Church savoir-vivre

Fr Jaroslaw Kwiecien

The city council in Olsztyn will be the first to pass a law that will forbid smoking in cemeteries, which has been reported in one of the dailies. At once there has been critical opinions that legal orders and bans will slowly enter all fields of life. On the other hand, it is evident that we have serious defects as far as good manners are concerned, including ‘church’ manners.

Law will not do

It was Ewa Zakrzewska from the Citizens’ Platform in Olsztyn’s city council, that originated the idea in question. ‘In our city we have a smoking ban in bus stops. We will soon extend the smoking ban to all cemeteries. Sometimes we should remind people of proper behaviour’, she said in some interview. The fine would be up to 500 zloty. The city guards will enforce the regulations. The clergy do not criticise the ban but are against fining smokers. Fr Jozef Fijalkowski thinks that a smoking ban should be considered in one’s conscience and sensitivity. And in an interview for some daily Rev. Msgr Julian Zolnierkiewicz stresses, ‘We have media, pulpits, schools; we must bring people up, teach them how to live in the world and not violate the sacred things. Fining will not do.’ It turns out that although one cannot order or ban all things one should preach not only about God but also about other things, for example how to behave at sacred sites. Let us take one of the cemeteries in Sosnowiec before the All Saints’ Day. The weather is fine; the sun is shining. Some dignified lady takes her dog for a walk. She goes to the cemetery. Her pet, understanding nothing, relieves itself at the graves. Another picture: On 1 November, in the afternoon all family members gather at the grave. They laugh and discuss funny recent events. At some moment a middle-aged man takes a package of cigarettes out of his pocket. He helps the others. You can see a grimace on the face of one of the women. But she quickly realises that she will not stand against the others and accepts the situation as the norm.

Adherence to mobile phones

Recently my friend priest has told me about a certain funeral. He celebrated Mass in a small cemetery chapel. He stood on one side of the coffin as the one who presided over the liturgical service and the family members were on the other side. Suddenly they could hear a mobile phone ring in the pocket of one of the mourners. ‘I thought that it happened when someone had forgotten to switch off his phone. But to my surprise I could hear the owner of the mobile phone talking freely, although in a low voice. I did not know whether I should continue the service or make a pause not to disturb the man’, the clergyman recollects. A Mass for children in a big church in some city. The Liturgy of the Word. Suddenly one could hear a mobile phone ring. The entire congregation looks around whose phone rings. After several seconds the ring stops. One or two minutes later. The phone rings. The situation repeats several times. The liturgical mood is gone. No wonder that the signs ‘no mobile’, showing mobile phones crossed out, are placed at the entrance to churches. And perhaps soon an altar-boy will go out before Mass and ask people to switch off their mobile phones like the two amiable animated elks have done so before film shows in our cinemas. But is this the way the preparation to the Liturgy to look like?

Children in church

Mobile phones are not the only things that can disturb people during Sunday Masses. A letter from Mariola was sent to one of the diocesan family counselling centres. ‘We want to bring up our child in faith. Unfortunately, our two-year-old daughter Ania cannot sit quietly in the pew. She runs, sometimes she speaks aloud and pays no attention to my orders.’ We can see such situations in our churches. A child runs over at church and the faithful turn their attention to it. Its mother or father is glad and proud that his/her child is the object of people’s interest. Then the sermon or other parts of the liturgy are in the background because something ‘more interesting’ is happening.

Wear appropriate clothing

Appropriate clothes during Mass belong to good ‘church’ manners. Naturally, this concerns summer months rather than winter when we put on warm clothes going to our churches, which are often not heated. But now we should remember: if we wear appropriate clothing going to the theatre or philharmonic hall because we want to show our respect for the artists, spectators or the art itself we should also wear our best clothes going to church out of respect for Lord Jesus. A picture from summer holiday: Kolobrzeg, the beautiful cathedral. Tourists are entering the cathedral. A young man wearing a cassock, probably a seminarian, is standing in the hall. He is the guide to the cathedral. A middle-aged woman wants to enter the church. ‘You cannot enter the church in such clothes, which are rather good on a beach’, the seminarian explains in a polite way. At first they discuss and then an argument starts. ‘When she was leaving the church she shouted ‘I have never been treated like that!’ Several months ago a journalist phoned me asking to comment on some situation. He stood at the entrance to the Chapel of Our Lady at Jasna Gora for an hour, observing people’s reactions. The inscriptions and pictograms (special pictures) inform which activities people should not do at the sacred site. That included wearing inappropriate clothes. And during that time at least several people ignored the request, i.e. he saw a woman wearing a low-cut blouse and some men wearing t-shirts without sleeves.

Believers who chew gum in church

A completely new custom that the faithful introduce is chewing gum in church. This is not apparently the domain of children and teenagers who are not aware that chewing at church is improper conduct. Adult men also chew gum freely at church. ‘gum-chewers in church’ usually represent the middle class, men aged 40-50, looking like tradesmen and regular customers of cheap bars. They occasionally go to church, usually for baptisms, weddings or funerals. They usually know how to behave at church but they have certain odd liking for somewhat different conduct. They want to show their superiority over ‘those piously rattling Hail Mary’s’. A wedding or a funeral in a big city is a special experience for young priests. ‘The Lord be with you’, they begin Mass. But silence instead of response follows his words. Sometimes it is the organist or the sexton that answers ‘And also with you.’

Adults with no good manners

Someone wrote in an Internet forum, ‘You say that nobody reprimands small children talking in the pews. But what about old women who sometimes do the same? Recently two elderly women have been sitting behind me and talking during the entire Mass, they have discussed everything and jostled in the pew. Can I, a young person, reprimand them?’ Being punctual is the done thing or in other words, it is the way to show your respect for Lord Jesus. Nobody likes people who are late for appointments. Our boss would reprimand us and then would fire us. Lord Jesus will not throw us out of the church but that does not exempt us from the virtue of punctuality. Savoir-vivre in church is obligatory upon all people. I want to add that it concerns non-believers, too. Even if some good winds bring them to sacred places, although they seldom and unconvincingly go there, it would be appropriate to behave properly and respectfully so that the city council need not execute such a behaviour by imposing regulations and fines. Since the most important law is the one inscribed on the heart and mind...

"Niedziela" 2/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: