Freedom from Purses

Freedom from Purses

Freedom from Purses

Do you notice the women who come up to receive the Eucharist with their purse?  I have always wondered about that.  It seems to be common practice, but why?  I should probably throw out my disclaimer that I am not a cradle Catholic, so I wonder about weird stuff that normal Catholics probably don’t think twice about.  But, why do they bring their purse to communion?  Are they afraid it will get stolen if they leave in in their seat?  Are they planning to leave right after communion?  Are they just following a common unwritten practice all cradle Catholic women innately have?  I have always been puzzled by it but too afraid to ask one of these women.  It seems kind of rude.  It’s like asking, “Did you really mean to wear that dress to church today?”  Yep, rude.

So, let’s change the subject.  The Pope has declared that this is the year of faith.  As we enter this year, the Lord has really laid the saints on my heart.  He has challenged me to read their stories and admire their beautiful faith.  And, of course, all this story reading has gotten me thinking about my own faith.  Do I have what it takes?  If I were Stephen, would I have the courage to be stoned to death because I love Jesus?  If I were St. Lawrence, would I have the courage to be cooked alive because I love Jesus?  If I were St. Thomas More, would I proclaim my love for Jesus all the way to the end when they cut off my head?  Do I love Jesus more than my own life?  Do I trust him enough to lay my life at his feet like these martyrs?

Sure, it is easy to say that I do.  I have spent many hours on my knees in surrender.  At every Mass, I lay down my life with the words of the Suscipe.  At the moment, I have given up my career in education for a much less lucrative career in youth ministry.  But I have never been tested like these martyrs were tested.  I do not have to fear for my life simply because I am a Christian.  I am blessed to live in a country where that fear is not a reality.  But what if it was?  What if the Christians in my town were rounded up by a crazy person and threatened with execution if they did not renounce Christ?  What would I do?  Truth be told, I don’t know what I would do.  I am a wife and a mother.  I am a daughter, a sister, an Aunt and a Godmother.  I have family and friends whom I love and people who count on me.  Could I trust them to Jesus and allow myself to be killed rather than renounce my faith and my love for Christ?  Do I trust the Lord that much?  I have ties to this world- strong ties. I have things that I love to do and places I love to go.  I have friends and family who make each day better than the next.   I am blessed beyond measure.  But with those blessings come ties.  Don’t get me wrong, these are good ties, but ties none the less.

So, now that I work at my church, I have my own small space in the office.  And often, I leave my belongings in there before I go to Mass.  That way, I can be completely hands free and I am not concerned with leaving my stuff.  This experience has been great.  I didn’t realize how much I was distracted by keeping track of my stuff.  There is freedom in coming to Mass without my belongings.  As I have been experiencing Mass with this bit of freedom, I realize that this is what the Martyrs felt- freedom.  They had to.  In order to give their lives as they did, they had to be free from all ties.

So, how do we get the freedom found in the spirit of a martyr?  We have to trust.  We have to be willing to not be in control of our own lives.  And we also have to be willing to not be in control of the lives of those we love- especially our children.  We have to trust Christ absolutely and completely with EVERYTHING.  There is freedom in that trust.  When we trust Christ like this, then we open ourselves up to His love in new and more profound ways.  This is where the faith of a martyr is found.

So in this year of faith, we need to approach the altar with love AND trust.  We need to trust the Lord as much as we profess to love Him.  When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, he told them to take nothing for the journey (Matthew 10:5-15).  They didn’t have to worry about keeping track of possessions as they traveled because they left them behind.  They trusted the Lord with all they had and went about to do his will.  This is what we are called to as well- trust the Lord and do His will.  Before we can do His will, we have to let go of our ties and trust.  If we truly love the Lord, then we will.  We can only love the Lord as much as we let go and trust him.  The martyrs show us what it means to completely trust and thus, love.

So faithful Catholic women, let’s leave our purses behind.  (Seriously, leave them at home if you need to.)  Approach the altar with just the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet.  You don’t need anything more for the journey than an open and trusting heart. Our ties to this world are strong and comfortable.  So, let’s get uncomfortable for the Lord.  In this year of faith, let’s experience the freedom found in absolute trust of the one who has already given us His life.

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life….” (Matthew 10:25)

Copyright 2012 Lori Miller


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  1. Maureen Murphy on

    I love the spirit of your post and am totally onboard with leaving your purse locked in the car or at home if you would feel called to do that. I would caution against leaving the purse in the pew while approaching Communion.

    I, too, once felt as you do until there were rashes of of purse thefts right in our own church. At my mother’s parsh, my mother, a daily communicant, had hers stolen with all her money, driver’s license and credit cards. She thought it could never happen to her. These are not churches located in high-crime areas. As the police explained, thieves enter the church knowing valuable will be left unattended while people approach the altar or are deep in prayer at this most scared time.

    To me, this is not a matter of trusting God but of prudence. If you feel called to approach the altar with noghting (a most worthy idea), leave the purse in a secure location.

    Just a few thoughts from experience. FWIW

    • I would unfortunately have to agree with Maureen. Not only have I had my purse stolen, but my mother had been one who left her purse in the pew and one time while visiting a church returned to the pew to find it missing. Luckily, later, an older woman from the pew behind gave it back to her and told her that they had been having a rash of thefts, so picked it up to make sure no one would do so for a more evil purpose. Now my mother works in her home parish and leaves her purse in her office, but if she’s visiting elsewhere or doesn’t have time to run upstairs, she always carries it with her.

      If I can walk to church, I never bring my purse — I bring only the house key, which I can store in my shoe or in my sweater or dress/skirt if it has a pocket or in my husband’s pocket if he’s with me. However, when I drive I have to have, at minimum, my house key, my car key, and my license. Most of the time, I need more than that because after or before Mass we are going somewhere. It’s simply a practical facet of life.

      It’s a very admirable goal to come to Communion with nothing in your arms/over your shoulder, etc., and by all means if you have that freedom perhaps you should consider it as a way to focus solely on the sacrament. However, if you must have a purse and do not have a secure location in which to store it, consideration for others should be paramount: leaving valuables in a pew is offering temptation to sin.

  2. Brian K. Kravec on

    Lori, Thank you for a wonderful reflection on the value and importance of detachment, poverty, abandonment and trust.

    • Thanks Brian! Loved your post today too. I live in Texas where some people would gladly advocate hangings on the courthouse lawn. We have a long way to go here.

  3. Please don’t think I am advocating that you should leave your valuables unattended in an unsafe place. I am advocating that we approach the altar in complete abandonment to our worldly treasures and thus be completely focused on the Lord. Bringing just your keys and license in your pocket is a great way to free yourself from the worry over leaving the purse. Freedom from that worry is what I am advocating. I encourage you to try it. It seems like a silly thing, but it makes a big difference.

    Also, when you bring that purse with you to the altar, you are wearing a big sign that says I can not trust the community. Is that the message we want to send to the community? Even if there are thieves in the community, I hope that is not the message we want to send. So, don’t send it. Don’t bring the purse to the church. Problem solved:)

    • Actually, Lori, by making it a habit to have my purse over my shoulder, that actually is giving me freedom not to worry about my possessions in the same way that your leaving your purse in your office is giving you that freedom. The only difference is that leaving your purse in your office is allowing you to not “wear a big sign.”

      Again, if you have pockets (which not all clothing does), and you can put your license and keys in there and have nothing else with you, your arguments above are a non-issue. But does it necessarily denote that the person who so does has any greater detachment from worldly possessions than the person who carries the purse? Those who wear trousers surely have an advantage, then. And if you took your keys and license out of your purse right before going up to receive, your motive is surely still the same, thus canceling any spiritual gain from the act and only making it a matter of piety.

      I have no quibble with your premise that not carrying a purse to Communion may help some people to stay focused on the sacrament. That is probably very true.

      But your column went beyond that premise in several ways, and it is those about which I have doubts:

      In the opening paragraph, you implied you were not aware of the reason why women would carry their purse with them. We answered your question by saying that (a) the risk of theft is present and (b) offering the temptation to others to sin is irresponsible (an argument that is often used in regards, as well, to the modesty question, for instance). Rather than addressing those issues, you have instead stated that we are telling people in the community that we don’t trust them. Indeed, this could be an interpretation made by someone spending his or her time watching people in the communion line and questioning their motives, rather than either preparing for the sacrament or reflecting on the great gift in the Eucharist just received. But it is also an insult and an assumption about my motives.

      The column is directed at all women who carry their purse to church; your arguments only apply to those who have an option to not carry a purse. It is, indeed, a good opportunity for all women who carry a purse to reflect on whether they need to do so. That is an admirable goal.

      However, for those who (a) must carry a purse and (b) do not have a place to securely store it, this column and your follow-up comment were insulting. Beware of making the action of not carrying a purse about piety and not prayer — and stop looking at other women’s purses during Mass.

      • Kat, it is not my intent to insult you or other women. Although you bring up good points, my position on this topic remains unchanged. I am a convert to the faith and as an outsider looking in, the impression that I get from the women who bring their purse to communion is that there is a level of distrust (and justifiably so given some of the stories in the comments). We are all evangelists- even at Mass. Whether we want to admit it or not, outsiders do watch us and, in some cases, they are at Mass because they are interested in the Catholic faith. I hope the impression we give them is one of welcome and not distrust. But this isn’t the real issue. The real issue is approaching Jesus at the altar. I have changed my habits and choose to approach him with out my worldly ties and have freed myself from the distraction of keeping up with my stuff. I have found it very rewarding. Especially since I have realized that this is how Priests and other religious not only approach the altar, but live their lives. Jesus sent his disciples out and told them to take nothing for the journey. Not bringing my purse to Mass seems like a small way to free myself from the worldly ties and practice this abandonment. I am just suggesting that others try it. I am not trying to insult you.

  4. Too funny! I wondered about that too until I realized that they LEAVE Mass right after they are of the line. I think that is absolutely RUDE to leave Mass right after receiving the Eucharist. It is also rude when others leave just as the final song begins. Oh, that annoys me! But, I’m not there for them…and who knows, maybe they have some very important thing to get to… Though…well, you know. They are at Mass, which is important, so? I don’t know. But it is rude. I LOVED that our priest called them all out on it, too. But once the next week came along and a different priests was there they just kept doing what they pleased. Anyway, I don’t bring a purse with me anymore…just my toddler’s bag of Mass items. 🙂

  5. I am a bit of an anomaly. As parish secretary I often have money given to me by parishioners (Mass Intentions / piety stall etc) and a big bunch of keys which would give access to unauthorised places – so I feel I have a duty to take it with me.

    I think it is more about the attitude of your approach – I don’t necessarily equate being sensible when you get out of your seat with being attached to your possessions on approaching the Host. The bag can be forgotten about temporarily, and due reverence can be given to the Lord. (it is quite a different matter of course if one intends to leave directly afterwards, or if one is parading an exclusive purchase)

    Bad things do happen to good people – even in Churches when receiving Holy Communion. Why bring valuables to Church in the first place? Well not everyone has the luxury of having nothing to do either side of Mass, and may need their possessions (especially if they go on weekdays) and one cannot put money into the collection unless one has one’s purse, and it has money in it.

    My point? -I agree in principle with the attitude to possessions, but I also think that one can be over scrupulous.

  6. How about an article on clothing?

    I have seen some people dress better for a night out than they do not only to attend Mass, but in the exercise of ministries.

  7. I am a convert too – and I also see various things happen at Mass which fill me with dismay (and I am sure the same is true for many devout cradle Catholics).

    just one more thought ………you have a point re the sending of his disciples, but what about Jerusalem – people travelled from all over the country to the religious ceremonies there – were they all expected to do so with no possessions? And what did they do with them when they got there? Parishioners come from near and far by various different modes of transport (including the bus). There is absolutely no reason for a priest to bring his possessions – he lives right next door normally.

    I do not believe Jesus taught that possessions were bad. There is a difference between attachment and need, and I think we should be careful not to confuse the two.

    On another note, following encouragement by the Pope, and hence also by our priest to kneel before our Lord when we receive Him, only two parishioner actually do so – myself and my husband. It took us a good couple of months to pluck up the courage. Why? Precisely because nobody else does (except a handful of religious who attend occasionally). More than one thing worried me – would I appear overly pious before others? would we do it elsewhere when the priest wasn’t expecting it? ….would I annoy people by interrupting the flow of the procession? …or trip people up? ….would I annoy the extraordinary ministers (I was told they weren’t keen) or cause a problem to elderly ministers who are a bit shaky) (yes we do have some) …………………

    We do get comments from people (sometimes indignant ones) that it isn’t necessary to kneel, and one can be reverent without kneeling (similar comments to the ones about receiving on the tongue instead of the hand). But ultimately we did what we felt was right for us & what was in our hearts to do.

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