“Thou shall … Thou shall not …”

March 4, 2010

The gym I belong to has signs throughout the place politely and clearly reminding us what to do and what not to do: Do not drop the weights. Please wipe down apparatus when finished. No chalk allowed. Please return weights to the rack when finished. No more than 30 minutes at a time on aerobic equipment. Please leave bags and coats in lockers. No outside shoes permitted in sauna. No spandex (I threw this one in; there really isn’t a sign saying “no spandex” but there ought to be!). All these rules help keep the place neat, safe, and well ordered. No one that I know, including myself, seems to mind these rules. They make sense because they are “common sense” and from time to time we all need polite reminders, even the common-sense ones.

So I was thinking if the gym posts clear and polite rules, perhaps we should do it inside the church. We need signs. We need rules. We need regulations as polite and clear reminders for good order even inside our parish Church building. But then I realized I hung a number of icons and there really wasn’t room left on the walls for these needed signs. The alternative then is to put them here in the weekly bulletin. In keeping with our biblical heritage, these rules will be in the form of “thou shall” and “thou shall not.”

1. Thou shall always make an effort to say “hello” and to welcome everyone. Everyone includes Yankees, Jets, Canadians or Lakers fans as well as your mean third-grade teacher from years ago now retired and sitting alongside you at Mass.

2. Thou shall make every effort to get to Mass on time. Now I know there are times when people are late for a good reason. Life has a way of surprising us occasionally with the unexpected that causes us to be late. But there are some of us who habitually come late to Church. Arriving late not only disrupts Mass and those in the immediate area, but it also makes it hard for the latecomer to worship and to pray because of the ‘run-in, run-out’ mentality. Would it really hurt to give God an extra few minutes of worship and arrive earlier?

3. Thou shall not read the parish bulletin during any part of the Mass (including the Homily!) nor use the bulletin to make paper airplanes, origami or confetti while inside the church. After Mass you can use it to wrap fish, line the birdcage or any other creative use. However, please read the bulletin before using it for these tasks.

4. Thou shall never “shhhh,” or glare at parents with noisy children. Now for the flip side –

5. When children are getting out-of-hand noise-wise, thou shall take noisy children out to the lobby or outside until they calm down. Many parents already practice this and I thank you very much.

6. Thou shall not put a single dollar bill in the collection basket. Now I know there are some who give their children a dollar and some coins to put in the basket along with their envelope. Thank you. But apart from that practice and that of the widow’s mite – really, putting a single dollar bill in the basket? Let me ask you, how long has this been going on? Years? Friends – a dollar doesn’t buy what it did in 1980, 1990, 2000, or even 2009. Things cost more for all of us. Could you consider increasing your generosity, even slightly? (Okay, I probably just annoyed a few readers at this point – any time you talk money, you get in trouble with some people no matter how valid the point.)

7. If you or your children have to go to the bathroom, thou shall wait until an appropriate break in the liturgy to move. There are times during Mass that offer a natural break to move: after the opening prayer, during the collection, at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. It is distracting when someone gets up in the middle of when I’m, say, preaching … especially when the culprit is my mother. “Hey, Mom! Show a little respect up here, will ya!

8. Thou shall not leave Mass while still chewing the Host (in other words, can you stay until the end? What is so important that you must leave early? Does the Lord run-out on you?)

9. Thou shall not snore during the homily.

10. If people are snoring, thou shall wake them up.

11. Except if it’s children.

12. Thou shall sing at Mass, except if you’re my brother. He couldn’t carry a tune if it was in a briefcase. On second thought, it might not be a bad idea to let him sing. Everyone around him would hear and sing louder, hopefully drowning him out.

13. Unless you’re a doctor, nurse, EMT, police officer, firefighter, first-responder or someone on-call, thou shall turn off pagers, blackberries, iPhones, cell phones, laptops, iPods, mp4 players, game boys, and any other electronic device before Mass. We have many elderly with pacemakers in our congregation. It is good to minimize electronic interference for the sake of their hearts!