In the first reading this morning at Mass there was the familiar story of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Approaching the Theophany, and thus the presence of God Moses received the following instruction:
Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. (Ex 3:4-5)
And here we see an ancient form of reverence. It is interesting that, to my knowledge, Jews no longer use this sign of reverence. But Muslims still do. I remember being outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and seeing hundred of pairs of shoes lined up on the patio outside. A Muslim would not think to enter the Mosque without first removing his shoes.
The Jews however are very strict in insisting that men, Jewish or not should not go before the Western Wall or pray with heads uncovered, and there are men nearby, at the Wall who enforce the rule strictly and provide carboard-like yarmulkes for men who did not bring one or some other head covering.
Here in America, the thought of taking off ones shoes or being in Church without shoes would be thought of as highly irreverent! And for a man to go into a Church without removing his hat is often scolded by an usher. It would also seem that the Gentile world had this norm since St Paul, though himself a Jew, wrote Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head…A man ought not to cover his head, (1 Cor 11:4,7). He further indicates in the same place that a woman ought to cover her head.
And thus we see that culture has influence on signs of reverence and, while there have been different forms of it here and there, some equivalent of “Remove the sandals from your feet…” has been observed. Until now.
Until now? Yes, it would seem that there is really no observable and/or agreed upon way in our modern American culture that we “take off our sandals” and show some sort of reverence and acknowledgemnt that we are on holy ground, when we come before the Lord in our parish churches.
It is not just that women have shed veils (sadly I would opine – more on that HERE and HERE). But beyond that, almost no one dresses in any special way for Church these days. “Extreme casual” would seem to be the norm of the day, to look in most parishes. Most people don’t even think to change their clothes for church, there is a “go as you are” mentality. Further, other signs of entering the Church such as sacred silence, and genuflecting are increasingly absent.
It was not always this way. Even in my own short life I remember when going to Mass on Sunday was a formal affair, at least before 1970. As a young boy and teenager I had special Sunday shoes, hard black ones, and would not dream of going to church in jeans or a t-shirt. We were expected to wear pressed trousers, a button down shirt and tie, along with a jacket in the cooler months. The ladies all wore dresses and veils. (See picture of a youth Mass from 1968 above right). Church was a special place, Mass was a sacred occasion. On entering Church we were expected to maintain a sacred silence, and, upon entering, to bless ourselves with Holy Water and genuflect on entering our pew. Silent prayer was expected of one prior to Mass.
These were ways we “removed our sandals” and acknowledged we were on holy ground and before the Presence of the Lord.
Today this seems all but gone. A few “old folks” keep the traditions, and, interestingly, some younger twenty-somes as well! But for the vast majority of Catholics today, at least here in America, there is little visible or tangible equivalent of removing the sandals from our feet.
I will not even argue that ALL the old traditions should return, (even though I would like that). But at least we ought to recover SOME way of signifiying that we are on holy ground and before the presence of the Holy One of Israel, the Lord of glory.
I am aware that I will get some who say all this “stuffiness” will “turn people off.” But of course Mass isn’t just about pleasing people, it is about adoring the Lord who is worthy of our praise and our reverence. I am also aware that some will take the critique I offer here further than I personally think we need to go.
All that is fine. Where exactly to reset the line is debatable, but the bottom line seems to be that there ought to be some culturally appropriate that we fulfill the admonition of God to “Remove your sandals for the ground on which you stand is holy, I am the God of your fathers.”
How say you? Perhaps we can together start a trend (old) trend.
It would appear that the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, takes his shoes off !!!
One wonders whether that means that, in reality, he is quite reverent.
I kid you not.
I agree that many western Christians have been drowned in contemporary culture and have lost a sense of reverence for the sacred. You have identified many examples of how too often people treat the Mass, the most sacred aspect of Catholic life, with the same degree of reverence and seriousness of a high school sporting event.
I also believe it is important to clearly define why it is important to express reverence. The exterior manifestations of reverence in dress, posture and gestures are important only to the extent that they lead to an interior reverence for the grandeur and glory of God. In other words, we do not take off our sandals or dress up as ends in and of themselves, we do those activities to remind us that we are entering into the holy presence of God. If we lose sight of the ultimate goal of reverence for God, we risk becoming like the Pharisees of the Gospel.
I believe the best way to establish reverence is to encourage a healthy and disciplined prayer routine that emphasizes the Sacred at every moment of every day, not just at Sunday Mass. Praying the Divine Office, daily Mass, experiencing the artistry of God in nature are all routines that help us develop the appropriate internal reverence for God.
The Jesuit site for Ignatian Spirituality is having a 31 day prayer countdown to the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola on July 31. Tomorrow’s contemplation is on “Learning to Live Reverently”
“Some will argue that contemporary life and culture have lost a sense of reverence. In an individualized and person-centered world, it is easy to domesticate God, trivialize relationships, and flee from the sacred. Reverence is not a virtue to be found only in traditional settings, formal titles, formal rituals, and attitudes.
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Ignatius believed that anyone who prayerfully considers the basic truth that we are created out of love by a transcendent God of holiness will grow in a sense of reverence. We will have a deepened sense of the sacredness of all things if we think of everything as continually being called and sustained in being by God. We will stand in awe not just before sunsets and mountains, flowers and trees, but also, and especially, before every person we meet. Reverence is a disposition of a heart that allows us to live before the beauty and goodness of every creature and the God who made them.”
In summary, yes we definitely need to show more reverence for God. We do that through our exterior manifestations of dress, gestures and actions at the Mass. However, more importantly, we develop and nurture our respect for the Sacred by recognizing the actions of God in our daily lives.
The Jewish beliefs are NOT understood. The Temple was the HOLY of HOLIES not the synangogues! The Wailing Wall is all that is left of the Temple. Actually if the Temple was to be rebuild I would expect the Jews to restart blood sacrifices since the only place where this was done was the Temple.
Lost reverence? Well actually lost the Faith is the truth. Father Malachy Martin was saying precisely this in the 1990’s and saw this Loss of Faith as part of Fatima. Its about the loss of Salt. The problem revealed in the 60’s was clean and dirty water in the same pipe? The presence in the Curia of Masonry and later evidence of sexual perversity. Its the Loss of the sense of Holiness and this is a spiritual malaise.
“Most people don’t even think to change their clothes for church, there is a “go as you are” mentality.” Yes, so true. I often think that it looks like they are just taking a break from mowing the yard. It seems like there is no concept of sacred space and worship. No, “now I am going to do something for an hour or two that is very special and outside of my normal routine, and deserves my best.” I hope that we can go back to as much as we can as soon as we can. You are lucky to remember it – some of us can only dream.
“I will not even argue that ALL the old traditions should return, (even though I would like that).” If you did want to argue for the return of all the old traditions, Monsignor, there are a lot of us who would support you in that. For me, it is a real penance to go to daily Mass in a church where few people really genuflect anymore and where the talking in church before Mass is what you would find before a concert somewhere. I think sometimes it’s enough to make the angels weep.
For many of us, it is such a RELIEF on Sundays to be able to go to the one church in this city where the priests are allowed to say the traditional Latin Mass, where people genuflect, where they kneel and receive Communion on the tongue, and where, before Mass begins, there is the deep, reflective silence that you would expect to find before a tremendous event, one in which time itself can seem to disappear.
My pet peeve these days is the trite, banal “good morning, everyone” from the Presider prior to the Sign of the Cross. The Mass itself is an event not only with the ones present, but also alongside the community of saints and angels, therefore placing the Mass also outside of fleshly time. Consequently, when I attend Mass I have the intent to suspend our “ordinary time” temporarily in order to commune more meaningfully with the Lord of the Word and Eucharist. Enter gracefully. argh.
It is very true, after mass has finished, it is next to impossible to have any silent time with God, for as soon as the Priest walks out, everyone turns around and starts talking loudly! I wanted to spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament and ended up waiting 15 minutes for the last loud group to leave the church, which had just delivered beautiful singing, sigh, the Choir! The sad thing is that this behavior demonstrates a grave disregard by all and a lack of reverance for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It is bad enough that the tabernacle is moved out of the way, no longer at the center of the alter, but to add to insult, the conversations taking place before the Blessed Sacrament are not conducive to where they stand, in the very presence of the Lord of whom we have all just partaken! Worse is the conversation between parents and grown children taking place during the Consecration of the Host! The challenge then becomes turning to these who violate this sacred act, shaking their hand, and extending to them His peace……
Couldn’t agree more Rick! How can you push worldly worries aside as you kneel to recollect your thoughts to prepare yourself before the start of Mass when a constant bustle and chatter is taking place around you? A reverent silence is necessary for that, and also a time of quiet prayer for thanksgiving afterwards. It is so frustrating… and yet indicative of the widespread lack of awareness of the Sacred Presence of Christ in the tabernacle nowadays.
My own experience is that this problem is always a lot worse in parishes where the Novus Ordo Mass is full of the happy clappy Modernist approach. Where the church itself is beautiful and looks like a Catholic Church (rather than a godless conference hall), and where the N.O. Mass is celebrated with due reverence, the hubbub of noise before and afterwards is much reduced. It works on people’s minds – to act with greater respect and piety where Our Lord’s holy Presence is given more honour and love.