Well done, Mr Aloysius Cheong (CN, Dec 25). I am so glad that you have had the faith, the courage, the honesty and the good sense to express your feelings and thoughts about footwear (flip flops), foreign language (Latin) and enforced postures (kneeling) during the Eucharistic celebration.

As a Religious and Catholic priest, I am often saddened to hear how some fellow priests and a few of their high-handed ministers have become more like canonical “gate-keepers” and sartorial enforcers of the Church than servants of the Lord.
Yes, we all try our best to dress appropriately for any occasion and even more so when we come to celebrate the Eucharist. But, surely there is nothing in all the Scriptures, the Tradition of the Church, the Code of Canon Law and in the mores of our local cultural heritage to suggest that the humble flip flops (and the posh FitFlops) are inappropriate footwear when we come around the Lord’s Table.

Why impose a dress code to turn people away just because their toes are exposed? Was Jesus ever embarrassed to bare His feet and even allow the woman to wash them with her tears and dry them with her hair? Was our Lord and Master bothered in the least when he went down on his knees to wash the smelly, dusty toes and soles of the disciples.?

That was for Him an integral part of His Supper and His communion with the ones He loved.

In the language of the Kingdom, “ministers” are always servants. Perhaps it is no coincidence that in the Church (and especially in the parish referred to in Mr Cheong’s letter) we have come to use this moniker – “wardens” – to describe the role, function and behaviour of those who stand at the door to turn parishioners out rather than welcome them in and show them to a place to sit and be comfortable in the house of God.

Have we become so bankrupt of hospitality, wanting in spirituality and lacking in humility that we have to resort to these penal and reformatory ways and then use the name of our good religion to impose such measures on the faithful?

Religion comes from the root word which means “to be reconnected”. Religious rituals, words and celebrations ought to help us be reconnected with God and with one another. However, when we are (mis)using a “foreign” language in prayer that some, if not most, are unfamiliar with, then we are doing a disservice to the celebration and the people who have come to participate in it.

Latin may be a beautiful, solemn, poetic, flowery language, but let’s not forget it was also the language of the “oppressors”. May we not fall into that same category by imposing it on the faithful whose first language may be Mandarin, Tamil, Tagalog or Singlish.

When it comes to a public, communal celebration, isn’t it right and just for all of us to pray in one voice, with one heart and in one easy, common and familiar language?

Thank you, too, Mr Cheong for reminding us (priests and presiders) that our tone of voice is important when we are giving instructions or invitations.

I wonder how I would have responded if I was “instructed” to kneel when I was standing at the back without a kneeler to help cushion my knee-caps? Or if I am at all able to kneel because of an injury or some ache that I have in my knee joints?

Standing, sitting, kneeling are good postures in worship but let’s not make one more “holy” or more “reverent” than others. Besides, presiders ought to be focused on their own postures and gestures (and tone of voice) rather than on what the congregation is doing.

If the presider prays reverently and creates a holy atmosphere through his words of wisdom drawn from the Scriptures, then the people, too, will be taken up in that same spirit.

May this poem by George Herbert help us all remember who it is that’s the Host at our Eucharistic celebration and who are the ones especially invited to sit and eat at His Table:

Love bade me welcome,
yet my soul drew back,
guilty of dust and sin.
But, quick ey’d Love,
observing me grow slack
from my first entrance in,
drew nearer to me,
sweetly questioning
if I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answered,
‘worthy to be here’,
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind,
the ungrateful? Ah my dear
I cannot look on thee.’

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes-but I?
‘Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them
Let my shame go where it doth deserve.’

‘And know you not,’ says Love,
‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love
‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.

Fr Clement Lee, CSsR
Novena Church, Singapore 307653


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