Etiquette is defined as manners that are conventionally acceptable or required in society. In my experience as a parish priest I have found it very useful to print in the parish bulletin, at least annually, a statement of the etiquette that ought to be expected at the liturgy. Parishioners have told me of their appreciation for this sort of statement, and have found it beneficial for themselves and for their children.
Etiquette for God’s house, at least in principle, is no different than etiquette in any other social setting involving people coming together to share a supper. The first thing that must be said is that people dress for the importance of the occasion. In most situations, people might take their clues for dress from what other people do, but on Sundays our choice of dress can also be a caring statement about our faith in the meaning of the Lord’s Day, and the Holy Supper to which God invites us. Our attire need not be formal and expensive; just selected with obvious care and consideration for the event and for the others who will be present.
People will also leave home on time, since it is unmannerly to routinely come late to the Lord’s Super, or to leave early. Infants and small children who are unruly are gently and promptly taken from the church proper, until they are settled. Babysitting and child care services are a distinct blessing to both the worshiping assembly and to beleaguered parents; crying rooms, which are nothing other than isolation chambers, are not.
People at the Lord’s supper focus their undivided attention on what is being said or done, and they do what the majority do. People bow before the altar on entering and leaving the church. Otherwise a genuflection, rather than a bow, is part of our etiquette if the tabernacle is located in the sanctuary of the church. If the assemble is singing, then it is good manners to pick up the hymnal and participate. Even if one cannot sing, he or she can at least read the words of the song as a prayer. The same rules apply to postures and gestures. The official liturgical books ask for common postures and gestures at certain times during the liturgy, for they express our unity in the Body of Christ.
The Lord’s supper is no place for individuals to “do their own thing,” for this brings disunity into the assembly and is therefore fully unacceptable. Occasionally someone will decide to kneel when the assembly is supposed to stand, or someone will want to dip the eucharistic bread into the consecrated wine. Even if one is convinced that such practices are correct and proper, such concerns should be taken up with the parish liturgy commission or with the pastor.
The Lord’s supper is where we go to express our unity, not to demonstrate to others that they are wrong and we are right. This is especially true when visiting another church. The very concepts of common worship and the unity of the Body of Christ require that we leave our personal preferences, no matter how proper, at the door of God’s house.