A liturgical practice to give you paws

I’m not sure why I’m suddenly seeing all these stories about priests and pooches, but here’s another.  From USA TODAY (and Creative Minority Report):

Father Roy Snipes has more assistance than most priests in Masses, counseling sessions and confessions: his dogs. The big mixed-breeds — sometimes as many as five of them — provide the extra dollop of warmth and joviality that can open hearts wider to receive the good father’s message.

“Church can have a tendency to feel rigid and frigid to people,” he says. That dissolves when he walks into Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission, Texas, with his mutt pack trailing behind his robes. The dogs sometimes veer off from the processional to prowl the pews, greeting favorite people, but during Mass they generally lie quietly at the altar (though one has taken to curling up in the celebrant’s chair, so Sikes has to perch on its edge).

He’s so convinced of the power of the animals that when a newcomer complains (rarely), he says gently, “If you want to look for a church that doesn’t have dogs, I’m sure you’ll find one.” He reminds them Jesus was born surrounded by animals. “In this dehumanized era, I believe dogs are the angels that will keep us human.”

Snipes, a self-proclaimed cowboy preacher who relishes a Lone Star beer after Mass and loves country music, is an avid dog rescuer (he has 13, though only five are interested in church). He first began sharing Mass with a dog in 1985. That was the late mahogany-colored Magna, who gained such acclaim the city named a street after her.

Snipes may be a trailblazer, but he’s not alone. The pooches-in-the-pulpit trend is quickly gaining converts.

There has even emerged new vocabulary — “ministry dog” — to describe animals with service-dog training that are matched up with faith leaders. Tiger, a Labrador retriever trained by NEADS (National Education of Assistance Dogs Services) in Princeton, Mass., was, in the end, not assigned to a disabled person because of a safety quirk — hesitancy around statues. But that’s not a problem for Ami Sawtelle, who ministers at three Boothbay Harbor, Maine, United Methodist churches.

Tiger accompanies her to worship services, visits ailing congregants and calms nerves in ER waiting rooms. A veterinarian before becoming a pastor, Sawtelle sought a ministry dog because she understood the tenderness a dog can bring to difficult times.

As an added boon, the extroverted pooch, which is trained to, among other things, switch lights on and off and open doors, “introduces me to people all the time.”

Most of the dogs taking on churchly duties, however, aren’t specially trained, but are simply pets with a penchant for pastoral care.

Read more.

Your eyes do not deceive you: the picture does indeed seem to show Fr. Snipes giving out communion during Mass, with his dogs by his side.  And yes: those do appear to be doggie vestments, don’t they?

It’s cute but…really?  REALLY? Isn’t there some little voice in the priest’s head that says, “Maybe this isn’t quite kosher…”?  I’d be curious to know what the priest’s superiors think about all this, especially now that it’s suddenly getting national attention.

UPDATE: This doesn’t appear to be anything new.  I found online the video below, from four years ago:

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  1. naturgesetz says:

    No doubt they are churchbroken, but what happens when someone who has cynophobia moves into the parish or happens into church one day?

  2. Affinity toward animals is one of the signs of sainthood–and not just Francis of Assisi.

    That said, liturgy as a regular environment for a priest’s pets seems a bit self-indulgent disguised as cute. Why the clergy pets and not others? It’s not a matter of “correct” liturgy–there’s nothing prohibiting animals in church. But it offers a distraction that doesn’t forward the intent of the Mass. As a preaching aid, perhaps once in a great while, perhaps, maybe. For a person who needs a guide dog, even a priest, definitely. Otherwise, outside of once every few years, please: no.

  3. Vox borealis says:

    I’m pretty certaianimals are prohibited from the sanctuary, as he GIRM is pretty clear on who is allowed to be there.

  4. Vox borealis says:

    Hoo-boy…it’s that extra dollop of warmth that would make me stand up and leave immediately, necer to return to the parish.

  5. My last pastor loved his dogs, but they stayed in the rectory during Mass. When I went to college, the priest at the Newman center had a cocker spaniel named Angel who would come to Mass with him. She’d curl up in a corner of the sanctuary and stay there till Mass was over.

  6. I’m all for blessing of the animals or allowing seeing eye dogs in church, but this seems problematic.

  7. Ridiculous; and what’s up with the rainbow stole?

  8. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Mary M…

    I’m not sure that it’s a “rainbow stole.” It appears to be a kind of woven Native American vestment — which would make sense, since he’s based in Texas. But it doesn’t appear tied to any particular liturgical season.

    Dcn. G.

  9. I think it’s a disgrace, for a lot of reasons. Even the mere chance that one of the dogs would poop or pee on the altar is enough said. And what about barking? Is that not worse than cell phones? At least a cell phone shuts off after so many rings.

    I love animals too, but as the priest should well know “For everthing there is a time and place.”

    How much do you want to bet more folks spend their mass time watching the dogs than looking at Christ on the altar. The girm must at least have something about distractions during the mass.

  10. I lived in Mission Texas, and I attended this priest mass services at that Church. It was the worse experience of liturgical abuse I have ever seen. Not only the three or four dogs on the altar at all times, but the entrance processional instead of the cross had the Longhorn’s team banner in front. For the creed he substituted it for a song by Kenny Chesney. At the moment of the Kiss of Peace the whole place became pandemonium, with the priest leaving the altar to go around the whole Church building shaking hands and people going to and fro the same way. He changed the liturgy in numerous instances to improvise his own prayers and comments. Not to say anything of the awful “norteno” music, not even good norteno, but just a awful noise that was supposed to be liturgical. In my opinion a complete disgrace and total abuse of the liturgy.

  11. I can almost see the kiss of peace pandemonium you are describing. Made me chuckle.

  12. I know the GIRM pretty well. And I’m aware of Trent’s prescriptions against hawks in the nave. But can you cite your reference?

  13. As I recall, a few years ago a pastor in my diocese was removed from his parish for, among other things, bringing his dog to Mass. That was not the only reason, but it did rate a mention.

  14. Nice to know the rest of the story Rudy, thanks. This kind of stuff just makes me sick to my stomach.

  15. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    I just glanced through the online version of the GIRM at the USCCB website and couldn’t find any particular restrictions on who could be in the sanctuary.

    Dcn. G.

  16. Two dogs? Amazing. This is a new one to me and I lived through guitar masses and clowns and all the rest.

    Gotta love dogs though.

  17. Love, love, love dogs–but I would never want to see one at/near/by the altar!

  18. Having had a black lab for many years, I can see how an incredibly tight bond could form between the priest and the dogs, especially given the isolation priests sometimes feel and/or suffer from. So I sympathize but someone needs to step in nonetheless.

  19. I grew up with dogs, and my kids had one for a pet, and we know all about service dogs, as we raised four of them for Paws with a Cause, three of which are in service now. So, I know about dogs. I also know something about liturgical law, and I grant that the GIRM does not a lex canis. I generally hold “freedom is presumed.”

    With that as background, I’ll yet say, if we actually need a law to ban pets from the sanctuary, I’ll happily draft it.

  20. I’m pretty sure the GIRM doesn’t make mention of prohibiting elephants or rattlesnakes or any of assorted creatures or things from being in the sanctuary. Some things are just common sense. As the dogs are incapable of receiving Christian baptism, I’d say that they would be disqualified from exercising any ministerial function. The only exception that I could imagine would be for a priest who is blind and requires the assistance of a seeing-eye dog. I’m an animal lover, but would never dream of bringing my pet to church, muchless having them lie in the sanctuary.

  21. I agree with Fr Jim. Where is the common sense. Has Church become about making one “feel good” or lifting our hearts and minds to God in prayer

  22. Can I bring my dog too? why not? what about my frog?
    This is disgusting…and where is the bishop…..or is it we don’t want to upset the parishioners who love this make me feel good celebration.

  23. Oregon Catholic says:

    Let me offer this article as a rebuttal to Msgr. Charles Pope on why the laity are disrespecting their bishops. If the bishop in this diocese can’t see his way clear to forbid vestment wearing dogs on the altar, perhaps one or more of his confreres needs to man up and offer some fraternal correction.
    IMO this priest needs psychological counseling. I stopped dressing up my pets when I was about 8 or 9.

  24. On seeing this blog post, I became so upset and angry that I had to erase my first attempt at commenting.  This brought to mind a former priest at our parish who would often be 5 to 10 minutes late for daily mass because, as one parishioner put it, “the animals (dogs) come first.”  This priest was late for prayers for a funeral luncheon because he had to walk the dog.  The bereaved family, as well as the luncheon staff, had to wait for father to finish with his pet. On one occasion, a woman who came to see this priest for counseling was interrupted by the dog coming into the room and whining to be let out.  He left her, in the middle of a conversation, to let his dog out.  I know this is sending a very bad message to parishioners.  I know that I was righteously outraged when I had to wait for Mass to begin while father finished with his dogs.  But dogs in the sanctuary?  This is sacred space.  Many traditional Catholics make comments about not wanting women and girls in the sanctuary.  I wonder what they would comment about this.  I, too, took a quick look at GIRM on the Web and couldn’t find anything explicit about animals in the sanctuary.  That’s because the bishops think that priests would have enough common sense and understand the sacredness of the sanctuary and not profane it with dogs or other animals.  And, people wonder why there’s no respect for the Church or Catholics or the Mass.  We need to understand what SACRED means.

  25. Maybe they’re servers – altar dogs. We have altar boys and altar girls, but some people don’t like altar girls either.

    Just kidding of course.

  26. Deacon Greg
    Why is there such variation in the Catholic church – why is Mass no longer sacred but more of a social event?

  27. I agree with Fr Jim also. I point out there’s no prescription against animals for the benefit of those looking for a rule against something they dislike. Not everything possible is desirable. Not everything desirable is possible.

  28. Father Paul says:

    Thank goodness this is so uncommon to be newsworthy. That said, it isn’t anything really “new”, the first pastor I was assigned to was an eldery wonderful priest who back in the 50′s would have “fido” accompany him and the server into the sanctuary. When they genuflected at the beginning the dog knew to lay down at the altar rail and when they genuflected at the end he would get up and go back to the sacristy with them.

  29. pagansister says:

    Dogs most certainly bring companionship to people, in this case the priest, but there are, IMO, certainly places where that companion really doesn’t need to be (unless a service dog) and that is on the alter of any church. They can be perfectly fine left in the living quarters for the priest IMO. This priest has 13 dogs? If he has so many, they can keep each other company while he is doing his job in Church. BTW, who “cleans up” after them?

  30. hELENE ROMERO says:

    I live in Florida, and went to Mass yrs back in Marathon in the Florida Keys. There was a parish there, where the priest had 2 dogs. I think labradors. They walked up the isle with the priest at the beginning of Mass, took to their places at the sides next to the altar, and never moved. Unusual, yes. I can honestly tell you it never detracted or took away from the Holiness of the Mass. The priest made no mention or acknowledgement to the dogs or about them. It was all about THE MASS. When Mass was over, the dogs waited for the priest and followed him in procession, without so much as a look at any of us. I think its all a matter of how it was handled. As a matter of fact, I think some people would recieve more from Mass if they behave like these dogs did. Humility is a beautiful thing.

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