I have been, since October, facilitating the RCIA at Saint Cecilia Parish in Boston. Each week we begin our class with ten minutes of silent prayer with Scripture followed by a presentation and discussion. For me, at least, the ninety minutes fly by.
Recently, it occurred to me that there were certain things not contained in traditional lesson plans that really do need to be shared. Thus, I have assembled a few bits of practical wisdom and submit them to the masses for consideration:
- When you get to church, it is customary to bless yourself using Holy Water. You see those little "finger bowls" attached to the doorway? Yep, just dip a finger or two in there and make the sign of the cross. The action is meant to remind you of your baptism, not to rinse your fingers free of the sugar from the glazed donut you ate in the parking lot.
- Move to the center of the pew. Unlike airplanes, there's hardly any benefit from sitting on the aisle. Move toward the center so that when the late-comers arrive -- and they will arrive -- you don't have to do the pew shuffle where you haphazardly slide all of your personal belongings down the row or you draw your knees back so that they tardy party might try to get past you.
T-Minus 3 Minutes
- Okay, so you've gotten to your pew. Now, take off your coat. You would not go to a cocktail party while wearing your coat. Why would you bother getting dressed for church if you're just going to conceal yourself underneath your big puffy coat?
- Point #1 applies especially if you're bringing up the gifts. Recently I was with a group of friends who went to Mass together and I ended up sitting on the aisle. Well, I knew when the gifts were coming long before they arrived because I heard the sound of the woman's enormous puffy coat at she came up the aisle. It was one of those white puffy coats that look like the body of the Michelin man and somehow make me crave a marshmallow.
Singing at Mass
- My guess is that if we started to blare Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" or played the chorus to "The Wild Rover" or "Sweet Caroline," the church would erupt in song. As it stands, it tends to look like we're the frozen chosen: people just stand there as the organist has a solo performance and the congregation mumbles along with the song if they have even bothered to open up the hymn book. We sing in bars, we sing in the shower, we sing in the car: it's okay to sing in the church!
- That said, I'm totally aware that some places have horrible music. The soprano cantor whose voices dwells in the rafters or the musician who has forgotten the importance of the time signature.
Readings and Homily and Sign of Peace
- I like to follow along with the readings: it keeps my mind and heart occupied. The homily, however, is a potential no-man's land.
- Recall the adage "An idle mind is the devil's playground." Well, a poorly prepared homily gives builds one heck of a jungle-gym in that playground. There's no reason for a homily to be more than 7-8 minutes in length (this 15 minute stream of consciousness nonsense is completely absurd). Thus, if one is being held hostage by a priest who didn't prepare and is now inflicted on-the-fly exegesis upon you, resist looking at your phone. Once you start playing with the phone, it becomes a distraction to those around you. Try your best to pay attention - surely there's something wise to be heard - but if this fails, do what I do: find escape routes from the church (1) in case of a zombie attack or (2) in case lava/acid were to cover the floor. Your mind is occupied, you look engaged, and no one suspects your having fun in your own internal fantasy land.
- The Sign of Peace is a tough one. If you have a cold, maybe use a bit of hand-sanitizer just before? A firm handshake, a hearty "Christ's Peace be with you" or some variant thereof would be great. I'm not hyper-keen on the "Peace Flash" from across the church, but I get it.
- This is always a tricky one. They are called "kneelers" because we put our knees - either natural or artificial - upon them. They are not leather-covered foot rests. They are, however, treacherous.
- I have developed a "foot drop" method of deploying the kneeler. That is, I take the initiative to use my foot to bring it down in such a way that (1) I don't have to bend over and (2) it doesn't slam to the ground. I'm happy if someone else wants to lower it but, to be honest, I'm pretty good at it and I do it quickly.
- If the custom is to kneel before the reception of Communion, this can raise a question of logistics. My practice is to stand up when the pew ahead of mine begins to empty out. I stand, a sign to the Catholic lemmings around me that we're about to move, and I put the kneeler up. Everyone should put the kneeler up so as to minimize the risk of tripping or negotiating the perils of an even more diminished walkway.
- The person who is going to "Dine and Dash" is readily obvious: he or she now is wearing the coat, has the purse on the arm, and charts a straight course to the door after Communion. Judas was the first to leave, too.
- If the Cup is offered, this can cause pew congestion. If you bypass the cup and go back to the pew, let your neighbors in before you return to your seat: you don't want to climb all over them. If you want to kneel, great! But wait until everyone is returned before deploying the kneeler again, otherwise it can make for a treacherous return.
- Unless there's an emergency (like a desperate need to use the restroom), I don't leave until the priest has walked past me during the recessional. Generally I wait for the end of the final hymn.
- "Thanks be to God" and the first notes of the closing hymn do not mean "Hey, talk to your friends!" People are still praying.
These are just a few random thoughts: I'm sure there are more, but I'd need my second cup of coffee to write them out. These aren't the points of irritation of an old curmudgeon but, rather, observations of a guy who likes to pray and is helping a group of RCIA candidates enter into the wild and wooly world of Catholicism!