Advice on visiting a Catholic Church
October 19, 2010 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Dear MeFi Catholics... help...? (possibly UK specific)

I'm an agnostic type who has only ever been to a handful of Anglican / CoE services.

On Sunday I'm going to a Catholic Baptism for a friend's daughter, and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do.

What traps or pitfalls am I likely to wander into? Thoughts I've already had...
* Is it a normal service? Will there be a collection?
* Am I supposed to get a gift for the daughter? Or the mother?
* Are there any bits of the proceedings which I'm not supposed to take part in because I'm not Catholic?

Basically, it's a religion I know nothing about, but I really don't want to fuck this up. Any / all advice welcome.

(pony - can you say if you're in the UK if it's not in your profile?)
posted by sodium lights the horizon to Religion & Philosophy (21 answers total)
Don't take communion.
posted by Loto at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2010

[Not religious/a Catholic] Etiquette's answer to this is that any time you attend a religious service for a religion you do not ascribe to, the proper thing to do is sit back and be quiet and respectful. If they do a communion thing, you stay in your seat and let the actual Catholics take part in it. If they kneel to pray, you stay in your seat and let the Catholics take part in it. It's the respectful thing to do. It also takes any pressure or anxiety you may be feeling away, since you aren't expected to participate.

Think of it this way: if you were visiting a mosque during a call to prayer and everyone started praying, would you pull out your rug and start praying, too? If you were attending a Satanic ritual with a practicing friend and they all started drinking chicken blood, would you drink the chicken blood, too? It's no different than if you were to participate in a Catholic ceremony as a non-Catholic.

That said, I don't know about the gift thing, that's a different matter entirely.
posted by phunniemee at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Catholic but not a Subject of the Queen.

* Is it a normal service? Will there be a collection?

Highly dependent on the church. It is common for baptisms to be part of the mass service or as a separate event. You could cross reference the time of the baptism with the mass schedule for that church to find out one way or another. It is also very common for one to attend service and have baptism immediately thereafter.

As for the collection, there would likely be one if these was a full mass. There wouldn't be one if it was just a baptism all by itself. As for the collection itself, if you don't want to give, just let it pass on by. No one will look at you twice I guarantee.

* Am I supposed to get a gift for the daughter? Or the mother?

Any gift you give would be for the child. While religious themed gifts are often given, making a small contribution to the child'd future college fund wouldn't be out of line.

* Are there any bits of the proceedings which I'm not supposed to take part in because I'm not Catholic?

If it was a full mass, there would be Communion, but otherwise don't sweat this. If you wear nice close, act respectful and follow along with everyone else you won't have any problems whatsoever. Honest. With the way extended families are these days, there are always non-Catholics at these types of things.
posted by mmascolino at 12:57 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's most likely a normal Mass, and there will be a collection. We received a pile of baptismal gifts for my daughter from my Catholic family, even though some of them had already bought gifts for the shower and we didn't have a Catholic baptism since we go to a UU church and our daughter was baptized there.

Don't go up for communion. The Catholic Church regards that as a sacrament restricted to professing Catholics who have no unconfessed sins.
posted by mkb at 12:58 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

It will depend on if the baptism is part of the service (Mass), or just it's own ceremony following the service. If the baptism is part of the Mass, then I would tell you to follow along in the book if you would like so that you can see where they are, but basically there will be a welcome with song, first reading, response (sometimes done as a song), second reading, Gospel reading done by the priest, then the baptism, and then the communion ritual which lasts about 20 minutes, followed by the end of Mass.

Sometimes you'll go through the whole Mass, and then the baptism will be private afterward, depending on the preference of the family (you can ask about this ahead of time). If this is the case, I'd move up to the first few rows following the service so you can hear.

You do not have to offer any money during the collection- just pass the basket along to the person next to you. When people in your row go up for communion, you can simply lean back in your seat and let them pass in front of you, or if you are at the end, it can be polite to get up, step out, let everyone in the row out, and then sit back down.

So you don't have to: join in any of the prayers or singing, kneel and/or stand if you don't prefer to, offer any money in the collection (simply pass the basket), or worry about communion.

If you greet the priest at all afterward, I'd address him simply as "Father" and shake his hand.

Gifts are certainly welcome, or cards are too, but not required. I'm not sure what to advise you there, as I'm not certain whether you would be comfortable giving a religious gift or not. Sometimes there will be a small celebration afterward.

As a note, I'm in the U.S. so this might not be precisely how it goes in the U.K.
posted by questionsandanchors at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2010

(Of UK, not in UK; cradle Catholic, though very much out of practice.)

It's really not that intimidating. While you sometimes get baptisms during the full Mass, especially at Easter, it's generally done as a separate service on Sunday afternoon, with readings and prayers. (If you're expected to show up at 2pm or thereabouts, it's not likely to be a full Mass.)

You'll probably get an order of service: churches are well aware that baptisms are attended by non-Catholics, and parents often want those attending to take home a memento. There may be a number of children being baptised at the service: this isn't unusual.

Stand when everyone else stands, sit when they sit, don't feel any obligation to kneel or join in the responses, especially when Satan, his works and empty promises are concerned. The classic religious gifts tend to be from close family and godparents, though a card won't go amiss.
posted by holgate at 1:14 PM on October 19, 2010

You've gotten great advice above, so I'd just add that you shouldn't worry about this. I know Catholic mass has a bit of a reputation as confusing, what with all the sitting, standing, kneeling, and call-and-response stuff, but really, it's okay. I've been attending mass (irregularly) for my entire life and I sometimes forget the cues to kneel or whatever. Just follow what everyone else is doing. If the collection basket comes around, feel free to just pass it on, no one will look at you funny, I do it all the time because I have that awful habit of never having cash on me.

As to the gift, that is up to you and not a part of the religious ceremony. Especially if you are going to a gathering after the ceremony, it would be nice to give a small token, even if it's just a card.
posted by coupdefoudre at 1:17 PM on October 19, 2010

Raised Catholic, other side of the pond from you.

Odds are very good that it will be its own service. I went to church for nearly 20 years and I can't recall a single time where I'd show up for a normal mass and end up being somehow involved in someone's kid's baptism.

I don't think there would be a collection, assuming it is its own service. But let's say I'm wrong. You are by no means required to give anything if you would rather not. It's ok. If you want to play it on the safe side, put whatever the heck your lowest bank note is over in the UK. Growing up, most people at the church I'd go to would put anywhere from 50 cents to $1 as a standard donation.

Gifts are outside my area of experience, but mmascolino's suggestion sits right with me. It's nonreligious, doesn't strike me as inappropriate, I don't see how it could go wrong.

As far as the proceedings go, what everyone else said; don't go up for communion. The best way to deal with it is to either get up from kneeling and sit down on the seat and get your legs out of the way as best you can (like one might do in a theater), or you can just get up, follow everyone out of the pew, then stand aside and let everyone go past you, as if you're holding a door open for them. Then just sit back down at the edge of the pew.

Other than that, just stand when everyone stands, sit when they sit, and kneel when they kneel. You can refrain from kneeling if you want, but just know that it can be a bit awkward for you and the person behind you, as you'd be in their way as they're trying to kneel, so I'd advise doing it if you don't have any strong objections to it.

If you want to make it even easier for yourself, sit in the back; there's almost always a "wave" action as people in the front stand first and it cascades to the back, so you'll have no problem following what to do.

Lastly, if you're comfortable with doing so, I'd suggest talking to your friend about your concerns. They can hopefully give you church-specific advice, and it'd probably be nice to know that you care.

Good luck!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 1:18 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not at all odd to ask the parents if it's a full Mass or an after-Mass service or a stand-alone service. (For most of the last 30 years, in the US and UK alike, it's been after-Mass or stand-alone services, but that norm is shifting towards including them in the Mass.) I had my son baptized last year and less than half of the invitees were Catholic; most of the rest wanted a quick rundown on what to expect and how long it would take. :)

If there's communion, don't go to it. If there's a collection, you're not obligated to give.

It is extremely, extremely normal for there to be non-Catholics at ALL Catholic services, even the most religious ones -- you have mixed marriages, relatives who are tag-alongs, lapsed teenagers, even people who are there doing a sociology project for class or because they like the music. Nobody will think ANYTHING of it if you don't know what's going on or don't do exactly what everyone else does, as long as you're respectful about it. And people DEFINITELY expect that for a family event like a wedding or a baptism or a funeral, that there will be non-Catholic friends of the family in attendance.

In the US it's customary to give the child a gift, which can be religious in nature, or a small check, but we also got board books and just nice cards.

I'm in the US, but I spent time in the UK. I'm Catholic and have two degrees in theology.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:27 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am in the UK and grew up Catholic (I am now atheist).

If the service is on a Sunday morning, then most likely it is part of the regular mass. If it's a Sunday afternoon, then most likely it is a separate baptism service. Any other time and you'd need to cross-reference with mass times to be sure.

Regular mass: Depending on the congregation, this might be a full house - ask the parents if you will need to get there early to get a good seat (and if so, whereabouts to sit). As others have mentioned, don't receive communion and err on the side of not going up. There will be a collection, put money in or not as you please, pass it on down the line if that's what people are doing generally. There will almost certainly be 'the sign of peace', this is your opportunity to shake hands with other people around you.

Special service: Probably not a collection, almost certainly no communion. Likely to be plenty of seats available.

Either way: There is a surprising amount of movement - standing, sitting or kneeling. Follow other people. You could choose to remain seated rather than kneel (or standing if you're so inclined) but if you do this, don't lean back whilst everyone else is kneeling as the person behind you will probably be leaning on the back of your pew.

The service is usually printed in full in a book (with multiple page turns) or a booklet so you can fairly easily follow along. There are lots of congregational responses and people may bless themselves or genuflect at various points - I'd suggest not copying as it'll stick out if you do it wrong.If you get a gift it's traditionally for the daughter. I think people tend to give keepsake items (tankard, silver rattle etc) or semi-religious items (rosary, bible stories or similar), or money. You can find christening/baptism cards in places like WH Smiths.
posted by plonkee at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2010

Yeah, don't sweat the service. Wear nice clothes. Sit when others sit, stand when others stand, and kneel when others kneel. No one will notice you at all.

Just stay in your seat if they do communion, it's pretty common for people to not go up for lots of reason.

And if they pass a collection plate around, it's totally ok to pass it on without contributing. The collection is for parishioners, not for guests.

People get intimidated by Catholic services, but it's pretty easy to blend in -- lots of practicing Catholics can't remember when to sit or stand, either.
posted by auto-correct at 1:32 PM on October 19, 2010

The only real rule is that you really shouldn't go to communion, if you aren't Catholic. I'm actually not sure of the latest developments, but it's possible that Anglicans are okay to receive communion at Mass, but if you aren't a believer you shouldn't take Communion, regardless.

As far as doing the kneeling and stuff, do whatever makes you feel comfortable. If you just want to sit through everything, that's fine. If you feel more comfortable doing what everyone else does, then just do what everyone else is doing.

Don't put anything in the collection box.

As far as gifts, in the US you can buy cards for this at any Hallmark store. You don't need to bring a gift.
posted by empath at 1:34 PM on October 19, 2010

Also, for baptisms, weddings, etc, there are going to be LOTS of people who are not regular church goers there. You will not be out of place, no matter what you do.
posted by empath at 1:35 PM on October 19, 2010

It's completely respectful to remain seated throughout the service - however keep in mind that if you are in a crowded area, the person kneeling directly behind you will have his or her face in the back of your head. If you are strongly against standing and kneeling with the congregation, try to sit in the back or at least not in front of the pew with a 50 person family crammed into it. There may be a collection, you don't have to offer anything but $1 or $5 is sufficient. Nthing that you should not take communion.
posted by fermezporte at 1:57 PM on October 19, 2010

Our kids were just baptised in the UK in a standalone ceremony. Very ecumenical. All encouraged to be part, or not, as the spirit saw fit. All explained along the way for the (majority of) non-Catholics. Echoing auto-correct, but don't even kneel if you don't want to - just sit. I don't think we did any kneeling.

If in mass, do what those who "don't" do.
posted by sagwalla at 1:58 PM on October 19, 2010

You can sit when the people behind you are kneeling if you're willing to lean forward (or sit closer to the edge of the seat) so they can rest their hands on the back of the pew.
posted by synchronia at 2:22 PM on October 19, 2010

I was brought up catholic in the UK and did a fair stint as an altarboy so have some experience. Baptisms are typically held as separate ceremonies so mostly it will be family friends and relatives.

Dress smartly. Get there on time. Sit in the bench along with everyone else, you will have to play this bit by ear as you may well be assigned somewhere depending on family allegiances, etc.

There will be no reason for you to move from the place you are sitting for the ceremony, except to stand or kneel immediately in front of where you are sitting (UNLESS YOU ARE A GODPARENT, PARENT OR ARE GETTING BAPTISED). At various times you will be expected to stand or kneel, just follow the crowd, personally I would kneel if I was you, as you will potentially feel uncomfortable being totally the odd one out here. Typically you will start standing, sit for the readings and (IIRC) most of the kiddie ceremony. The mass is then mostly standing and kneeling, with a bit more sitting at the end. You don't have to respond or take part in prayers but there may be some kind of guide to the ceremony prvided if you want to follow it. You may want to throw i some 'Amen's to suit yourself (though not freeform!). Singing along with hymns is up to you.

Times to watch out for:

Sign of Peace: Its pretty common to have this, the priest will say something about turning to others and wishing them peace, there is an expectation that you turn to people on one side and then the other and shake hands, typically saying 'Peace be with you', response: 'and also with you', the seonc obviously if they get there first. No specific order here, its a slightly disorganised element to the catholic service.

When it gets to communion (fairly late in the mass) the priest will come down to the front, usually with a big metal bowl/chalice. When this happens people will get up and walk up to the front, stay seated for this, letting people by, they will circle back to seats and probably kneel when they get back. you are free to stay seated or kneel until this element is done, it will be obvious when this is and you can get back to following the standing/sitting.
posted by biffa at 3:27 PM on October 19, 2010

I had one of these a while back, and survived quite easily as an agnostic who'd never been into a Catholic church until his 30s.

The order of the service, being quote formulaic, is actually more rigid and easier to follow than the rather fluffier freeform Anglican evangelical ones I'd been to at weddings.

The only thing that nearly threw me was the sign of the peace. I'd never heard of it before, and thoughts of "maybe this is the origin of the hippie sign?" flashed around for an instant, but then the guy next to me shook my hand and it was all OK.

Quite interesting, actually.
posted by cromagnon at 4:11 PM on October 19, 2010

Kneel or sit when everyone else kneels. Stand when everyone else stands. Don't go get communion (it's not unusual to see a bunch of people not going up for communion).

During the first two readings you can follow along in the book if you want. You'll be standing during the gospel.

During the baptism, unless you're a godparent, you don't have to do anything. The priest will ask the audience to affirm their catholic beliefs but no one will notice if you don't.

If you see a table with wine and wafers on it, don't sit near it. In some churches, the people that sit next to it bring it up.

See biffa's comment on the Sign of Peace.

Good luck.
posted by drezdn at 4:16 PM on October 19, 2010

Oh hi, I just asked this question back in June! It's got a US focus though, so it's great you're getting some UK-specific answers, too. For the sake of future searchers and to round out your answers, here's a link to the question I asked.
posted by librarylis at 4:41 PM on October 19, 2010

You've gotten good answers above. But also don't forget -- this is a baptism, which means that an infant will probably be involved, which means that everyone is going to be looking at the adorable little baby and how cute it is anyway, so unless you do something REALLY attention-getting like flash everyone, you'll probably be okay. (Also -- having an infant involved means that there's a likelihood for the kidlet to do something unpredictable as well, and it is ALSO a likelihood that they'll keep things short because, well, it's a baby, and they don't like much of a fuss.)

In general, the best advice I ever got about attending religious services not your own came from the words of a friend: "Stand when they stand, sit when they sit, and when someone's talking, just sit there quietly and try to look pious."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:05 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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