Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Mass Etiquette’

Mass Etiquette – Part III: The Lector

January 8th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Part I – the Congregation

Part II – the Altar Server

One of the hazards of opening the sanctuary up to anyone in the congregation is that, inevitably, you have people who think themselves qualified to do a certain task, and yet, in all honesty, are not entirely prepared to do it. This can be seen quite plainly in some altar servers, some church musicians, etc. However, it is most notably seen in the person of the lector. The lector, reader, commentator, or whatever else he or she may be called in your parish, ought to have, primarily, a sense of dignity about himself/herself. After all, he will be reading out loud the Word of God, not some play or dramatic production. It’s not about charisma – it’s about presenting something sacred and doing so in a sacred way. It’s that simple.

This being said, far too often our lectors fall prey to hubris. They mount the pulpit, and suddenly they are the center of attention. Please note, this isn’t a condemnation of anyone – it’s just my observation. And so, flowing from this observation are the following points:

Thou shalt not:

  • Parade around with the Lectionary or Book of the Gospels. It’s the Word of God, and not some prize you just won at a carnival. If you are asked to carry the Lectionary or Book of the Gospels in the procession, do so serenely and with great humility.
  • Improvise the texts. Read what’s in the book, and refrain from making up words or saying what you think may sound better to contemporary ears.
  • Memorize or abridge the texts, and then choose not to use the Lectionary. You’re supposed to proclaim the readings, so it’s best to actually have them in front of you. Some local priests, through their evangelical zeal, have been seen roaming from the pulpit and giving a summary of the Gospel rather than actually reading from it. This is nowhere to be found in any the liturgy documents produced by the Second Vatican Council.
  • Talk with the congregation like you’re a stand-up comedian. I’ve seen some lectors who will get up and, rather than say, “A reading from the Book of _______” will say instead, “Hey there, how ya doin’?” I would hope this is common sense, but I guess it isn’t. In simplest terms, it’s just plain tacky. You might as well have an inflatable jack-o-lantern on the altar if you’re going to start having a conversation from the pulpit like that. They’re equally tasteless. (I apologize if any of you reading this have an inflatable Halloween or Christmas decoration you use. My “tacky” statement applies to their potential use at Mass, and not in your front yard.)

Thou shalt:

  • Speak calmly, loudly, and with great care paid to proper diction.
  • Preview the readings at least once before you get up to read them publicly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people get up and say, “A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the . . . um . . . Thess – oooooo – lon – iiiiii – ans.” A one-time perusal will give you an invaluable safety-net.
  • Dress appropriately. Dress shirts, ties, sport coats, sweaters, dress shoes, dresses, are all what one would consider “decent apparel.” Hoodies, sweat-shirts, polo-shirts, T-shirts, jeans, sneakers, tube tops, skimpy skirts, and the like are not appropriate attire for someone entering the sanctuary of God.
  • Be happy, not gloomy! Don’t make it look as if you’re petrified, even if you have a fear of crowds or public speaking. You ought to reflect the joy of someone who is ministering before God in His “holy dwelling place.” This being said, don’t get up there in the pulpit and act like you’re the most care-free person in the world. Make your demeanor like that of a cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Winnie-the-Pooh, i.e. excited, but still restrained enough not to look like a fool.

Mass Etiquette – Part II: the Server

December 15th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

Part I – the Congregation

Here begins pars secunda of the Mass Etiquette posts. Again, do not take offense at these observations. They’re there to remind us what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s just plain stupid.

This post will detail the actions of the server at Mass. There is nothing worse than a bad altar server. He/she is supposed to be a guardian of the sacred, representing the angels of Heaven gathered around the throne of God. If he/she is not properly disposed to serve, he/she ought not to.

Thou shalt not:

  • Yawn. If you yawn at Mass (and I mean, really yawn, not some passive “I’ve been up since midnight” yawn) you clearly aren’t comprehending the sacredness of what you’re doing. You are witnessing the unbloody immolation of God on your church’s altar – kind of important, that.
  • Sleep. If you fall asleep at Mass . . . God help you. I have no tolerance for altar servers who fall asleep, literally, during Mass. If you are an altar server, you should consider yourself blessed beyond measure! If you’re falling asleep during the celebration of the sacred mysteries, it looks like you need to rouse yourself to some kind of fervor for the faith you’re seeing manifested before your eyes. Parents – make sure your kids are actually motivated to serve Mass. If they don’t want to, don’t force them.
  • Twirl your cincture. You’re not in the sanctuary to amuse yourself. You’re there to serve your Creator. Twiddling your thumbs, twirling your cincture, grooming yourself . . . all of these things have no place in the Lord’s sanctuary.
  • Embrace a casual sense of the liturgy. If you serve, you must seek to be graceful and exacting in every movement, every nod, every gesture of your hands. Nothing should seem unnatural or “forced,” and you should always act like you know precisely what you’re doing. If you fall on your face, make it look like it’s in the rubrics. If you drop a cruet, make it look planned and purposeful.
  • Talk to your friends or family members. Your focus should be on God, not yourself or your schoolmates/brothers/sisters/etc. Of course, a gentle reminder “get the book” or “don’t do that” is fine, presuming you do so subtlely, but don’t carry on a conversation about going to see Harry Potter or ordering pizza that night.
  • Feign piety. You can tell when an altar server is “play acting” at his or her duties. The posture may be perfect, the hands held properly in place, the eyes cast down at a 20 degree angle (as they should be), but a single insincere movement can betray the sentiments of a server. There is a clear difference between being in the sanctuary for your glory and being there for God’s. Avoid the former, embrace the latter.

Thou shalt:

  • Make symmetry your best friend. Everything you do, do it symmetrically (presuming there is more than one server in the sanctuary). It is truly beautiful when the liturgy is blessed by servers who mirror each-other perfectly, reflecting pious intent and Godly attentiveness.
  • Dress with pride. Wear decent clothing underneath your alb or cassock. Just because no one can see your Transofrmers T-shirt and your torn blue-jeans doesn’t mean God can’t see them. Optimal dress is a dress shirt and dress pants – dress like you’re going to an upscale dinner.
  • Take pride in your appearance as a server. If you’re wearing a cassock and surplice, make sure that your cassock is fully buttoned, from bottom to top. Make sure your surplice is ironed and straight, not leaning to one side. If you’re wearing an alb, make sure it’s clean. A spot of candle-wax on your sleeve is most unappealing.
  • Actively participate in the Mass. Be prayerful. Respond to the priest’s “the Lord be with you.” Don’t be afraid to join in the singing of hymns, the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.), or anything else you know. Angel’s aren’t depressed in the presence of God, so you shouldn’t be either!

Mass Etiquette – Part I: The Congregation

December 13th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

Something which we have not, as of yet, addressed at Cleansing Fire is the topic of “liturgical etiquette,” that is, how people ought to act at Mass. Before you begin reading this post (and those which will follow it) you must realize that these observations are just that – observations. They are not judgments on people’s souls, attacks on children, or manifestations of cold-hearted anti-social tendencies. They are, however, simple pointers as to what you should and should not do at Mass. We will examine this in a multi-part series of posts which will encompass the following categories: 1. the Congregation, 2. the Servers, 3. the Lector, 4. the Choir, 5. the Family.

Part I: The Congregation

Thou shalt not:

  • Turn around during Mass. It disturbs those who may be trying to focus on something other than your charming visage, something such as the Blessed Sacrament or the liturgical dancer.
  • Slouch in your pew.
  • Talk during “off moments” at Mass, i.e. the Offertory (the collection), the Kiss of Peace, the time after Communion. You’re in the presence of God – act like it.
  • Congregate to talk after Mass while still inside the church building – go into a vestibule, the social hall, the atrium, the parking lot, or whatever facilities may be provided.
  • Make up words to hymns.
  • Cough and/or sneeze into your hands and then proceed to offer the sign of peace to those around you.
  • “slurp” the Precious Blood or “crunch” the host. You’re receiving God Himself, not some pre-lunch appetizer.
  • Yawn in the face of the priest/other minister(s). It shows a certain sense of disinterest in the Sacred Mysteries.
  • Crinkle paper, rustle plastic bags, flip pages loudly, or make other unnecessary noises. Silence is golden, and chances are your noise-making will disrupt the silent prayerfulness of those around you.

Thou Shalt:

  • Be attentive to the words of the Mass.
  • Feel free to sing from the hymnal or chant book – it’s there for a reason!
  • Act with reverence in everything – if you need to cross before the tabernacle on the way to the restroom, genuflect. If you pass the altar on your way back to the pew (or comfy chair), bow.
  • Be joyful in your disposition. Don’t be melancholy – there’s a big difference between reverence and depression.

Just as how there is proper etiquette for a fancy dinner, there is proper etiquette for Mass. I guess if we take the theme given to us by some of our more liberal friends, we could say that the Mass is “just a fancy dinner.” In actuality it’s much more than that, but for the sake of laying out what is polite and what is not it serves its purpose as a piece of trite sacramental theology.

The next piece of this series will focus on the etiquette of the servers (and other ministers within the sanctuary). Again – this isn’t some sanctimonious sermon on how badly you behave at Mass. It’s just a gentle reminder that you need to recall the simple fact that when you’re at Mass, you’re God’s guest. You’re not there to be entertained – you’re there to pray.