From a reader…
I am a recent convert to the Church from a Continuing Anglican Church.
I was a 45 year Anglo-Catholic.
I make what I consider to be the appropriate Signing and obeisances during the Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Benedictus qui venit, Elevations, etc. I am the only one to do so, that I can tell, in a NO parish of 400 to 500 on a given Sunday.
I also feel conspicuous because I sit near the front in a divided nave with pews facing inward and I am one of about a dozen, counting ushers, that wear coat and tie. Should I do as my fellow Romans do? I do, however, generally dress down for daily said Masses.
No one has said anything … yet … but I have heard stories about general disdain by some cradle Catholics leery of converts as being generally pretentious and too traditional. The last thing I want is to make folks uncomfortable but I feel the need to honor my Savior in the manner I have for over 4 decades.
I would very much appreciate your advise.
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
There was a time, for about 19 centuries, when the posture of the laity attending the Holy Mass was not the subject of universal legislation. There were customs, to be certain – and custom gains the force of law when it is practiced over a significant period of time (the current legislation allows for customs that have been in place for 30 years to obtain the force of law). But for the most part, during centuries of the Church’s life, the congregation was free to do pretty much whatever devotion, faith, piety, and human nature called them to do. Society did what society does and enforced certain taboos – if you’re going to smoke a cigarette during Mass, please step outside; standing up with hands outstretched and shouting “Hallelujah” during the Canon is frowned upon; gathering with your guild and praying a loud novena to St. Apollonia during the sermon would get you all a talking-to. If matters became particularly distracting or problematic, there was sometimes local legislation passed. The Bishops of Chartres issued several decrees up until the 18th century forbidding the Canons of the Cathedral from playing a game of ball (probably much like four-square) in the labyrinthine paving of the cathedral during the liturgy.
But now, we have rubrics covering the posture of the laity. And we have an increasing vigilance on the part of some in the Church to enforce those rubrics with a ferocity that would make Draco blush. Clergy and laity alike seem unwilling to tolerate even mild deviance from written and unwritten expectations of behavior on the part of their fellow worshipers.
My viewpoint, as a former layperson attending and as a current priest offering the Holy Mass is – as long as it isn’t distracting to others or offensive, or explicitly forbidden by the rubrics – go for it. Quod non prohibit, licet. As a spiritual director, if someone asked me about a particular practice, I would ask primarily about motive: why are you doing this (whatever *this* is)? Is it a genuine act of piety, or is it a plea for attention? If it is causing friction with fellow-parishioners, what is the cost-benefit analysis? In general, though, I’m all for a wide latitude in liturgical posturing by laity, out of respect for the majority of our tradition – and remember that the catholicity of the Church means that we extend both spatially and temporally. Let’s not fall subject to the tyranny of the present in our efforts to offer proper worship to Our Lord.