Customs and Courtesies

Back in the 1980’s when I decided to join the US Airforce Reserve as a chaplain (I had been ordained in 1978) I learned the above phrase.

It meant that the US Armed Forces, the USAF, and the particular base and Command to which I was assigned had certain “customs and courtesies” which I was expected to learn and perform. No questions asked, and no variations, please.

I learned about salutes (when and how); “covered” and “uncovered”; proper alignment of uniform badges, insignia and ribbons; how to address superior officers and how to respond to others, etc. We did not make up these rules, we were simply to follow them.

We even learned to salute a passing Staff Car that bore two silver stars on a blue plate whether or not we saw anyone in it. We saluted “just in case.”

I loved it.

In a way, we all grew up with certain “customs and courtesies” even in our family life, and learned to respect those of others on their “turf”.

The opposite of “customs and courtesies” is rudeness and chaos.

Imagine a guest in your house who arrives and immediately starts rearranging your furniture because “that’s how we do it at home”. Yes, but now he’s in YOUR home.

He enters the kitchen before dinner and proceeds to tell you how to rearrange the utensils and the pots and pans “like we do it in my kitchen”.

I think we could all assume that he would be told to sit down and mind his own business and a return visit would be very unlikely.

We also have “customs and courtesies” in the Catholic Church as a whole, as well as in Saint Matthew’s Parish.

Recently at a rather busy Mass, I was distributing Holy Communion to a long line of people. A man with a rather pleased air and sporting various fraternal decorations presented himself before me with a smile on his face and both arms crossed over his chest like an Egyptian pharaoh mummy. As he stood there, mouth closed and no hand extended, I finally asked: “what is this?” He stared at me with indignant shock and replied: “I want a spiritual blessing”. I wondered if that was as opposed to a “material blessing”.  I waved him on so I could back to the proper business of giving Communion to actual communicants.

Now I know what this was all about. Somewhere, some priest told somebody that this was a lovely custom and they “should “do that.

Well, I’m sorry, but we don’t do that at St. Matthew’s.

EVERYBODY gets a blessing at the end of Mass altogether at every Mass. There is a traditional blessing gesture that some priests give over a small child not yet Communion age who comes up to the Communion rail or line with his mother. However, an adult who does not want, or can’t, receive Holy Communion is a different case. It is either sin, lack of fasting, or imperfect or non-existent union with the Catholic Church, or a simple choice at a given Mass that prevents an adult from receiving Communion, not childhood innocence or non-age. Why come up for Communion, when you have no intention of receiving Communion? If one cannot receive Communion, just remain humbly in the pew and receive the Final Blessing like everyone else. Why draw attention to oneself?

Pardon the mundane analogy, but it seems like standing in line at a busy take-out restaurant at dinner hour and then going up the busy counter-person and announcing

“Oh, I’m not going to order anything, I just like standing here looking at the menu.”

It is also confusing as some regions and nationalities traditionally used the “crossed arm” gesture precisely AS a gesture for receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.

Also, at Saint Matthew’s we have other “customs and courtesies” rooted in our parish’s history, experience, and sound Catholic principles.

First, we are I think the only Parish in the Diocese that allows kneeling for Holy Communion to any who like to receive our Lord on their knees. This is done at the section of the altar rail on the Saint Joseph statue side of the sanctuary. Hence, we do not kneel in the main aisle. The genuflection some make is not necessary here at St. Matthew’s since such persons may kneel. Kneeling replaces the genuflection.

Those receiving Holy Communion standing are recommended to make a simple head bow as one approaches the Communion minister.

Also, we offer Eucharistic Exposition twice a week on a regular basis: Holy Hour Mondays 4-5 ending with the Miraculous Medal Novena and again on Wednesdays 4-5 PM ending with a Litany. Both take place in the Chapel. Other devotional groups also may have occasional Exposition, but only conducted by a priest or deacon.

Both the church and the Chapel are open for visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle for 12 hours each day.

However, the Tabernacle and the Monstrance are always to be treated with a reverent distance and awe. They are not to be approached, touched, hugged or even kissed! They are NOT relics or statues but the vessels containing the Eucharistic Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Simple politeness and charity commends these “customs and courtesies” to all who might visit us or be genuinely unaware of these important matters.

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