Manners & Misdemeanors

Church Etiquette: Noisy Kids, Proper Attire, and Other Nuisances

Patience, tolerance, politeness, and good manners always work.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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You've experienced it before: You get to church 15 minutes early, make sure you are properly settled, and wait for the Mass or service to start. Then, a family arrives with kids bursting with joy, and decides to sit right next to you. You worry about how much distraction they will be once the Mass starts, so you contemplate your options... should you transfer seats? Or would it be impolite to do that?  

This is just one of a number of instances that bother people at Mass. Here, a list of situations and recommendations on appropriate conduct in church.

Some children are very distracting in church, should I tell the parents?

Most people never confront the parents of noisy kids in church, but doing so isn’t always a good idea either. One effect is you that will embarrass the parent, who is probably already mortified with the recalcitrant kids, another is you pass off as a haughty vanguard of decorum.

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If the child is well below the age of seven, which is the age of reason, let it pass. Being distracted by such children in Mass does not make you any less holy, nor does calling their attention or their parents’ attention make you any holier. Tolerate them, because charity demands so, at this point at least.

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If it helps, imagine that Jesus is laughing with the kids at how distracted you are by them. This will ease your tension at being distracted. It would help further if you genuinely smile at their parents during the offering of peace, who you will be relieved to know appreciate the gesture very much. In 2013, Pope Francis set a perfect example on how to deal with boisterous kids. A very playful and distracting boy managed to clamber up the stage where the Pope was listening to a speech. Cardinals attempted to remove the boy, but Pope Francis stopped them from doing so and allowed him to play on the stage.

Until the child is old enough to ought to know how to behave, just smile and be kind. Ask yourself, what would Jesus do (he’s probably laughing), or succinctly, what would Pope Francis do? And then make a judgment.

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But it’s my kids who are noisy, what should I do?

Self-control and discipline are not the defining attributes of many toddlers, but it doesn’t mean we can’t mitigate the effects of their boredom. One hour, after all, is a lifetime for any child, and many people spend more than one hour inside the church on Sundays.

It’s diplomatic (i.e., for the people around you) to show that you are concerned about the behavior of your child during Mass, so keep your child close to you so they do not walk on the kneelers, lie or stand on the seats, or wander down the aisles. It will also help to mentally prepare the kids for Mass by telling them your expectations about how they should behave in church.

If they break the rules, do not discipline your child in public, more so in a place of worship. Instead, it helps when you mete out punishments after the mass, but only when your child realizes he or she behaved wrongly. Ask them why they think they are being punished, and explain to them what they did wrong. Communication and understanding are very important.

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What attire is proper attire for church?


We are told to dress our best for church. For some denominations, church attire means formal attire; for others, it collared shirts, pants, and dresses. You can look at guidelines on proper church attire on your church’s bulletin board. 

If you are unsure about whether your attire is appropriate, ask yourself whether it’s all right for you to be wearing it to a casual lunch with the chief justice or any person of significant public importance. If you think it is too casual, a change of attire is in order. 

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It is also important to note that you can never be overdressed for attending mass. Corporate or business attire is okay, including uniforms, jeans, and slacks. In 2007 the Archdiocese of Manila circulated guidelines on proper church attire. 

Should I really offer the “sign of peace” to everybody?


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Yes, at least to those adjacent to you, including people behind you. It is polite. The church is a community, and there is no such thing as going to mass alone to pray alone. Families get together to pray together as a community. 

You can take this as an opportunity to smile at the people who distract you at Mass. It makes us more comfortable, happier, less annoyed, and more disposed to receive Communion. 

When is it okay to use the restroom during mass?

Feel free to use the restroom anytime during the mass. Of course, accomplishing this in an inconspicuous manner may be difficult when everybody is seated and you are near the middle aisle of a church, but you have to go when you have to go.

I want to use my cellphone, is it okay?


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If you have to take or make an emergency call, by all means, do so. Just remember to do it outside the church.

Smartphones are also ubiquitous tools nowadays, and some people use it to read the daily gospels or the order of the mass.

However, you should not use your phone to browse social media, play games, text, or surf the Internet while inside the church, even if the mass hasn't started yet. Also, remember to keep your phone on silent mode. 

Do not encourage kids to use tablets or smartphones while inside the church because this can distract other churchgoers.

Overall...

When you feel like there are too many distractions around you in church, think about them as your stepping stones to sanctity. Whether it’s a couple of noisy children, the strong scent of your seatmate, the long, monotonous sermon of the priest or minister, off-key singing of the choir, or the lector’s sing-song voice, let it all pass. Patience, tolerance, politeness, and good manners always work.

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If you find yourself to be one of the sources of these distractions, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just try to improve these things next time.

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About The Author
Mario Alvaro Limos
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