From a reader…
Hi Father- I attended an N.O. Mass this morning, along with about 50 others, and I was shocked to see the priest allow his dog on the altar! During the sermon, the priest stopped, looked up and asked if the sound coming from outside the church was his dog barking. Some people in the back said yes. (Helloooooo, the Mass?) I barely heard it, but apparently the dog barked a couple times. He then told them to let the dog in, and “it would be okay. The dog would just come down to the altar.” (That’s “okay?”) So someone let the dog in, and pretty soon, an older golden retriever came down a side aisle and went right up ONTO the altar. The dog did its thing, sniffing around, chasing its tail a couple times, and then plopping down next to the priest who started with consecration as though nothing was out of the norm. At one point, the dog sat up and barked once at something he saw in the congregation. He roamed around while on the altar, and stepped off the altar to lie in the main aisle at one point. At the recession, he followed the priest out, and when I exited, I noticed parishioners petting the dog in the back, and giving him all kinds of attention.
Am I wrong to think this is beyond disrespectful and inappropriate? And am I wrong to be even more horrified that the parishioners didn’t seem to take issue with it…? I think I need a sanity check….
Believe me, I have heard some pretty crazy stories about what eccentric priests have done during Masses. While their antics are more or less reverent depending on the circumstances, they have the same impact when viewed through the lens of our humanity.
In the words of the immortal Gracie Allen, people are funnier than anyone.
Just because a priest is ordained, that is no guarantee that the priest is smart.
That should be consoling. God does not choose those who are worthy of priesthood, He chooses those whom it pleaseth Him to choose. The very fact that there are eccentric or thick priests demonstrates on a daily basis that Christ is the true High Priest. Validity of sacraments do not depend on how smart, or how holy, or how refined a priest is.
It might be the case that the priest has a deep problem with PTSD because of the hideous formation inflicted on him in the hellish seminary he had to attend. Maybe he has to have Fido there as a therapy animal.
Personally, I would prefer to deal with my Post Seminary Traumatic Stress Disorder though the proximity of a emotional support therapy pangolin named Jerry.
It is highly unlikely that the priest in question is doing something that he considers wrong, with the intent to irritate or be irreverent. He probably just thinks that it is cute to have his dog up there or that it shows just how wonderful he is in his casual approach to the most awe-inspiring thing that any human can do: say Mass. Isn’t he amazing?
You would be within your rights to let the priest know, in a kind way, that you find the presence of his dog – in the sanctuary for Mass – both distracting and inappropriate.
At the same time, there is nothing per se wrong with an animal in church, but our sensibilities don’t generally wrap around their presence as a good thing. However, I have in mind a story from Italy some years ago. A man who was a daily Mass goer and dog owner died. From that time on, that faithful old dog – now homeless – went to the church every day for Mass, in the church. The people there took it in stride because they knew the background and adopted it, taking care of it.
Finally, I can think of a great reason for trained dogs in church, and not just for taking down an active shooter. I can imagine a couple of dogs near the Communion rail, trained to growl ominously every time someone stuck her hand out for Communion.
I suddenly remembered, after posting, that there are various depictions of the Last Support in Renaissance art which feature companion animals. For example, in Rosselli’s beautiful painting on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, you find a dog.
Dogs in these paintings are often a sign of fidelity. Thus, the nickname, “fido” for dogs.
On the other hand, near Judas, who has a little black “halo” and a miniature demon on his back, there is a dog facing off with a sneaky looking cat. Just sayin’.
Jacopo Bassano does the same in his Last Supper, with the dog near the center with Christ and the cat near Judas. HERE
Also check out the beautifully painted dog in Tintoretto’s “Washing of Feet” which was at the Last Supper. HERE It’s a fantastic painting in the Prado.
Once you start to notice these critters in Last Supper depictions, they start popping out at you.