Take Off Your Shoes

A recent convert came up to me to ask a question: If we say that the church is the house of God and is considered holy ground, why do we not take off our shoes at the entrance?

At that time, I dismissed the question but it came back to me again after visiting India, where the Catholics do take off their shoes at the entrances. In many of the churches there, there are no pews in the church hall. Worshippers arrange themselves neatly on the floor. Some bring small carpets or clothes to sit or kneel on.

This is a form of inculturation. If you think about it, wearing shoes into a house is very much a Western culture. In Asia, it is considered rude to wear your shoes into someone's house. In temples and mosques in Singapore, people take off their shoes before entering the place of worship. Why has no church called for the respect of such a local culture?

On the practical aspect, the removal of pews creates a lot of space in a church hall, which aids in solving the problem of overcrowding. Some pews with padded kneelers can be left in the back rows or the side for the elderly.

What are your thoughts on such a suggestion?


Norman said...

Practical difficulties. In my parish, we have over a thousand people attending each Sunday Mass, with 30 mins between each Mass. Let's say we implement a "no-shoes" policy. Then we will have to allocate precious space for shoe-cabinets or shoe shelves, so that people can store and retrieve their shoes in an orderly manner. People would also have to retrieve their shoes fast enough so that the next incoming group of worshippers can use the shelves.

Anytime, I would rather that people dress up for Mass properly.

Anonymous said...

I also think we have become so comfortable with wearing our shoes into church that we would find having to leave our shoes outside uncomfortable and unhygienic. In this case, a supposed "inculturation" would be no genuine inculturation at all for majority of our believers.

Daniel said...

Regarding inculturation, do you wear your shoes into your own home? If not, then why wear them into the house of God? Is it not more unhygenic to wear them into the house? In addition, a foot washing area can be placed, so that all should wash their feet before entering. Hey, we could even have a foot-washing ministry!

It is still the culture of Singaporeans to take off their shoes at home. Hence what we have in church now, that is the supposed "inculturation" because it is not our culture; it is Western culture to wear shoes into their homes.

Regarding practical difficulties, the reason why Masses are placed back to back at many parishes because each session is unable to fit so many people, hence more Masses are needed to cater to the sheer volume.

However, with the removal of pews, many more people can fit into the church hall, rendering the need for multiple back to back Masses unnecessary. Which takes up more space - shoe cabinets or pews?

Norman said...

I think the wearing of shoes at home is simply due to practical reasons. Your feet gets cold if you don't wear shoes at home during the colder months in Europe.

Anonymous said...

Re to Daniel:
I understand that only the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs here remove their shoes at their places of worship; the Chinese population, which makes up the majority of Catholics in our local Church, do not remove their footwear when they enter their temples. According to Daniel, this implies the Chinese respects their parents more than their deities. Could he really be correct?

I think we must return to the meaning of inculturation as envisioned by the Fathers at Vatican II. Liturgical inculturation should stem primarily from adapting positive elements in the local religious culture for the Catholic liturgical environment, and not from the secular culture. Thus regarding whether removing shoes is an appropriate adaptation for all parishes, we should look to the religious practice of the Chinese, Indians among others for data, and not to the secular practices in the homes.

In the same vein, inculturation of liturgical music should lead to explorations in music that sounds closer to the chants used in the religious traditions for Buddhist/Taoist worship than to the poppy, feel-good music that is so common in many of our parishes. So instead of singing hymns at Mass (which is alien to the Roman tradition in Rome to this day), we can perhaps sing psalms set to the traditional Chinese melodies. This would also be fruitful in helping us understand the tradition of Gregorian chant in the Latin Chuch, of which we remain an indisputable part of.

Daniel said...

On the contrary, many Chinese temples do have rules to remove footwear. Some also have rules to remove headdress e.g. caps.

To Norman: That could be true. But there's no denying that it's not a culture that goes where the Europeans go. For example, every time I enter the Opus Dei house and Heng Mui Keng Terrace, I feel uneasy about wearing my shoes into the house, but Spanish Father Jose Lopez insists that it is okay.

Anonymous said...

I've visited a few major Chinese temples on one of those NE trips, and I don't remember the need to remove shoes: only the Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus have such a practice as far as I remember. I did a search on the net, and I couldn't find info on Chinese temples here requiring people to remove shoes, only temples in Korea, Japan, and some in Malaysia require this practice. It appears to me that this practice is hardly universal in Singapore's Chinese culture. So I would stick to my original position, until someone can show otherwise, that introduction of such a practice does not constitute an example of inculturation as envisioned by Vatican II.

Daniel said...

I was asking a former Buddhist friend of mine and he said that most temples have such a rule.

This is not an argument, you don't have positions to stick to. This is just a suggestion to improve the church in Singapore, so be open and imagine the possibilities.