Taking Fido to Church

dogs, church, pets, st. francis

Just so my fellow  parishioners don’t freak out, this happened at a parish my husband and I were visiting this past weekend. And, no, I won’t tell you which one.

Shortly after we took our pew, an elegantly-dressed woman in her senior years entered the pew in front of us. At the time, I noticed that she had two purses – one of “normal” size, and one extra large. She set both of them on the seat next to her. I didn’t make much of it, since I was trying to recollect myself for holy Mass after an all-too wild week.

Several minutes later, an elegantly-dressed woman in her middle years entered the pew in front of us, also carrying one “normal” size and one extra large purse. She, too, carefully placed her purses on the seat next to her. The two women exchanged sweet, knowing, smiles. I assumed they were either mother and daughter or very good friends. I did wonder about the unusual amount of luggage brought to a Sunday Mass, but passed it off as the likelihood that they were bringing goods for some kind of Christian Women event.

I didn’t think any more of it until I was kneeling and praying after Communion. As I knelt there, praying (almost), the senior woman sat back, reached over, and pulled her extra large purse onto her lap. Then she ever-so gently unzipped it and… there was a tiny dog head (yes, attached to a tiny dog body – this is not Sleepy Hollow)!!

It took all the self control I could muster not to utter some kind of exclamation. If you’ve followed the escapades of Ms. Daisy, you know I’m an incurable dog lover. Even aside from my addiction, this little stinker was c-u-t-e! It sat there in perfect stillness and obedience, its golden brown ears perked up in attentiveness, it’s irresistible brown eyes looking up at its owner with the utmost devotion. I was doing all in my power to stifle the giggles. I clasped my folded hands tighter to resist the temptation to reach out and pet the wee adorable thing. Obviously, this blew my entire post-Communion meditation, for which I owed our Lord an apology.

Then – and this is the part that kind of creeped me out – the woman blessed the dog’s head, and, while speaking quietly to it, held her hand over it blessing-style. Finally, she made the sign of the cross over the dog, slowly closed the zipper, and tenderly set the purse back on the seat beside her. I know we shouldn’t make assumptions about other people’s actions, but I have to say that I got the distinct impression that this woman was praying over her dog. Um, yeah.

At the end of Mass, the lector made announcements, one being that there would be a blessing of animals for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. The two women in front of me exchanged friendly jabs and looks of delight that smacked of a shared secret, which tipped me off that the middle-aged woman’s extra large bag must also have contained a tiny dog. When the Recessional began, the two women delicately  gathered up their…err…purses and cautiously made their way through the exiting congregation and out the door.

At first, I thought this whole extravaganza was humorous. Later, though, I remembered the way it had creeped me out that the older woman had seemed to actually pray over her dog. I have no problem with blessing animals. We bless cars, houses, computers, and other things that are part of our daily routines, so, why not our pets. But this was…different. Or not?

I checked the Catechism of the Catholic Church about this (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) Here’s what it says:

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. (CCC, 2416)

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. (CCC, 2418)

That, for me, leaves a bit of a grey area in regard to the women with their dogs at Mass. As a general rule, pets aren’t allowed in churches (as with other public places), with the exception of special events, like the blessing of animals on St. Francis of Assisi’s feastday. Looking past that, I wonder whether or not having our pets accompany us to Eucharist and “praying over” them falls into the “one can love animals” category. I’m leaning toward the “not,” but would love to hear your thoughts.

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