Attitude and Etiquette in Church

When you go for an official function in the presence of the king, sultan or some royalty, or if you are attending a function in the presence of a VIP (Very Important Person), quite likely you would observe a certain dress code, certain protocol, and certain customs. Surely you would want to carry yourself well and make a good impression, and not appear to be unkempt or in Malay: "kurang ajar" (brash, brazen, discourteous, or disrespectful) or "biadab" (barbaric, uncivilized, uncouth).

It is interesting how much effort we make to look good and put on a good appearance in front of such royalty or VIP, but how do we behave and act when we come to church? Do we prepare ourselves well before, during and after Mass, and observe the dress code, protocol and customs at church? Hopefully, many of us would be doing so, but once in a while, we come across people who are either ignorant of where they are, or just could not be bothered or could not care less. What do some of these folks do?
  1. Some dress in a revealing or improper manner. Wearing a singlet and shorts may seem fine when one is going to a market, but at church? Also, one padre once commented: "I have seen situations where the mother is dressed sexier than the daughter!" Sometimes, the cloth material could be inappropriate, especially when a person is standing near the light, since in some cases, the light could cause the clothing to become quite transparent, creating a revelation.
  2. It's a noisy world, as opposed to maintaining sacred silence. Already in our day to day living, we are bombarded with lots of noise all around us. Do we need to make even more noise with our talking in church and around the church grounds, while others are trying to pray and have some peace and quiet? Also, some seem to be addicted to their handphones and occasionally check for messages and updates, or trying to score in a new level in a mobile game, adding to the noise.
  3. Reading newspaper and church publications during Mass. As if one could not even afford an hour with the Lord and need to catch up with the latest news.
  4. Feeding young children during Mass. If we insist in feeding our children during Mass, then what sort of message are we giving them, that it is fine to eat and drink anywhere and any time one pleases? Are they that famished or dying of thirst that they must have something to eat and drink?
  5. Littering at the pews and church grounds. Occasionally, I come across a used tissue paper, sweet wrapping or some item at the pews or church grounds. Are some so uncivilised that the church grounds have become a rubbish dump? Would you indiscriminately throw rubbish anywhere and everywhere in your home?
  6. Arriving late for Mass and leaving early before Mass is concluded. If one could make much effort to arrive early for an official function, why not do the same for Mass? Also, would one leave early before the official function is over? Surely one would not want to offend the royalty or VIP by just getting up and leaving as one pleases. If so, why do some do so and disrespect the presence of our Lord?
  7. Chopeing or reserving seats in church. When you see a handbag, piece of tissue paper, or some item on the pew bench, quite likely some "clever" person or persons have reserved the pew for themselves or their family and friends. Sometimes, the pew is taken up by only a few people, but they prevent others from sitting at the other remaining space. The church pew does not belong to them, but they behave as if it does.
  8. Reluctance to participate at Mass. From the sanctuary, one could observe those among the faithful who are participating at Mass, and those who just stand there like a tree, not doing anything, not responding to the prayers or singing, just sitting and standing like robots. I have seen people looking so sour-faced, fed-up, monkey-faced or even zombie-like, as if coming for Mass is such a chore, or so excruciatingly painful.
  9. Not treating Catechism classes seriously. In certain parishes I have been to, I have noticed some parents being very impatient and wanting their children to come out of catechism classes as quickly as possible. It is as if some other activity such as tuition, shopping or a trip to some place is more important than learning about one's faith. Some parents have even fought with the catechism teacher for not allowing their child to leave. Would one leave as one pleases in an official function?
  10. Parking indiscrimately. I recall in some parishes where certain individuals parked their cars as if the road belongs to them. Not only that, there were occasions where they parked near the gate and blocked everyone else, or even parked in front of the priest's car, making it impossible for people to leave, and also making it impossible for the priest to drive out, especially when answering an emergency call. One wonders where such persons learnt their driving from, or it is simple a lack of common sense, or don't care or "tidak apa" attitude.
Such antics, attitudes and behaviour among some of our faithful happen from time to time. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: are some of us guilty in committing some of these? Do we reach out to such persons and try to help them in changing their ways or attitudes? Or do we just wash our hands and look the other way, only to allow such attitudes and behaviour to become rampant? As a Christian community, we cannot only expect the priest and church leaders to address such attitudes. Each and every one of need to do our part in enabling our church to be transformed into a place where all are welcomed, loved and cared for.

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