Q: I have sought some clarification on a point, that is, about bringing a dog into the church during Mass. — T.K., Maharashtra state, India
A: A search in several languages has failed to produce much in the way of Church norms on this point.
Even civil legislation varies widely. An Italian law, for example, allows dogs on leash into most public spaces except where food is prepared. Guide or service dogs for the blind are allowed even into these. In other countries entrance to public spaces is more or less restricted, or the decision is left to the owners of the premises.
Local culture and attitudes toward animals is also an important factor. Some societies have a very positive attitude towards the presence of pets, while others are less welcoming. It does not appear that any universal norm can be established.
This would also hold true, more or less, for churches. From what I have been able to glean from various sources, it would appear that in most cases the final decision would fall upon the priest, who should decide in accordance with general principles and local situations.
In most cases, however, the response of priests would be to discourage the faithful from bringing their pets to church, except for the case of service animals.
Indeed, this feeling would be shared by the majority of the faithful. Most people would consider it inappropriate to bring their own pets to church and would be uncomfortable in a situation where those of others were present.
Among the reasons for this reluctance are the following:
— Most members of the faithful come to church to worship God with their full attention. If they want to be entertained, then they go to a concert or a play. If they desire to enjoy a pet’s company, then they go to the park. Likewise they probably leave their pets alone at home on many other occasions such as when they go to work, the theater, or attend a formal social event. Therefore, there is even more reason not to bring them along to church where they could be a source of distraction to themselves or others.
— The pets do not benefit from the celebration, and indeed the close-packed environment might even be a source of stress for the animals themselves.
The exception is, of course, the annual blessings of animals that are carried out on the feasts of certain saints such as Francis of Assisi. On these occasions, however, the entire celebration or the blessing ceremony is usually held outdoors and not inside the church building.
— Even the best-trained and cleanest pets can still cause allergic or phobic reactions for no small number of people young and old. Most Christians would wish to avoid being an agent, even involuntarily, of such difficulties for fellow worshippers.
These are just some reasons why both priests and faithful would be generally unfavorable toward bringing dogs and other animals into church. There may be some exceptions and more or less tolerance in some places, but I believe this is the overall view.
This fact does not mean that the Church has a negative view of animals and does not appreciate them as part of God’s creation. As the Catechism says:
“2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.
“2416. Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.
“2417. God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.
“2418. It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.”
Not having animals in church means simply that the context of worship is not the usual or proper place for showing such respect and kindness toward them.
* * *
Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.