy.