ASK FATHER: Father had his dog with him at the altar during Mass

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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. NB says:

    This was a ruff subject to cover.

    I would say the dog could stay under the aforementioned circumstances as long as he and his owner were wearing their collars.

    We must be dogged in our search for good judgment and prudence in these matters. Better to not bark at the priest or wag our fingers in this situation. Perhaps his bishop already has him on a tight leash.

  2. jaykay says:

    “At one point, the dog sat up and barked once at something he saw in the congregation.”

    Kneeling, possibly? :)

  3. Tara Tremuit says:

    Dogs, if they work to guard and keep priests company, seem like a good and wholesome idea. I have seen priests and laymen alike fawn all over and pamper and schweetie-talk their dogs in a, shall we say, less than manly way. Blech, that’s no good. If this Priest is not making stuff up at the altar and is doing a workmanlike Mass, I’d let it be.

  4. KatieL56 says:

    Dogs may be faithful, but my favorite pet puts the CAT in CATholic.

    I don’t like snakes. Can’t we give Judas snakes and not beautiful precious cats?

    If we had had more cats around (instead of people offing them by calling them ‘witch familiars’) maybe the Black Plague’s effects (due to cats keeping down the rats and fleas population) would have been mitigated.

    I’ve had the joy of many great dogs in my life and many great cats, so I don’t like any kind of setup where one is presented as ‘all good’ and the other ‘all bad’. It reminds me too much of current society and the Great Divide. (Yeah, I’m on the side of the angels in that one which is I think proved by the fact that I still love, and cherish, the family and friends who have TDS, whereas they have often walked away from us ‘deplorables’).

    But now I’m starting to worry. I’m a woman who knits (strike 1) and loves cats (strike 2); now I’m worrying that something else I hold dear is going to be co-opted by haters like MSW!

  5. PostCatholic says:

    Of canines and Catholic liturgy, I will not opine.

    I wonder, though, if you’ve ever seen Renaissance master Lorenzo Lotto’s rendition of the Annunciation? If (big if) it happened in the presence of a kittycat, it happened exactly like that.

  6. Hidden One says:

    Not so long ago, St. Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, wouldn’t let even most humans enter into certain parts of the sanctuary–even outside of liturgical functions.

    Give me that old time religion… it’s good enough for me!

  7. iamlucky13 says:

    This is appreciated information relevant a related question I also had.

    At a parish I attend occasionally when necessary (eg – wife and I attending at separate times so we can watch our kids at home), a parishioner brings in and holds a small dog (Chihuahua, I think) for the full Mass. The dog is still and silent for all of Mass – certainly much quieter than I am able to keep my own children when we bring them.

    Although I have various concerns about this, I was not aware of any clear rubric or official guidance being violated.

    Furthermore, his behavior is slightly eccentric in a way that makes me suspect any criticism, no matter how tactfully delivered, would be understood severely by him. Especially because the dog acts innocuously, it seems to me that the possibility of discouraging his regular attendance would be a worse result than the presence of the dog during Mass.

    As a result, I have not approached either him or his pastor about this, although I have continued to wonder if I should. It seems I need not worry too much about it.

    I am much less comfortable about a dog being in the sanctuary during Mass, as a matter both of distraction and as a matter of reserving the space for those people and things fitting to preserve the sacredness of the space.

  8. Mac in Calgary says:

    @KatieL56: Well said. I’m a man who prefers cats to dogs, though I can get along with either. It is possible that a cat would hang out with the Saviour rather than Judas because (in my observation, anyway) cats have better BS detectors than dogs.
    But yeah: A snake for Judas.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Animals are permitted in the nave. You’re just not supposed to have them on the altar.

    When St. John Bosco’s coffin stopped back in his town church (in church down front in the center aisle, not up on the altar area), it was guarded by a dog who wandered in and insisted on staying — a dog which looked very much like the supernatural dog “Il Grigio” that sometimes had guarded him during life.

  10. JustaSinner says:

    My cat is a tuxedo cat. The smartest breed. He says three words: now, no, and milk. He also makes sure we put peanuts out for his friends the squirrels. He doesn’t jump the glass when they are there. He does go into ninja special forces mode when the crows come. He watched one take a baby rabbit off our lawn; there is some serious hatred there. Saw him once nose kissing the mama bunny through the screen. Smart cat. Kind cat. Caring cat. Glad he’s only four …should have him for many years.
    Now, would I take him to Mass? Of course not, he’s an animal!

  11. veritas vincit says:

    It would be one thing for a dog to be in the sanctuary, near the priest at the alter. That might be distracting, but tolerable. It would be another thing for the dog to be ON the altar, as the writer indicates. [No. “On the altar” is a common phrase also meaning, near to the altar. Note the questioner said, “stepped off”, rather than “jumped down from”.] For the priest to allow his dog to remain ON the alter during Mass strikes me as sacrilegious. [And… irrelevant, since that is not the case here.]

    (Doggone it, doesn’t the De defectibus cover what to do when dogs jump up on the altar?)

    [Get the dog off of the altar and go on with Mass. Take steps afterward. If the dog were to knock over the Precious Blood, that would be another matter.]

  12. Susan M says:

    Surely this post is not real…it’s fake, right? Like fake news…this is a fake post? I can’t tell anymore if people are telling the truth or trying to fool other people by posting fake things. That being said, Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in the Academia in Venice has 7 horses present while Our Lord is dying. So I can bring my horse to Mass then? You know, because there are horses in the painting?

  13. Tara Tremuit says:

    Re: iamlucky13: The eccentric man with the dog probably needs the dog as a therapy dog. It’s good to notice and generously accept the eccentricities of people with mental health disabilities. Best always to tread lightly with vulnerable people of any sort. There is, as you say, nothing to gain and much to lose by making a fuss. It’s different if a Mrs. Howell type is fussing over her Trixie-woo and feeding it filet mignon kibble during Mass. Let the sad man have his dog, quoth Solomon, almost.

    Re: veritas vincit: I think by ‘altar’ the questioner clearly meant ‘sanctuary.’ It would be quite a feat for a lazy old golden retriever to jump all the way up onto an altar. And quite the sacrilege if he were allowed to stay.

  14. Gab says:

    I don’t have a dog in this fight and I certainly don’t want to hound the priest, however during the Sacrifice of the Mass we are at the foot of the Cross with our Lord dying on the Cross. If it’s not appropriate to occur at the foot of the Cross, it’s not appropriate during Mass. These things don’t happen during a TLM, just sayin’.

  15. La Serenissima says:

    Back in London, [Brook Green], in the mid-1980’s, there was a very wise, elderly Monsignor who owned a dog.
    When Monsignor entered the sanctuary from the sacristy, the faithful hound would follow him, then proceed to a bench against the far wall, under which it would lie for the duration of the Mass. At the end of Mass, the dog would pad quietly after his owner, back to the sacristy.
    If you went to Confession in this church, the same dog would be with his master. Yes, there were “proper” Confessionals here; one could simply hear the dog breathing/snuffling and/or occasionally scratching itself. Can’t see that happening in the Brompton Oratory though!

  16. oklip955 says:

    Ok so if the priest allows a dog in the church building, then what do the people with severe dog allergies do. I am meaning those who will have an asthma attach. What are they to do? I guess they are just suppose to leave mass and not receive communion. Dog over a persons soul is the priority.

  17. FranzJosf says:

    I have an, admittedly inchoate, theory about these kinds of things in these United States: we are so infused by Puritanical (read: Calvinist) ideas, and the New Mass, where everyone has to do the same thing at the same time, that we get confused when everyone isn’t walking in lock step. Back in the day, there could have been five masses going on, at various altars, at the same time. There might have been a dog which got in, and there might have been several people reciting the Rosary at a shrine. No problem. In fact, all the prayers and movement happening at once was the living church.

  18. FranzJosf says:

    The people with allergies admit to themselves that they have allergies, admit to themselves that they are special cases and expect that they’re participation will be outside the norm. And, if they understand human nature, they won’t resent that their difference is, in fact, different. The last thing they would want to do is demand the spotlight and insist that everyone bow to their demands in any sort of authoritarian way. God forbid.

  19. Amerikaner says:

    I believe St Philip Neri once had a squirrel on his shoulder during Mass.

  20. Markus says:

    Ever wonder why Cathedral doors are so tall? They were to be tall enough for the Bishop to enter his Cathedral, on horseback, in procession.
    After the Rood Screen was eliminated in the new Gothic church design, they had a problem of pilgrims and dogs wondering into the sanctuary during Mass. Solution? Build a fence around the sanctuary. This “fence” became the Communion rail.
    Perhaps if dogs start to show up at Mass again, Communion rails will start to reappear.

  21. APX says:

    At the same time, there is nothing per se wrong with an animal in church,

    Unless it’s a horse. No horses in churches.

    [You might want to study up on that.]

  22. teomatteo says:

    I am afraid I would have to walk out. Dogs become aggressive around me for some reason. (my siblings say that these animals sense the devil) but I digress. No, I am not comfortable with strange dogs and they are not with me. I would have to depart as quietly as I could.

  23. Percusio says:

    Again, this is obviously because it is a Novus Ordo, N.O., Mass. That is the cause of the problem, of course. This had to be mentioned at the outset in order to associate the action, the presence of the dog, actually “ONTO the altar”. Having been onto the altar, and being a N.O. Mass, it was the intention of the priest to “sacrifice” the animal as it was a N.O. Mass. Possibly a statue of Baphomet was nearby. The two are so closely related to each other. The older golden retriever, as a nimble older retriever, jumped about 3 feet ONTO the altar and “did its thing”. At first I thought when the “dog did its thing” that in fact it had come up to make an internal offering which had left a more impressionable “mark” onto the altar. Here, the gifts presented were more than wine and bread, but an offering coming from within, something which ought to be commended in such a soul. But then all of the sudden, a bright light illumined my mind and realized, perhaps this person meant, the “sanctuary”. Oh I am so embarrassed. Sorry.

  24. Ages says:

    “Let no one introduce into a sacred Temple any beast whatsoever, unless it be that when someone is journeying, and being under the greatest necessity and without a habitation or resort of any kind, he puts up in such a Temple. For if he does not let his beast stay inside, it will perish. But with the loss of his beast of burden and as a result of his being thus left without any means of carriage he will expose himself to the danger of death. For we are taught that ‘the sabbath was made for man’ (Mark 2:27), so that through all it is preferable to consider the salvation and safety of the man. But if anyone should be caught introducing a beast into the Temple without there being any real necessity, as has been said, if he be a Cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated.”

    – Canon 88 of the Quinisext Council

    Ancient Interpretation: The present Canon prohibits anyone from introducing into any sacred temple any kind of animal. For sacred things deserve honor and respectful reverence, save only if anyone be engaged in a long journey, and there arise a great need due to wintry weather and a heavy rain, and he has no place to take refuge, he takes his beast into the temple in order to avoid leaving it outside to perish and himself exposed to the danger of death, as not being able to make the journey from here on with his own feet alone, or as being grieved because he has no money wherewith to buy another. The Canon adduces testimony from Scripture, which says that the Sabbath was made for man. This can be taken in two different senses: either that just as the Sabbath was declared a holiday by the law in order to allow the slave a day of rest, and likewise the beast of burden in the service of man, so that it might as a result of such rest be able to serve its master the better, so and in virtually the same way it maybe said that the animal is allowed to rest in the Temple on such an occasion not for the sake of the animal itself, but for the sake of the man who owns the animal. Or that just as the holiday of the Sabbath used to be interrupted in order to enable men to water their animals (Luke ch. 13), or to get them out of a pit if they happened to fall into one on a Sabbath, in order that as a result of all such exceptions man might be served. Thus too is the honor of the Temple temporarily shelved in order to provide for the salvation of the man owning the beast. But if anyone should take any animal into a temple without any such necessity, in case he be a clergyman, let him be deposed; but if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated. Read also c. LXXIV of this same 6th.

  25. Markus says:

    The Quinisext Council (Constantinople 692) was held by Justinian II and was an Eastern Orthodox Council, not a Latin one. DNA?

  26. LT Brass Bancroft says:

    He should name the dog “Anathema”. If the dog gets too rambunctious, he could then say, “Anathema, sit!”.

  27. JesusFreak84 says:

    Service animals, fine, but otherwise, I wouldn’t risk setting off allergies for any parishioners =-\ The one other person in my dad’s braille class was an Augustinian priest–if he wants to have a seeing-eye dog during Mass, I’m fine with that. Service animals are usually trained to be less disruptive than it’s normally in their nature to be. Also, if the dog is one of those animals that can detect oncoming seizures, diabetic issues, or other things that could actually cause the priest to black out or otherwise drop the Eucharist during Mass…it could actually be *preventing* a liturgical problem, in a way.

    Aside from vets, though, (and yeah, I get that some priests have served in war zones, either as military chaplains or as soldiers before Ordination,) I tend to think the whole “emotional support animal” thing is over-hyped and should be avoided. From what I can tell, even dogs meant for vets with PTSD don’t always get the same rigorous, “Don’t react no matter what your instincts tell you to do,” training that dogs for the blind, deaf, and etc. do. (I’m open to being corrected on that part, though.)

    I personally can’t stand dogs at all because they just push too many Asperger sensory buttons >.<;;;

  28. Ellen says:

    When I was in college, the Newman chaplain had a pet cocker spaniel named Angel. She was a sweet dog and very well behaved. When father said Mass, Angel would just curl up in the corner and wait, then she’d follow him to the sacristy after Mass.
    I love dogs. I had an old fashioned farm collie growing up who was the best girl ever.

  29. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    True story, Fr. Z: At a nearby parish, the former pastor used to bring in his dog and the dog would come up to the altar during Mass and walk around, sometimes, settling in near the pastor. People were shocked, especially some of the African priests who were assigned to the parish at times. Anyway, the pastor also brought his dog along to the cemetery for funerals. At one service, the dog peed on the grave… not well received by the family. After that, the dog stayed back in the rectory.

  30. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Looked up the Lotto painting…. In the old Vulgate and I think in the LXX, Baruch has cats able to detect the deadness of idols and walk on their heads.

    So the car being scared of God the Father and the Angel Gabriel is an indication that this is real supernatural/divine activity, not a cunningly made myth about idols.

  31. Volanges says:

    Our former Pastor had a beautiful Samoyed who followed him everywhere, but not generally into the church during Mass. One Saturday during Mass there was a sudden thunder storm. Skipper was terrified of thunder and it didn’t take long before I heard him scratching and whining at the sacristy door (residence was directly attached to the church). I’d seen the damage Skip could inflict to a door frame so I got up and went to let him in. He went straight to press himself against Fr. Jack, who didn’t pause Mass at all, then, reassured that he would be OK, he went to lie down in front of the Tabernacle where he remained quietly until the end of Mass when he joined the recessional procession.

  32. bobbird says:

    All this really isn’t very funny. We had a lap-yapper brought into the Christmas Eve Mass, likely by a non-or-Christmas Catholic. It got barky. Everyone thought it was cute. The place was packed, of course, and it sets the table for what we now have to endure in airplanes. I tried to get this taken care of before Mass, but we have no effective ushers, everyone is just too “nice”. Our priest was hearing confessions and when the dog made its presence known, Mass had already begun. A sign in the foyer might help: “This is Sacred Space. The Real Presence of God is in the Tabernacle. No hats are permitted by males, nor ballcaps by anyone; no animals, including “Service Animals” except for approved Seeing Eye dogs; no food or drink except for bottle-feeding infants. Reverent silence is expected before and after Mass. Please feel free to socialize in the foyer or in the parish hall. May God bless everyone, and may we all meet merrily in Heaven.”

  33. A relevant oldie but goodie:

    Week 58

  34. Gregg the Obscure says:

    for several years my place at Mass was near the front on the center aisle because during the summer of 03 there were several episodes of dogs running in the main entrance and zipping up said aisle. i wanted to be in place to catch them if need be. the problem has abated and so now i’m near the back at Mass.

  35. surritter says:

    Just… no. Hasn’t anyone noticed how dogs are becoming more acceptable in public (while babies are frowned upon)? I’m sick of disgusting dogs at Home Depot, and even worse, the grocery store.
    Dogs are next to me on the airplane; they’re dressed up for Halloween. And I’m supposed to think it’s cute to have a dog under your booth at the restaurant? Stop already!

  36. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, obviously we don’t want to be having an animal market inside church, and we don’t want animals in the altar sanctuary (aside from rare events).

    But OTOH, animals are part of God’s Creation, and they are part of the natural worshippers of God. “All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all, forever.”

    (And re: horses, all of Siena’s Palio horses are blessed by priests inside the contrada churches and chapels, down front in the center aisle, as part of a Mass. Because they are going to be racing for Mary’s glory, in a dangerous race.)

  37. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Maybe this sense that animals disturb a sacred space is affected by culture. Once in Mexico, I attended Mass as a tourist at a beautiful, large church. The doors were massive and kept open.

    During Mass I saw two dogs wander in and leave after awhile. The people ignored them and followed Mass devoutly. After Mass, I let the elderly priest celebrant know that the dogs had wandered in.

    He was unfazed and looked at me with a, “And your point is?” When I said nothing further, he shrugged his shoulder and said, “It happens.”

    In some cultures, that are as reverent, if not more so than ours, people wait for something serious to happen in church, before they decide to clutch their pearls and take to the fainting couch.

  38. teomatteo says:

    I’m with surritter. I was at HDepot and two dogs went at each other and i told an employee how stupid they were for allowing this. i then wrote corporate and told them in an email that if i get bit they will pay me $50,000. No responce.

  39. gretta says:

    If I remember correctly, one of the odder privileges of being in the equestrian order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre is that you were entitled to bring your horse into church. Fortunately, most knights and ladies these days don’t exercise that privilege.

    I must admit, I’ve twice seen people bring lap dogs into Mass, and in one case one lady’s pooch was wearing a sweater that matched hers. While both dogs were well-behaved, it was profoundly distracting, and these dogs did not seem to have any official purpose. OTOH, there is a seeing-eye golden retriever that regularly guides his human to Mass at our cathedral. They sit on the front row, the dog tucks up under the pew and is virtually invisible until communion, where he guides his human up and gets him safely back to the pew. It is a beautiful witness to that “fidelity” that Father Z mentioned to see how carefully that dog guides his human.

    So I guess with this, as with so many things, context is everything.

  40. Fr_Sotelo says:

    My dog goes with me to the sacristy, because he is elderly now and this might be the last year I have him. He seems more bothered to be left alone so I keep him with me more. However, I don’t allow him out into the sanctuary.

    Still, is this a reason to get so upset? In other countries, dogs wander in and out of churches and people don’t see it as sacrilegious. In Mexico in 1993, I attended Mass as a tourist in a cathedral with large doors and a dog wandered in, and wandered out. After Mass, I told the very elderly priest who was ordained probably in the 1940’s and he just looked at me as if to say, “And your point is?”

    When I said nothing more he just shrugged his shoulder and said in Spanish, “It happens.”

  41. PostCatholic says:

    It’s a charming painting, isn’t it, Suburbanbanshee? The poor cat must have thought it was the Second Coming of the Songbird… Wait, maybe I have a timeline error in that joke…

    In any event, I love the Recanati Annunciation. I first saw it when it traveled to Washington about 20 years ago. And whether it’s a natural history moment or (I’m sure you’re right) iconography “proving” the divine, it’s a humanizing and felinizing moment. If there was kitty, s/he was scared of the angel, guaranteed.

  42. Fr AJ says:

    Sometimes my cats will follow me over to the church if I have work to do setting up for Mass, etc., and they love exploring the church building but I wouldn’t allow them over during Mass.

  43. Andrew Hollingsworth says:

    About 43 years ago the senior chaplain at Fisher House, Cambridge had a well trained dog which used to attend Mass in the chapel used for weekday Masses. The dog dutifully followed the priest into the chapel. Sat quietly and attentively in the sanctuary through Mass and then followed the priest back to the sacristy after Mass. I cannot say it upset me or anyone else as far as I could tell.

  44. teomatteo says:

    “Still, is this a reason to get so upset?”
    On my 61 trips around this star i have seen many things that started off harmless “what’s the big deal?” and before you know it “what the heck is happening to people?” As long as you take ownership of where it leads – and can articulate a real end point–then lead on.

Comments are closed.