Give not that which is holy to dogs…

Matthew 7:6

I never thought I would have to apply this verse
literally, but I was wrong. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story in its Sunday edition about Fr. Don Buhr, priest at Our Lady of the Holy Cross Church in the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Well, actually, it is about his dog, too.

You see, Fr. Buhr allows his dog, Elijah, to attend Mass– not just in the nave, but in the Sanctuary as well. From the full article:

At north St. Louis parish, a dog watches over communion

When Buhr came to the church, he asked the parishioners if it would be all right if Elijah attended Mass. He said he didn’t want anyone’s prayer to be disturbed. So far, he said, no one has complained.


During Mass, he tends to quietly meander.

He may stroll onto the altar to sit beside Buhr or server Brittany Pfaffenback, 16. At one Mass, Brittany petted Elijah with one hand and rang the bell with the other.

“I’m a dog lover so I’m glad to have him around,” she said.

Elijah occasionally wanders down the aisle and sticks his nose into the pews, seeking affection.

In the summer, he prefers lounging on the cool terrazzo tiles of the high altar.

On a recent cold Sunday, he favored a spot beside a radiator to the side of the altar.

When the crowd lined up to receive Communion, he took up his regular post in front of the first pew on the left. From there, he watched as Buhr distributed the Eucharist.

“He loves that little space and plants himself there every Communion,” said a parish deacon, Gerry Quinn, 63, of Affton. “We do worry sometimes that someone will trip over him, but we’ve all adjusted fine.”

At the end of Mass, Elijah trotted ahead of the servers, deacons and priest as they filed down the main aisle.


Now, I admit that when I first saw the story, with a picture of the dog lounging in the sanctuary while the priest was at the altar, I cringed, but assumed that this must be a guide- or helper/service- dog for a disabled priest. So, I thought I would let it slide.

But, this is not the case. When I finally read the story, it is clear that this dog is not a service dog, but is just Father’s furry companion. No one would criticize him for liking his dog, but that is decidedly not the point.

It is an abomination that a dog would be allowed to roam the sanctuary during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is offensive; it disrespects God Himself, and literally gives what is holy to dogs. Let us consider the dangers of this situation, already existing or potentially arising:

1. The article says that the dog sometimes occupies the cool floor space near the altar, and that during Holy Communion he is near the communion line. Just what would happen if a Particle of the Sacred Body of Christ were dropped? Is this dog trained not to eat a consecrated Host? Why is the POSSIBILITY of this sacrilege openly countenanced?

2. As the “altar girl” quoted in the story already shows, people are distracted by the dog during Mass. It affects their ability to pray and worship God. It is not good enough that Father asked the parishioners if it were OK– a priest in position of authority should not expect to get a pressure-free response from his parish. How likely is it that a person with an honest objection felt comfortable voicing it to his priest, and if so, how would that person be treated by the acquiescent majority? Or, by the priest himself? Even if Father does not hold any grudge, which I assume he would not, the faithful may worry about this. It is not the job of a priest to put obstacles between his faithful and Christ, and this has the potential to do that.

3. Also, this is not a matter suitable for a majority vote–nor an unanimous vote, for that matter. What if the majority decided to substitute grape juice for wine? Would that prevent the invalidity of the attempted consecration of invalid matter? This situation is not as serious, but it is serious enough.

4. One of the commenters on the online story stated that the Archbishop probably was already aware of the situation and, as a dog lover himself, likely approved of it. I would seriously doubt this, of course, but the situation does give rise to a potential problem. It may be natural for a parishioner to assume his priest would not disobey the Archbishop (well, with a few notable exceptions) and that his priest would likely have asked the Archbishop about this unusual canine protocol. The priest has wrongly put the Archbishop in a bad position, whether he puts an end to this, or through remaining unaware or for some other reason the situation is allowed to continue.

Finally, as an aside, it is interesting to note that the photo above, which was taken by Whitney Curtis for the online story, is different from the print version. In the paper, the dog is in the sanctuary during Mass. This has been changed to show the dog in the nave, near the entrance of the Church. In the print version the priest is shown without any walker or such aid. Now we see a walker, which would strengthen the casual viewer’s assumption that the dog is a service dog. A most interesting switch. There could have been no denial in the print version of a serious sacrilege.

And I ask readers to resist the easy jabs in such a story– no, this isn’t a new Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and no, there aren’t any canine rubrics particular to the novus ordo. This is too outrageous.

This practice must stop. Now.