In this short clip, you see Pope John XXIII entering an Italian parish. As he makes his way into the sanctuary, he is greeted with cheers and applauds. With great paternal gentleness, he reminds the faithful that it is not appropriate to applaud or shout in church, even if it’s for the pope. That was then.

I am very happy to be here, but if I must express a desire that you don’t shout in church, don’t clap your hands, and don’t even greet the Pope because Templum Dei, Templum Dei [the Temple of God is the Temple of God].

Why is this significant?

  • It shows that pastoral sensitivity is not contrary to the occasional need correct the flock. Correction and pastoral responsibility go hand-in-hand! As a spiritual father to the faithful, John XXIII was not afraid to discourage a well-intentioned but deleterious habit that was creeping into the life of the parish.
  • John XXIII reminds us that a church is a sacred temple of God and that our conduct should reflect that distinction. Today, it’s often hard to distinguish a church from a social hall, not only due to poor architectural design, but also based on how informally people act inside the church. The sense of sacred is lost in no small part by the failure to enforce proper behavior. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re at church or Showtime at the Apollo.

Recently, I visited a local parish in Milwaukee. Spanish Mass was concluding and I caught the announcements. People were asked to applaud and sing for parishioners’ birthdays and for the priest’s ordination anniversary. The parishioners were no doubt well-intentioned, but those intentions were detached from a proper understanding of and respect for place. It’s the job of the priest, the Father, to lead by example. Look at John XXIII. Templum Dei, Templum Dei. People might shrug and ask, “What’s the big deal? Aren’t there more important things to worry about?” Well, John XXIII thought it was worth a mention.

Let’s learn from the great example of Pope Saint John XXIII and maintain reverence in our churches. Joy and reverence are not opposed, as “il Papa buono” himself showed us by his life.