I treasure a copy of a French book of etiquette from long lost decades, Le Livre D’Or Du Savoir-Vivre. Dictionnaire Illustre De La Politesse. It’s an informative hoot, since much of what it contains is seemingly outdated and, well, continental. But in some cases it has been helpful.
Also, I remember stories and hints from our old pastor at St. Agnes in St. Paul, Msgr. Schuler, who constantly had young priests, seminarians, men interested in priesthood at the supper table. The evening meal was always formal, served from the kitchen. We had our places and our proper napkin rings and you were expected to dress for supper. When you have a lot of men living together, it is important that there be decorum and some feminine presence about the place, in the form of a housekeeper or cook. Also, once upon a time, as a new priest assigned to the minor seminary, beginning with high school through college, he had been put in charge of teaching etiquette. They took in young men often straight off the farm, who didn’t have a clue about social graces. Heck, in Rome in the early 90s we had to help a few guys learn how to eat without causing shock and general revulsion.
That must have been a challenge, in the last years of the 40’s and into the 50’s, and the 90’s, but not as much of a challenge as it would today.
Now to my present point.
At the recent annual Canon Law conference organized by Card. Burke and held at the marvelous Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, some volunteers set up tables with books for purchase. I found a little treasure, in a reprinted book from the ’60s,
Social Manual For Seminarians.
UPDATE: NB that when I posted this, the price was $14.95. However, I suspect that readers here got the copies that were in stock and they switched to some other, more expensive supplier. There are other venues.
The contents include headings such as
POSTURE AND CARRIAGE
THE CONVENTIONALITY OF EATING
WHEN THE LADIES ARE PRESENT
YOUR FIRST SOLEMN MASS
There are, of course, others.
The book is a practical guide to help the 1960s seminarian be a “Catholic Gentleman”. This was a necessary part of formation… and remember that seminary back in the day began with HIGH SCHOOL seminaries!
This stuff is important. Of course, the publisher adds a note:
An intro to the Intro…
A few sample pages…
In the section about… WHEN THE LADIES ARE PRESENT
Sigh. As the years are torn off the calendar like flying leaves in the fall, will there be any “ladies”? The coarseness of young women now is alarming. It is hardly surprising, really. Look at entertainment these days. Who are the most vicious and prolific killers? Women. Think about it.
But I digress.
I am so glad I don’t have any annoying habits.
And, as ordination approaches, there is some really good advice in this section. There are an awful lot of things to think about, and this book helps to identify them.
This book is simultaneously a nostalgic hoot and neuralgic poke. It provokes smiles about lost days and it stimulates desire to recover what has been lost…
Decorum is the key to a great deal of the life of the Church. Categories from rhetoric are applicable across the board. Think about how for many centuries rhetoric tied together the whole formation of a young man. They were to be trained in identifying the bonum, the aptum, the pulchrum.
Decor, that which is seemly.
The right word or gesture at the right time for the right reason.
Choices of gestures and words for the sake of eliciting the chosen effect.
How often I contemplate how liturgical abuses and bad choices and deficient ars celebrandi is not just a violation of law, or the rights of the faithful, or good taste. They are also a violation of the priest’s own dignity. They are infra dignitatem. They manifest a lack of understanding of …
who the Church is,
who the priest is,
Who Christ is.
In any event, this book could be a great starting point for reflection not only among seminarians, but also among young priests.
And let’s not underestimate how parents of young children could take some cues from the helpful observations about “Catholic Gentlemen”.