Sunday Do’s and Dont’s - An extract from Dorothy Pilarski's "Motherhood Matters"

  • September 27, 2011

The following is an extract from Dorothy Pilarski's forthcoming book "Motherhood Matters".

Click here to read more about the book or place an order.

One day at Sunday Mass a well-meaning dad arrived with a large plastic bag from a popular store. It contained a big, new toy for his young son. Something to entertain him during Mass. I can still see the bag’s big, green logo appearing from behind the kneeler, interrupting prayers.

Being a brand new toy, it was in plastic packaging that was torn open in the middle of Mass. What a racket! Several people nearby, including me, were mortified.  

I had to fight all my motherly instincts to lean over and give the man a scolding. What I really wanted to do was tug him out of the church by his ears and ask him: “What are you teaching your child? Do you want to teach him that no matter what is happening around him he is entitled to have fun?”

I often attend performances of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Massey Hall. I am inspired by the pages at the back of the program that detail standards of behaviour for symphony-goers. Sections under several categories define the expected etiquette and courtesy to be extended to others at the symphony. For example, it says latecomers and anyone leaving the hall will be admitted at a suitable interval. It asks patrons to refrain from wearing perfumes or colognes and forbids cameras and cellphones.

Why can’t the same be done at Mass? We need a booklet for parishioners that would read something like this:

Remember you have entered into the house of God for the purpose of prayer, adoration and reflection. Now is not the time to talk to your friends, but to talk to God. In order to help you get the most from this sacred space we ask you to do the following:

- Turn off cellphones. Do not text messages or check your Facebook account from the pews or the back of the church. Leave your social media devices in the car. It’s distracting for others who are trying to pray. This is a time to focus on God.

- Do not chew gum. Spit it out before entering the church. Don’t push it to the side of your mouth to chew later. There should be nothing in your mouth when you receive the Eucharist.

- Dress with dignity. Mass is not a cocktail party. Mass is not a hockey arena. Dress with decorum and modesty and ensure your children do the same.

- No children’s activity bags, granola bars, juice boxes, toys, etc. Mass is only one hour long. Children would grow in virtue if they were detached from these things for sixty minutes each week. For toddlers, instead of toys, try books for Catholic children or plastic rosaries.

- Provide instruction for children. Parents have an obligation to show their children the appropriate times to kneel, sit, stand and face the altar, not let them amuse themselves as if Mass is playtime. Involve them in the liturgy by teaching them to pray and telling them that Jesus is on the altar. 

- No food or water during Mass. If an able-bodied adult requires a drink of water to take some medication or other reason, leave the church and drink the water outside the celebration of the Eucharist. And do not bring your cup of coffee into the church.

- Arrive on time. If you are late for Mass, be courteous to others and wait for an appropriate break before you walk down the aisle to find a seat. The Toronto Symphony does not allow latecomers to waltz in whenever they please. Church ushers should be trained to enforce this.

- Don’t leave early. Set a good example for your children by staying in the pew until the Mass has ended with the final blessing and the priest has left the altar.

- Participate in the Mass. Don’t ask: “What is this Mass doing for me?” Instead, ask: “What can I do to participate more fully in the Mass?” Make an effort. Listen to the readings and the homily, recite the prayers of the Mass, follow along in the misslette and, when the music starts, sing! You will become an outstanding role model for your kids.

- No talking, please. Do not have conversations during Mass. You wouldn’t do that during a performance of the symphony. If you did, you’d be asked to be quiet or leave. So show respect for the priest and your fellow parishioners.

As a society in general, we are losing our sense of decorum and civility. Sadly, that’s also true at Mass. We have a responsibility to reverse that, to remember the reason we attend church is to know God, love Him and serve Him, especially at Mass.

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