PROVIDENCE, June 23, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - There's a disturbing trend of irreverence in the way people dress and behave at Mass these days, especially during the summer months. So says Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who, in an impressive rant on his archdiocese's website earlier this month, vented about "a recurring problem in some [of] our churches these days — an habitual lack of reverence for the sacred mysteries taking place in our midst, especially when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered."
His Excellency stated bluntly, "The sloppy and even offensive way people dress while attending Mass is something I've witnessed personally and regularly receive complaints about." He lamented, "These displays reveal a gross misunderstanding of the sacred space we've entered in the church and the truly sacred drama taking place in our midst."
"You know what I'm talking about," he insists; "you've seen it too."
Thus begins a frighteningly specific litany of examples of exactly what he's talking about:
Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.
"C'mon," he affirms, "even in the summer, a church is a church, not a beach or a pool deck."
Bishop Tobin longs to see a return to reverence at church, most especially in the people involved in the liturgy. "Every member of the worshipping community should dress appropriately for Mass," urges the bishop, "but the obligation is even greater for those who fulfill public ministries during the liturgy — ushers, lectors, servers and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion." He believes "it's important that they give good example to others in the way they dress, speak and present themselves during Mass."
But Bishop Tobin was just getting started.
And what about the trend I've seen increasingly in recent years, even in our cathedral, of people coming to Mass carrying their water bottles and coffee mugs? Do they really need to be hydrated or caffeinated during that hour they're in church? Is it a sacred space or an airport terminal? And I wonder how many people even think about the eucharistic fast (one hour before receiving Holy Communion) when they prepare for Mass? I'm old enough to remember when you couldn't have any food or beverage, except water, from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. It was a sacrifice, to be sure, but also a clear reminder of how special it was to receive Holy Communion.
He wasn't done, though.
And while I'm venting, I still find it inappropriate and disrespectful to have a church full of people talking and creating a boisterous atmosphere before Mass, completely ignorant of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the spiritual needs of their fellow parishioners who wish to spend a few moments of quiet prayer with the Lord. The Church should always provide a sanctuary of quiet, peace and prayer for anyone who wants to escape the barrage of noise and technological intrusions of our daily routine and enter into the presence of the Living God.
"No moment reveals our attitude of respect," according to Bp. Tobin, "than during the actual reception of Holy Communion."
The Rhode Island prelate admits, "I am frequently amazed, however, over how many of the faithful, young and old, simply don't know how to receive Holy Communion properly."
He then offers a beginners' lesson on how to properly receive Holy Communion.