Whether we know it or not, we are always searching for God; it is a desire “written in the human heart.”1 Only in Him will we find the truth and happiness that we seek. As Catholics, we are truly blessed because there are few places on earth where we can encounter God so profoundly as in the Holy Mass. The Mass is the most important part of being Catholic, “the source and summit of the Christian life.”2
Because the Mass holds such significance, we want to give it our best – pay attention to every detail. For when we approach the Mass with reverence and respect, it demonstrates our firm belief that God has come to meet us. Whether you’re a cradle Catholic, a new convert, or a “revert” (just coming back to your Catholic faith), we could all use a refresher from time to time on what to do (or not to do) each Sunday…Mass “etiquette,” if you will. Here are some areas where we sometimes need reminders:
- Don’t chew gum. If you’re afraid you’ll knock out your neighbour with your coffee breath during the sign of peace, it’s okay to pop a mint in your mouth. But gum should be left at home. Chomping on gum during church not only looks bad, but it also makes it tough to sing or receive Communion.
- Dress Appropriately. In our increasingly casual culture, we’ve gotten away from the idea of “putting on your Sunday best.” Nevertheless, it’s still important to dress appropriately for Mass. Basically that means simple, clean, and modest clothing. No beachwear, no headgear, and no cleavage. (Okay, technically speaking, hats are allowed for women.) The overriding principle here is respect. Does what you’re wearing show respect for everyone gathered to celebrate Mass – for God, for the priest, for the congregation, and even for yourself? How you’re dressed is even more important if you’re serving in some capacity at Mass, for instance as a Lector or as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (a title worthy of the role!).
- Stop for Red. When you enter the church, look for the red sanctuary candle and reverently acknowledge Jesus – His Real Body and Blood present in the Holy Eucharist – by bowing or genuflecting in the direction of the tabernacle. Remember how it’s done? You touch your right knee to the floor while making the sign of the cross. The red candle is the signal to stop and say ‘hello’ to Jesus first.
- Do your part. Mass isn’t meant to be a spectator sport. Everyone who comes has a part (no auditioning required!). To get the most we can out of Mass, we must actively participate by listening, singing, and repeating the appropriate responses… but only yours, please, not the priest’s. If you’re unsure what to say when, many parishes now have pew cards, little “cheat sheets” for the prayers and responses. It’s okay if you don’t have the new Mass responses down by heart!
- Follow the Leader. The priest is our leader at Mass and will indicate by word or gesture when to sit, stand, or kneel. While these actions may inadvertently keep you alert and on your toes during Mass, they’re really meant to help you “worship with your whole body.” You may not know this, but there are guidelines for both the priest and the congregation to help unify the way we worship.3 Just one of the many perks of belonging to a universal Church!
- Don’t distract or diminish. Because we celebrate Mass as a community, it’s good to avoid things that may bother people around you – like having your cell phone go off, unnecessary talking, or wearing strong perfume or scented lotion (those of us with allergies thank you). We wouldn’t want anything to take our focus away from what’s happening at the altar.
- The Most Important Meal of the Day. Remember the most important reason you’ve come to Mass – to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, spiritual food for our souls. To do so, we must be properly disposed – having fasted for one hour before receiving, having no unconfessed mortal sin, and being in communion with the Church. “Being in communion means being united with all that the Church teaches, prays, and does.”4 If you’re unsure whether you should receive Communion, you can always go up for a blessing by crossing your arms over your chest, but it’s perfectly fine to stay in your place, too. When you receive Communion, what is essential is to consume the host right away. This ain’t no ordinary piece of bread!
As a final thought, I’ll leave you with the question that my husband often poses to our kids with mocked outrage at their manners, behaviour, or choice of attire: “What if the pope were sitting here?!” This is a good guiding principle for all of us, for being in the presence of Jesus is just as important – even more so!
– Kelley Holy
1 CCC, 27.
2 CCC, 1324.
3 The Church establishes universal norms for the celebration of the Mass called the GIRM, the General Instructions for the Roman Missal. Dioceses and bishops conferences are then able to modify to fit their particular needs. Basically, it indicates when to stand, sit, and kneel, as well as proper ways to receive Holy Communion, and so on.
4 Rev. John Trigilio Jr., PhD, ThD, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD, Catholicism for Dummies (Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2003), 149.