Sir John and the Knights of the Long Table

Eleven of us live here at beautiful Schamelot, and we have a small 20 acre farm of chickens, emus, two dogs, 13 or so cats and a cockateil named Sassafrass.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

American Catholic Etiquette, 1962

I was reading one of Marian Horvat's articles on the loss of propriety in our modern culture and decided to purchase a book she recommended for teaching children (and adults!) good, traditional Catholic manners. It arrived yesterday and looks to be a real gem! Since so many people are trying to prepare themselves for the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, and the celebration of the Catholic liturgy according to the 1962 Missal, I thought it would be helpful to share what the author, Kay Toy Fenner, had to say about Behavior At Mass in 1962. How far we've come! I've taken the liberty of making a few additions--it seems there are several current practices that Ms. Fenner never imagined would need to be addressed.

In Sanguine Christi,

Behavior At Mass

Remember, O Lord, thy servants...who offer up to Thee this sacrifice of praise. (The Mass)


A few general rules cover proper dress for attendance at Mass, novenas, and other church devotions.

For women:

Women must always dress modestly for any church service. There is no permissible exception to this rule. [Look at the priest, whose head and hands are the only exposed parts of his body]. The preferred costume is a suit, coat, or dress with long sleeves and a modest neckline, [hemline], hat gloves, stockings, and street shoes. Regardless of how warm the weather may be, a low-cut dress [or top] or one without sleeves should not be worn. Any dress must have, at the very least, a cap sleeve or a collar that covers the shoulders.

Shorts may never be worn; neither should slacks, except under the exception noted below.

A head covering, [preferably a veil], is obligatory, but a scarf or a [hat] is permissible.

Exceptions for women: a woman planning to attend services while on the way to or from work or school may wear the costume proper for the activity in which she is about to engage. This means that a women whose work requires her to wear slacks [always modest, not too tight and never jeans] may wear them to Mass; a nurse may wear her uniform; a schoolgirls may wear head scarf, socks, and school uniform. But this permission does not extend to sports clothes such as a gymnasium suit, tennis dress, bathing suit; and it is allowable only when the choice is between attending services in working clothes or failing to attend.

For men:

Laymen never cover their heads in a Catholic church.

The ideal attire is a dark suit, white shirt, and a sober tie. Slacks and a sports jacket are allowable. Some sort of suit coat or jacket is always worn [just like in a fine restaurant—how much finer the company at Holy Mass!]. It is poor taste to come to Mass in a sports shirt or jersey without a coat, regardless of how warm the weather may be. [Jeans are never permissible, except under the exceptions noted below.]

Men do not wear shorts to mass.

Exceptions for men: A man who goes to church while en route to work or school may wear school or work clothes. A laborer returning from work in soiled clothing who wishes to attend an evening Mass may do so, even though he would otherwise wish to appear neat and clean.

For girl children:

Girls and girl babies wear a bonnet or hat in church. If they are under twelve years old they may wear socks. If they are over twelve, they should wear stockings. Snowsuits are permissible in cold weather through the twelfth year. Play suits and shorts are not permissible at any age.

For boy children:

Boys of any age uncover their heads in church. Boys over the age of twelve should not wear shorts to church. Children should not come to church dressed sloppily in denims, jerseys, etc., unless they own no other clothing. Children should learn to bathe and dress carefully for church and to present as neat and attractive an appearance as possible; this training will then carry over into adult life.

All these rules apply to attendance at church services at which others will be present. Anyone wishing to pay a private visit to the Blessed Sacrament may feel free to do so in any costume provided only that it is modest. Women and girls always wear a head covering; men and boys never do.


Proper behavior at Mass and other church services begins outside the church door. If the church has a parking lot, a driver should take care to park properly, to obey all church rules on the subject, and to strive not to inconvenience any other parkers or take up more than his due share of space. If the church has no parking lot, one should not inconvenience the church’s neighbors by parking in front of a driveway or a hydrant. One should never park double or disobey any of the laws of the road.

Other rules to observe are:

Come to Mass on time.

Dip the fingers of the right hand in holy water; make the sign of the cross upon entering and leaving.

Always be seated whenever there is space to permit it. Never stand in the back of the church unless you are sure that all seats are filled.

Genuflect before entering the pew: touch the right knee briefly to the floor as a sign of respect to the Presence on the altar.

Move into the pew as far as space permits; leave the entrance to the pew vacant so that others seeking a seat may easily find one. (The exception to this rule is a wedding; those who have the foresight to come early may stop into the aisle to let others enter the pew, thus retaining their seat on the aisle, where they can better observe the ceremonies.)

Those intending to receive Holy Communion should remember to observe the ordinary social amenities as they do so; they should walk up the aisle at a pace that is fast enough to avoid holding others back and slow enough to keep from brushing past others. One should wait until one’s turn arrives to approach the rail. If the church has adopted a special method of approaching the Communion rail—up the main aisle, down the side, etc.—all communicants should observe these rules exactly as requested. [Communion is received only on the tongue, never in the hand.]

Prepare your contribution before you come to Mass. If your church, like so many others, uses the envelope system for collecting, use the envelope proper to the day; mark on the face of it such information as your church has requested. If you have pledged yourself to contribute a set amount each week, keep your word unless some extraordinary change in your financial situation makes it impossible.

Children under four years of age are apt to become restless at Mass. [It may not be reasonable to expect such young children to behave properly throughout the service; if it is not possible for them to behave, then it is best, whenever circumstances permit, not to bring them.] But of course they may be brought if there is no one to care for them at home. Every effort should be made to keep them from disturbing others. If they become irritable and noisy, they should be taken out.

Children over four can be taught to behave properly. They can understand the simple explanation that they are visiting in God’s house and are in His Presence. Children between the ages of four and eight may bring a picture book “Life of Christ” or some similar book with which to occupy themselves and may be taught how to use their rosaries. Children eight years old and over should have a child’s Mass Book, or simplified Missal in which they may follow the Mass service.

In some parishes the young women of the Children of Mary or a similar church group conduct nurseries in the school at which parents may leave young children during Mass. This is an excellent idea which all parishes should adopt whenever practical.

Mass is not over until the priest has left the altar; the congregation remains until he has done so. When there is an invalid or a baby at home, a man and wife may attend separate Masses. In such a case, one of them may need to leave the church a minute or so before services are ended so that the one waiting at home may be in time for the next Mass. When one has this excuse or some similar valid reason, it is allowable to leave the church before the final prayers have been said. But it is not allowable to leave merely because it is a warm day or in order to escape the crowd.

A Catholic who constantly remembers that his Father and Creator is present on our altars cannot fail to dress and behave properly whenever he is in the Presence and will be eager to go to Mass and loathe to leave. (emphasis added)

Hearing Mass Properly

One fulfills one’s obligation to hear Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation by one’s presence at the principal parts of the Mass. One does not fulfill it by watching a Mass on television or hearing it on the radio.

But one’s mere physical presence at Mass, although it satisfies one’s obligation, does not otherwise redound to one’s spiritual welfare. One must pray the Mass, in one form or another, with a full awareness of the profound mystery in which one is partaking and a real desire to share in its benefits and to win the spiritual rewards of the great Mass ceremony. This requirement may be fulfilled by: serious interior meditaion and prayer, using a prayer book, or praying one’s rosary [especially the Sorrowful Mysteries of the set of mysteries which corresponds with the day’s feast]. But the ideal method, and the one the Church urges and approves, is to pray the Mass with the priest [as well as one is able] by using a missal.

The Missal is the official prayer book of the Church, in which are given, in Latin and in English translation, the ordinary prayers and the prayers for all the Feasts of the Church liturgical calendar. One who uses a Missal is following exactly all the prayers and actions of the Mass celebrant.

General rules for following the Mass, disregarding slight differences in custom and various localities, are these:

Low Mass

Stand when the priest enters the sanctuary at the beginning of Mass; remain standing until he begins the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, then kneel. Kneel until the Epistle [the reading from the right side of the altar], then sit.

Stand for the reading of the Gospel, both in Latin [from the left side of the altar] and in English [from the pulpit].

If announcements and a sermon follow the reading of the Gospel, sit for these.

Stand for the Creed, genuflecting at the Et Incarnates Est [ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est].

Sit during the offertory; remain seated until the bell is rung three times before the Sanctus;
Kneel for the Sanctus; remain kneeling until all have received Holy Communion. (If one is receiving, one approaches the Communion rail at this time.) This means that one remains kneeling throughout the Sanctus, the prayers before Consecration, the Commemoration of the Living, the Commemoration of the Saints, the Consecration of the Host, the Consecration of the Wine, the Continuation of the Canon, the Commemoration of the Dead, the Communion, and the Thanksgiving.

Sit following the purification of the chalice; remain seated until the Ite Missa Est is said; then kneel for the blessing.

Stand for the Last Gospel; genuflect at the words Et verbun cara factum est.

Kneel for the Prayers after Mass. Respond to the prayers.
Stand until the priest has left the altar.
Genuflect before leaving the pew.

High Mass

If the Asperges [the sprinkling with Holy Water of the congregation] is given before the High Mass (permissible only at the principal Mass on Sundays), stand until the celebrant passes the pew one is occupying; kneel as one receives the Asperges; then stand until the Asperges is concluded.

Stand when priest enters the sanctuary at the beginning of Mass. Remain standing until the priest begins the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. Then kneel.

Remain kneeling until the Gloria. Stand as the celebrant sings the Gloria; sit while the schola sings.

Stand for the singing of the Collects [from the propers for the liturgy of the day].

Sit for the Epistle [read from the right side of the altar].

Stand for the Gospel when it is read in Latin [from the left side of the altar] and when it is read in English [from the pulpit].

Sit during the sermon and any announcements.

Stand while the priest says the Credo; sit for the part sung by the schola except for the Et Incarnatus Est [ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est], which one hears while kneeling.

Then stand when the priest returns to the altar; remain standing until he sings the Oremus.

Sit until the prayer which begins the Preface. Stand for the singing of the Preface.

Kneel through the principal parts of the Mass as outlined for Low Mass [the Sanctus, the prayers before Consecration, the Commemoration of the Living, the Commemoration of the Saints, the Consecration of the Host, the Consecration of the Wine, the Continuation of the Canon, the Commemoration of the Dead, the Communion, and the Thanksgiving]; remain kneeling until the tabernacle door is closed.

Stand for the singing of the Postcommunion.

Kneel for the final blessing.

Stand for the Last Gospel, genuflecting at the words Et verbum cara factum est.

Stand until the priest and acolytes have left the altar.

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