The No-Gum Rule

September 12, 2013 | 9 comments

Not long ago, I took a call from a woman who was upset over gum chewing at Mass. Hers was not the first such complaint I have heard over the years. In fact, gum chewing at Mass is one of my pet peeves. Just do a little Googling on the subject and you will be amazed at the number of online articles, blogs, and church bulletins that speak out about the problem. Some of the stories are downright disturbing. Like the time someone found a waxy glob of gum stuck on the side of the hymnal rack with what appeared to be small pieces of a host embedded into it. Or the teenager who chomps his gum all through Mass, sometimes pulling it out of his mouth, into long strands, and then slowly wrapping it around his finger. True story.

Have you ever sat near someone in church who is chewing on a wad of gum like a cow chewing cud? I have. I once witnessed a young man at Mass make his way to the altar chomping on a wad of gum. Open-mouthed chewing mind you. When he reached the front, I saw the priest put a host in his hand. He took the host and consumed it. And he kept on chomping and chewing all the way back to his seat. One can only imagine particles of the host (Jesus!) being worked into this guy's soggy piece of gum, which would later be tossed into the trash—or, worse yet, chucked into the street. When incidents like this happen to me at Mass, it takes all my self-discipline not to glare at the offender.

How did this gum-chewing problem get so out of control? Some will say, "Chewing gum at Mass is a problem because so many of these Catholics are victims of poor catechesis. They just do not know any better." In many cases, that is probably true. And, when true, it is tragic. But whatever happened to good old common sense? I am sure most gum-chomping Catholics would not think to chew gum in a private audience with the Queen of England. "What?" they might say, "Chewing gum in front of the Queen of England? Why, that would be undignified and disrespectful!" Okay. So it is undignified and disrespectful to chew gum in front of important dignitaries, but it is perfectly fine to do so in the presence of Jesus Christ?

On the other hand, this is not merely a post-Vatican II problem. The Church has long dealt with the problem of congregants who forget they are in a church. St. Paul chastised people to do their eating and drinking at home: 

What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not (1 Cor. 11:22).

In seventeenth-century Mexico, a bishop feuded with the local gentry over drinking chocolate during Mass:

Thomas Gage (1603-1656), an English Dominican friar and traveler, tried to intervene with the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, over the congregation drinking chocolate during services. The women were fond of chocolate and turned church services into a coffeehouse. The bishop tried to end this, and was consequently found dead. Poisoned chocolate was sent to the bishop and Thomas Gage fled Chiapas. The rumor was that the women, who so hated the bishop for this restriction, poisoned him with chocolate, hence the proverb "Beware the chocolate of Chiapa." 

Eventually, in 1662, Pope Alexander VII put a final solution to the affair when he declared "Liquidum non frangit jejunum." Translated it means "Liquids (including chocolate) do not break the [Communion] fast."

Nota bene: Now that the danger to the health of bishops who forbid chocolate at Mass has passed, chocolate does break the Communion fast (canon 919, Code of Canon Law). Gum, being neither a food or drink but a substance intended for chewing and then discarding (like tobacco), does not break the Communion fast.

I think we can agree that inappropriate behavior at Mass like chewing gum (not to mention inappropriate dress and unnecessary cell-phone use) is symptomatic of a bigger problem: We simply do not understand why we are at Mass—which is why we treat the liturgy as if it were a picnic or a ball game (or coffeehouse, as was the case for the Mexican ladies demanding their chocolate). 

While we are waiting for catechesis to take effect in the hearts and minds of the gum chewers at Mass, what can the average parish priest do to correct this problem? Take it away, Fr. Richard Kunst

If I see a single person chewing gum in the entire church, I say this right before Communion: "Would those who are chewing gum please dispose of it before coming to Communion?"

At first, I got a few giggles, but now the gum chewing in my Masses has gone way down. I don't have to say it as often, and when I don't notice a particular gum chewer, either one of my parishioners sitting near them will say something to the person, or one of my flock will tell me about it after Mass. . . .

Mass is not a ball game, it's where heaven and earth kiss, where time and eternity meet because the Lord of lords and the King of kings becomes present on the altar. What kind of manners are shown when people come into that setting chomping on gum as if they were at a picnic? Their parents ought to have some old-time Catholic educator slap them with a ruler for not having taught their children a basic understanding of manners or theology.

Peggy Frye is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers.

Comments by Members

#1  Daniel Kempker - JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri

To mostly quote you, when incidents like gum chewing happen to me at Mass, it takes all my self-discipline not to say something to the offender. I see this as such a problem because of the reasons you mentioned, but also because I've always understood gum-chewing as violating the Eucharistic fast. Flavored waters such as tea and coffee violate the fast, why wouldn't gum? While the gum itself is not , some of its ingredients - flavors, sweeteners, etc. - are digested. Canon 919 seems pretty clear that only water, and medication, can be consumed during the time of the Eucharistic fast - nothing else: "A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine."

September 12, 2013 at 9:42 pm PST
#2  Olivia Ibe - Onitsha, Anambra

The problem is that some people don't know what is Mass.

September 13, 2013 at 4:27 am PST
#3  Joseph Gabriel - georgetown, Texas

its a pet peeve of mine! yet....i never seen anyone do that at mass... i am guilty of chewing gum before mass... but i always stopped and threw it out before i got out of car before mass. my issue is now what?! do i take communion? i feel guilty.

September 13, 2013 at 8:11 pm PST
#4  Linh Ngo - Scottsdale, Arizona

Yes, I don't like that people chew gum, or drink during mass, or give their kids cookies and candies during mass. I used to do cleaning at my old church and I see all sorts of stuff around church. I mean it's only an hour, can't they hold it out for an hour! they readily do so when they go to a theater or a some shows and they can't drink or eat in the theater, but why not mass? nowadays people don't see church as a sacred place anymore, and sadly even priests. Every time I see a priest drink even if it's just water in church, I am so disappointed and that is more often than not.

September 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm PST
#5  Kimberly Fregia - Austin, Texas

I attended a different church this morning because I was out of town. I usually attend the 7:30a.m. Mass on Sunday but today I attended the 11:30a.m. What disturbed me the most during Mass is when people walked in late....15-20 minutes late. The Mass was at 11:30a.m. How can you be late??!! This morning during the readings of the Word of God about 55-60 people waltzed in. They didn't even stand in the back to wait and show respect until the readings ended before they walked in. Then when the Priest was speaking another 20 people waltzed in. The priest stopped talking and looked around until everyone was seated which took a good four to five minutes. The sad thing is I don't think the people realized they were the reason the Priest was silent.

Then there are the screaming babies and restless four - five year olds. Is childcare not provided for Mass anymore?? I don't understand why a parent does not take a crying baby out of the chapel or outside.

Then a LOT of people get up during Mass (I guess to go to the bathroom) and when they return they have to chat with the person next to them. Oh...and I heard a phone going off during the Homily this morning. Not one ring, not two rings but FIVE rings before they turned it off.

And of course when people leave after receiving communion. Do they not realize they are slapping the King of Kings in the face? And don't even get me started on the clothes people wear to Mass. I sometimes feel like I am at Wal-Mart or Target instead of in the House of God.

I think a Canon Law should be passed that all doors to Mass shall be closed and locked five minutes after the BEGINNING of every Mass worldwide. Perhaps people would appreciate Mass more.

People in ancient times and even today in some countries have had to crawl on their hands and knees for miles to attend Mass and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Millions of people have been killed for their belief and desire to receive Holy Communion.

I'm not saying my parish is any better AT ALL. However I do think the early morning Masses in most churches are quieter and more peaceful and I guess I've taken that for granted. I'm looking forward to my usual 7:30a.m. Mass time in the future.

Thank You for letting me vent.

Hail Mary Full of Grace
the Lord is with Thee
Blessed are Thou amongst Women
and Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb

September 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm PST
#6  Nicole Stacy - Hartford, Connecticut

Kimberly, we cannot refuse people the sacraments just because we don't imagine that they have a good enough reason to be late. Likewise, the children have a right to be there because it is part of their Catholic upbringing, which is the duty of the parents. Taking them out for a minute until they calm down is one thing; shuffling them off to daycare and removing them from Mass entirely so that they never experience it is an injustice to them. Children are going to make noise, and not necessarily because they are misbehaving. How are we to expect a culture of life where children are welcomed if we can't tolerate them "for an hour"?

There's a difference between promoting common manners and loading on excessive, Pharasaical burdens. I hear you about the martyrs and the preciousness of the Mass, but pray for these people and please try to find a more constructive way of channeling it.

September 17, 2013 at 6:29 pm PST
#7  Nicole Stacy - Hartford, Connecticut

I would just add quickly that at my parish we have cognitively disabled adults as well who moan and yelp sometimes. I sincerely hope nobody would suggest they be taken out of Mass! Perhaps it would be a good exercise to remind ourselves, whether it is a child or adult, they could be dead and consequently not there to distract us.

September 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm PST
#8  James McDonald - Wyoming, Michigan

I try not to judge too harshly on people bringing a water bottle into mass. I don't know what the reason is that they brought it, to quench their thirst or because of a medical condition.

I have a friend who had a terrible case of cancer of the salivary glands. Most of them had to be removed so he has to have a water bottle with him wherever he goes. He's not a Catholic, so it's not an issue at Mass. But WOW does it cause him problems at the movie theater when he doesn't buy one of their overpriced bottles!

September 18, 2013 at 5:54 am PST
#9  Roger Davis - New Jersey, New Jersey


September 24, 2013 at 1:24 am PST

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