18 September 2009

3 Things a Pastor Can Never Say (Updated)

Recently, I received a request to repeat my "Three Things a Pastor Can Never Say to His Parish."

Here they are:

1). What Father says, "Please, be mindful of your children during Mass. We have a cry room." What parents hear: "Your kids are disruptive brats and you cannot control them. They have no place at Mass, so why do you insist on ruining our prayer with these public displays of your failed parenting? Go somewhere else!"

2). What Father says, "Mass is a solemn celebration for the Church. Please keep this in mind when you are choosing your Sunday morning attire." What is heard: "Do not come to Church if you can't afford decent clothes. And by 'decent clothes' we mean expensive clothes, preferably designer labels with good shoes. Also, nobody wants to see you poured into jeans three sizes too small, or watch you slouch around in what you think of as your 'comfortable outfit.' We are an exclusive club here, so dress like you belong! Or go somewhere else!"

3). What Father says, "Just a reminder. . .Mass begins with the opening hymn and closes with the closing hymn. Please join us at the beginning of Mass and stay with us until the end." What is heard: "I'm sick and tired of you people coming in late and leaving early. What? You can't manage to roll outta bed before noon? You can't wait to get back to your ballgame and pot roast? Geez, people! Jesus died for your sins and all you can think about is getting out of the parking lot before traffic gets heavy. Get here on time. Stay to the end. . .or, go somewhere else!"

Though I have never been a pastor, I know from talking to many pastors that these exaggerated responses to gentle prods for decorum are not all that exaggerated. I also know that not all pastors have been as gentle as I have made them here. There's a story in the OP world of an American friar who actually stopped preaching during his homily every time a baby cried. He would stop. Wait for the crying to quiet down. And then continue. Ouch.

Examples, anyone?

[Update: I had to share this. . .I once con-celebrated a "first Mass" of a newly ordained priest. It was a typical 11am Sunday N.O. Mass. He had four altar servers--all girls. When we gathered at the back of the Church to process in, I noticed that all four servers were wearing identical hot pink shower shoes. . .yes, hot pink flip-flops!]


  1. I read a story of a priest who would send the altar servers ringing bells and with a candle to follow those who would leave the church right after receiving Communion. The rationale was that, since they are carrying Our Lord, they ought to be treated like a Corpus Christi procession.

  2. I know that American friar, who shall remain unnamed for his own protection. ;)

    (Hint: he blogs).

  3. My extended family shares a lake house in a remote area and when we would visit in the Summer, the drive to Mass was nearly an hour. The extended family numbered about 14 souls, so departing on time was always a challenge. The parish we attended was staffed by a very old priest, and this was in the 1970's, so he was probably ordained in the 1940's. When we would arrive, typically a few minutes late, he would stop the Mass and glare at us while all 14 of us tried to slip into pews. Once we were settled, he would then directly lecture us about being on time, make some rude comments about parenting skills, and then pick up with Mass wherever he had left off. Good times!

  4. Here are three examples (from totally different priests):

    1- During one homily a baby began to cry. And I mean CRY...as in Civil War field surgery howling. The priest paused, said something along the lines of "Auditions for the Schola are next Thursday..." and people laughed and the baby calmed down, but sure enough, started right back up, right where he had left off.

    Eventually, Father walked to the baby, put his microphone up to amplify the doleful bayings and said "He is interpreting my homily for the other babies."

    2- After Communion often some people trickle out, but one Sunday -- there may have been something "important" on TV, I cannot recall -- there was a stream of people exiting after Communion to which Father said "Remember, Judas left first, too!"


  5. Anonymous9:27 AM

    Hell hath no fury like a mother intimated to that her children are unruly! The thing I always marvel at is this: go to any Old Mass and you'll see tons of kids and they'll practically all be quiet and attentive, even if they're very young. Go to your average Novus parish mass and it's a free for all. Obviously, the children pick up on the general atmosphere, even if they're too young to understand what is actually going on. If they see other children misbehaving, adults in jeans and shorts, a general lack of reverence, then is it any surprise that they conclude (even if unconsciously) that Mass is nothing special: it's just another in the long line of places that mom or dad end up dragging me to: pre-school, park, friend's house, etc.

    We have our first little one on the way, and one of the biggest thing I'm worried about regarding Mass is making sure he's as well-behaved as the others in our parish (which alternates the Old/New Mass weekly, but even the Novus is in Latin and celebrated on the high altar).

  6. Prior to Vat II we had a pastor who was known to be "a bit crusty".

    One Sunday after Communion while turning to give the final blessing he spied the usual suspects filing out the back as they normally did to beat the rush. From the altar his voice boomed out, "Yep, there they go. Just can't wait to leave the House of God after meeting their Sunday obligation. Just look at them, they can't get out fast enough!"

    Too bad we can't get more like him these days.

  7. Anonymous10:26 AM

    The cell phone whent off right in the middle of our newly ordained priests homily, total quiet, and Fr. simply said; "If that's for me, tell them I busy!"
    We had a priest with a sense of humor!!

  8. I grew up in a small town with an even smaller parish. The parish was run by a short though witty Irishman who was a retired Augustinian. Whenever he heard a baby crying, he would stop his homily and then invite the mother to bring the baby forward to the front of the church. The baby would inevitably stop its crying upon seeing all of those eyes focused on him.

  9. Regarding crying children, we have a priest in our deanery who has become (in)famous for exclaiming Will somebody do something about that screaming baby?! during Masses in his parish.

    When I am preaching, I find it easier to give thanks to God that the parents of the crying child chose to let the child live. That gives me something to smile about and allows me to refocus on the homily.

    Regarding leaving Mass early, I have heard of several pastors who wanted to erect signs which stated that remember that Judas left early, too on the traditional early departure routes, but were advised not to do it by more pastoral-minded bishops.

    I know one priest who would have chained the door if fire codes permitted it. He had his ushers keep people in the narthex until the readings and Gospel were finished. It still did little to discourage late arrivals.

    Regarding dress, I am of mixed-mind. I serve in a college campus ministry, so I see a fair amount of jeans and t-shirts, but, strangely enough, no more than I see in other parishes when I am traveling. While this bothers me, it is not my primary concern. What concerns me more are the immodest outfits that many women (and some men) are wearing to Mass. I can say that I have seen it all, but it seems like fashion designers are busy trying to design the ever-more-revealing design for the next year, and someone is bound to wear it to Mass. What confuses me is why young women shiver during Mass each week due to inadequate clothing and don't learn from the experience. The priests (who are wearing multiple layers) are controlling the thermostat - you would think that they would have figured that out...

    In interacting with our liturgical ministers, I have tried to explain both modest and appropriate dress to them. It just does not seem to take. But, as Father has said in his initial article, there does not seem to be a way to effectively communicate these concepts to the general parish community without someone hearing it the wrong way. Trust me, I have received the nasty emails to prove it.

  10. Anonymous10:57 AM

    A priest I know has described Purgatory as "where people stand and sing the songs they missed by leaving early."

  11. I hate to disagree with a Dominican on matters liturgical, but MASS DOES NOT END WITH A HYMN.

    A hymn is not a part of the Mass. Find it in the GIRM. You won't.

    How does Mass end? Here is what GIRM 90 has to say:


    The concluding rites consist of

    1. Brief announcements, if they are necessary;
    2. The priest's greeting and blessing, which on certain days and occasions is enriched and expressed in the prayer over the People or another more solemn formula;
    3. The dismissal of the people by the deacon or the priest, so that each may go out to do good works, praising and blessing God;
    4. The kissing of the altar by the priest and the deacon, followed by a profound bow to the altar by the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers.


    I don't see anything in there about a hymn. In fact, the Mass has ended when the priest has left the altar (or even momentarily before this).

    "Leaving Mass early" usually refers to communicants who leave right after reception of Our Lord. Mass is over BEFORE the (usually awful) closing hymn.

    Personally, I leave when the priest genuflects (a USA minor abuse, considering the rubrics technically call for a "profound bow.")

    Mass is over. Go in peace.

  12. Connnie,

    I've usually shied away from going with pray-ers to the clinic for no other reason than clinic protests are one of the few lay-led ministries in most parishes...I mean, this ministry is organized and carried out by dedicated lay folks from parishes. When the priest shows up, it becomes his show. I would probably participate if the ministry were very well-established and there was no danger of it becoming Father's Protest. I've heard of priests sitting quietly in the shade reciting the rite of exorcism at protests. This seems entirely appropriate to me!

  13. Can I just say that those of us who work in religious education and give talks about sacramental formation to the parents have the same problem?

    If I say:

    "We encourage you to go to Confession at the children's Penance Service as an example to them, to help them not feel so afraid, etc."

    They hear:


    I say:

    "The Church still teaches that it is a mortal sin to INTENTIONALLY skip Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation."

    They hear:


    The problem is that guilty consciences speak VERY loudly and when those consciences are pricked, it's easier to twist the message than listen to that deep interior voice of God calling them back Home.

    It doesn't matter how gently a message is delivered; it will be twisted, and the messenger taken out and stoned or crucified.

    Personal conversations are easier because they will tend to resist at that point and obtain clarity in a deeper conversation. But speaking to groups? It's easy for them to disengage, to stew on what WASN'T said or implied or ever intended, and decide that the distortion was the real message.


    We who have been placed in any way to deliver Truth in any form are going to get it. My experience has given me a great amount of respect for Pastors who try so hard to deliver the message and get beat up for it every dang time.

    No wonder some give up and just ignore the problems, falling back on watered down "non-offensive" homilies and the like.

    We have to pray for our priests and give a lot of support when they speak the truth. They are far more likely to hear from the complainers than from those who properly receive the message and applaud it.

  14. Regarding modesty, our church has signs out front with helpful illustrations, just like the one that's outside of St. Peter's.

    But women still violate the rules, and I hear that occasionally they react very angrily when corrected. "God will judge you, Father, for judging me!" said one of them after our pastor (who strives to be gentle and fatherly) spoke to her. I think it's clear that a woman who hates authority that much is in no state to be receptive to Church teaching anyway, so it's not as if correcting her about her dress will alienate her more than she's already alienated herself. On the other hand if the woman does respond to correction then everybody benefits, especially her.

    Personally I've never seen a man dress immodestly. At worst they wear knee-length shorts and a t-shirt.

  15. Fr Philip, my favorite baby-crying-in-mass story happened at the Priory in Irving. When we were Seniors at UD we had friends who brought their baby and he liked to babble quite a bit. Nothing that would be too loud in a large church but in such a small setting you could here everything.
    When Fr. Robinson saw people shooting looks at the young mother he stopped his homily and reminded us to be grateful for every mother who chooses life for her child and told us that next time we feel we are being interrupted we should think of all the babies whose mothers did not choose life and be grateful there is a baby here at all.
    That chastened a few people and I think of this every time I feel annoyance creeping in. I also think of this when my own little ones are getting a bit out of hand and it helps me put my own stress into perspective.

  16. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Umm. Mass has ended when the priest says "The Mass has ended go in peace to serve the Lord", right? Not after the song..
    Or at least our priest said this. I guess we shouldn't try to beat him out the door, but there are times when you gotta go.....you gotta go!

  17. When children get loud or rambunctious during Mass, our priest usually comments that "If there's no noise or squirm in the pews, there's no future for the church!"
    As to how to get the message across: how about exactly what you did in this piece? Say first what you (the priest) would say, and then play the part of the "mis-hearing" parishoner...Make it comic...then they get that you're not condemning them personally...

  18. Anonymous6:57 PM

    To anonymous above - the ability of children to remain silent is not a function of the rite or language. My parish can manage 5 minutes of silent meditation after the homily in a church full of families. Novus Ordo. In English. Altar servers in flip-flops on occasion (rarely pink, they are sensitive to the liturgical colors).

    Further I was waiting outside last week for my son (who was serving an extra Mass) - and noticed that you can't tell when Communion (I was out front with one of our priests). Why? Because no one leaves. And no, the doors are not chained.

    Average mass attendance is twice the national average on a percentage basis.

    The key to all of this? Reverent and careful attention to the celebration of the Mass by the whole assembly. Which is possible with the Novus Ordo, it is not the sole province of the Tridentine Rite - something that is often overlooked, I fear.


  19. Anonymous8:11 PM

    I think you're right about #1 and #3. But reminding people to "dress properly" for [The Holy Sacrifice of the] Mass, as in, "modest"...oh, that's just very appropriate. And, if simply worded that way: "please dress modestly", EVERYONE will understand, and some will even comply. Nothing wrong with helping people to show respect for God, His house and others' sensibilities.

  20. Regarding point #2, that a poor person may not be able to afford decent, respectable clothing, I point you all to photos of people in the Great Depression, the worst financial cataclysm in the 20th Century. Even if those people ate every other day and put newspaper in their dress shoes to make them last a month longer, they still dressed, and all men had hats (as well as most women) and suits, and sweats or skimpy attire would simply not be seen in church.

    You can go to the Salvation Army or Goodwill and get a nice church clothes set for $20 or less. Dressing down is not from want, it is from not giving a durn, and showing up in the clothes one rolled out of bed or mowed the lawn in. I see people show up in city court in the same spaghetti sauce stained tee they had on last night, so it's not just church. And the airport has become the mecca of all bad dressing. I don't dress like half those people when I'm at home on the couch. I remember when flip flops were called shower shoes, and only worn in the shower and left lined up at its edge.

  21. Regarding dress, as long as it is modest and respectful it should be fine.

    But a year or so ago I was at a Mass on campus in which there were 30 or 40 people present. Such a large number, of course, requires the services of extraordinary Eucharistic ministers. The problem was that one of the male students was distributing Communion while wearing a baseball cap on backwards. I had to contact the priest about that one -- but it didn't happen again.

  22. In our parish we have children's mass every afternoon, and parents were told to just bring their kids during that time. At least people are aware how children plays, especially the little ones, while the mass is going on, and after the mass all the children are kissing the hand of the priest while the priest gives them their blessing together with their parents. What is nice to see is that even the parents joins the children when the priest tells them to something ..ex: okay children greet the person beside you and tell him/her that God loves you. Isnt' it wonderful to see. God bless you all.
    With regards to dress code inside the church..we have ads posted at the door of the church and the dress code is strictly being implemented inside the Blessed Sacrament.

  23. Hey fr. those are DESIGNER flip flops there! They're high style and high dollar!

    our Priest recently changed the birthday/marriage blessing to the front of the Mass instead of the end. He announced the week before the change:

    We're going to change the order of things, putting the marriage and birthday blessings at the start. This will help our Mass to flow better. So, if you want to get your blessing you have to show up on time....and since the space between the end of the eucharist and the end of the Mass is so brief, there's no need to leave early.

    there were several out loud laughs...and I saw a couple folks squirm. haha.

  24. I like the idea of flip flops in liturgical colors better than backwards baseball caps.

    By the way, I'm a professor, not a priest, but I deal with baseball caps in class with sarcasm (which is usually noted on course evaluations). I say things like "The knowledge rays I am projecting from my eyes can't penetrate canvas baseball caps." Complete with fingers wiggling at arms length. The caps seldom reappear, even if feelings are hurt.

  25. I've found that sometimes one needn't even say anything to make people all defensive and cross. More than a couple of times, I've gotten angry glares from parents of crying or chattering children, just for looking in their general direction. I know they probably get dirty looks from some people, but I am not sure what that has to do with me. I tend to look admiringly and longingly at children and families; crying, chattering, fussing, squirming, etc. doesn't bother me.

  26. Anonymous9:12 AM

    There's a story in the OP world of an American friar who actually stopped preaching during his homily every time a baby cried.

    I know this is true because I was there (could there be more than one?) The second time the baby resumed squawking (not so loudly, actually), he cut short his homily, abandoned the pulpit, and went straight to the Creed. He was not assigned to our parish, but an occasional guest. I never saw him there again.

    The call to humility can arrive in unexpected ways.


  27. As a choir director, I used to have problems with younger choir members dressing appropriately for Mass (which is important and distracting, since we're located in the front of the church). The next year, I added one rule to their choir guidelines: "The only body anyone should be staring at during Mass is the Body and Blood of our Lord. Please dress and do your hair accordingly."

  28. Laura L9:46 AM

    Fr. Philip--Our pastor has a written rule for our altar servers (& 2 of my kids are altar servers!) that NO flip flops are to be worn on the altar (that includes flip flop type sandals, as well). No sneakers, either, unless they are black on boys...and no jeans. I also wanted to say that I am in agreement with Patricia--we are a N.O. parish, but we don't have screaming babies interrupt too often, and Mass is always celebrated with reverence. I think the people and the priest set the tone, don't you think? Fr. has made it a rule that casual conversation is not welcome in the sanctuary. He told us in a homily more than once that if we sincerely believe in WHO is at that altar, in that tabernacle--we would want to come in on our knees!


  29. I've long had a difficult time curbing my annoyance with howling babies or (more commonly) unruly children. I'm truly sorry about that, but when a child is throwing their toys (and don't get me started on parents who bring toys for their children to play with at Mass) their misbehavior makes it impossible for me to hear the homily and generally more difficult to concentrate.

    That said, I pray for tolerance and compassion in this regard all the time. Someone I once read wrote that we should remember that everyone around us at Mass is part of our Catholic family, and just as you wouldn't turn babies or children away from your family gathering, you should cherish them at church, too. That helps, actually.

  30. KC Suburb Parishioner10:55 AM

    Yesterday, our newly-assigned associate pastor (a younger man) decided to yell at the congregation (and I do mean YELL)during his homily on the subject of leaving Mass early.

    He kept on with the loud voice, belaboring the point, even saying that leaving early is a GRAVE MORTAL SIN especially if you are a parent or grandparent.

    Congratulations to him, for alienating 700 people on the basis of what 10 people do. I hope he's proud of himself.

    Where's a copy of Dale Carnegies "How to Win Friends and Influence People" when you need one?

    There's a right and wrong way to get your point across. Sarcasm, threatening, and general rancor does nothing to inspire others to Christ's example.