QUAERITUR: Can we write down notes and thoughts during Holy Mass?

From a reader:

I tend to think of some of my best ideas during Mass. I keep a small notebook and a pen in my pocket. Is it permissible to jot down quick thoughts?

Sure, I think that is okay… occasionally.

That said, remember that the Actor at Holy Mass is Christ Himself. Were He suddenly to come to you more apparently, would you not give Him your full, undivided attention? I suspect that were you to be given a preview of heaven, you would focus on what you saw while it was going on, not taking your attention away to make notes.

Of course our memories, especially as we get older, are not what they used to be. Making a note helps.   A good point in a sermon (or maybe even a really bad one!), a flash of insight, a memory of something from that past that you need to confess….

I think it is okay to jot something down, but Mass is not a didactic moment. Mass is not the same as Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament wherein, over the course of an hour, you might go from an intellectual exercise to meditation to contemplation and back.

An occasional note during Mass, sure. But you probably shouldn’t be sitting there regularly with pen and pad in hand.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Just out of interest (obviously vested!) what are your views on taking photos during the Mass?

  2. “[T]hat said, remember that the Actor at Holy Mass is Christ Himself. Were He suddenly to come to you more apparently, would you not give Him your full, undivided attention?”

    Personally, I’d want to take notes. Even the Gospel writers didn’t get that chance. Maybe a picture of us hoisting a few pints at the local pub. Or something.

  3. Southern Baron says:

    I’m more likely to write during adoration. I’ve even gone to adoration with the intention of writing reflections on my prayer. I also studied for an Old Testament exam there once back in the day but all it entailed was carefully reading Isaiah, and it seemed vaguely appropriate.

  4. zekarja says:

    I agree with Fr Z, though, maybe it’s because I have Aspergers but, I’d take notes of a preview of heaven. St John the Evangelist and Apostle took notes down in Revelation. I’d want to make sure that I wouldn’t forget anything. :P

    Of course, during Mass, one is present to worship God and participate in the unbloody Sacrifice. One’s obligations during Mass differ from one’s obligations of previewing heaven. I do not think that one should take any notes (except in important/emergency situations) during the Gospel and during Liturgy of the Faithful (that is, from the Creed to the end of the Mass).

    If one is taking notes of the Homily during the Homily, I see nothing wrong with that. Many people do that to help instill it into their memories and to look on it later in the weeks, months, or years.

  5. jkm210 says:

    Here is a flowchart for all of life’s “should I or shouldn’t I” questions:

    Is it objectively sinful? ->Yes->Don’t do it.
    No. ->What is your intent? ->Bad->Don’t do it.
    Good. ->Do it in moderation.

  6. mamajen says:

    I could see taking notes during the homily, but any other time it seems that it would be an indication that the mind is wandering, which I think is something we should try to overcome. It’s definitely a challenge for me.

  7. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Good. ->Do it in moderation.”

    “Thou shalt love The Lord, Thy God, with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, with thy whole mide, and with they whole strength.”

    Some things should not be done in moderation.

    The chicken

  8. Cafea Fruor says:

    Another reason for note-taking during Mass being an infrequent affair: It can be very distracting to those sitting near you. There are people who do this at Masses I’ve attended and also during my adoration hour, and it’s horribly distracting for me to hear the scratch of pen on paper, the clicking of pens, etc. If a person starts note-taking around me, I may as well kiss concentration goodbye. Not that the world revolves around me, but do think of your pew-mates.

  9. APX says:

    @Fr. Z
    Mass is not the same as Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament wherein, over the course of an hour, you might go from an intellectual exercise to meditation to contemplation and back.

    I thought that was the whole purpose of the silent parts during Mass, and that the congregation’s participation is mainly meditative during the EF Mass? I never was much of a note-taker, and the thought of doing so during Mass never occurred to me. That being said, I’ve had some of the most profound experiences and insights during low Mass when it’s quiet. Sometimes they come out of the blue.

  10. anilwang says:

    Mulier Fortis says “Just out of interest (obviously vested!) what are your views on taking photos during the Mass?”

    It’s something that needs to be discussed with the pastor.

    Sometimes its allowed (e.g. there are daily masses), but only under certain conditions (e.g. no flash or no distracting other parishioners or only by approved photographers or only during certain times of the mass). But regardless of any answer you receive here, there is no guarantee it will be allowed, and the pastor’s judgment needs to be respected.

    The mass *is* after all a participation of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary. I shutter to think of Paparazzi at the crucifixion.

  11. Hidden One says:

    I’d like to second what Cafea Fruor said. I could go on an extensive rant about people distracting others (me included) during, before, and after Mass and in Adoration, but I’ll spare you all – for now, at least.

  12. tgarcia2 says:

    I’ve started taking a notepad with me since there are key parts of the homily that in the past I’ve thought “that’s a good lesson/point, i’ll have to remember that!” and I never do :/

  13. Imrahil says:

    Dear jkm210,

    in addition to whar our dear @Chicken said, I’d like to point out while you’re in many things philosophically right, in the personal moral decision it is often the “allowed => moderate” implication, not the “moderate => allowed” implication, that our mind runs along. Moderate, after all, is as yet somewhat undefined; according to St. Thomas, its rule of definition is necessity, but it is a large, open-handed, Christian concept of necessity, not the moralizing Spartan concept of necessity so present in our world.

    It is allowed and hence moderate to celebrate a joyous occasion with some (plural) pints of beer. (Without entering into the discussion how rare-picked such occasions must be.) To deduce its allowedness from the moderateness is, along our modes of language, counterintuitive.

    Also, the Christian in a sense does everything from love (or, if it is not about a person, but about an abstract concept such as sin, or so, hate); and love knows no limit. Which might make understandable the deeper feeling of the Catholic that one can only live well on the extremes (cf. E. M. v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn and persons he quotes; sorry but I cannot give it any more accurate now). The “opposite vices” are, for sure, in a degree opposite, but often even more opposite to the one virtue they oppose…

    I believe that the acquisitions of heathen philosophy have justly been taken up by the Church, and that what of that they found is eternal truth remains it, even though some people today say a different thing… Let it be understood in this sense that I sometimes fancied that aurea mediocritas is the only real antique-Hellenistic immigrant into Christianity.

  14. jkm210 says:

    Oh, good lord, people, this is why I seldom comment on this blog. Of course it’s an oversimplification; it’s a flowchart. But I get tired of all of the “look how scrupulous I am” questions that get asked on this site. Think about your motivations. When it is something that is not objectively sinful, anyone with a well-formed conscience should know whether or not they should be doing it without having to ask on a blog. If you don’t have a well-formed-enough conscience to answer the question, you’re not sinning. If you’re truly not sure, ask a confessor or someone who knows you well enough to help. Fr. Z would have no way of judging whether this individual should be taking notes in Mass, because he doesn’t know him or her.

    Also, Masked Chicken, I would add that I would not consider loving God to fall under the category of the “should-I-or-shouldn’t-I” questions of life.

  15. VexillaRegis says:

    I have done that once, when I suddenly remembered a very important thing I had to do after that daily Mass (without music). The only thing I found in my purse to write on, was a reciept, and I got funny looks from Father, who didn’t exactly expect his organist to cause a lot of rustling and clink. Had to explain to him afterwards :-)

    Also, do not take notes if you are not known to the celebrant; he might think you are an inspector from the diocese or a reporter from the Fishwrap, who has come to cause trouble.

  16. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear jmk210,

    Sorry. I should not have gone at your flow chart so uncharitably. This matter came up on an apologetics blog some time ago (I’d I recall, correctly) and when I saw you chart, I responded fom reflex. Don’t let my lack of charity put you off of making comments.

    The Chicken

  17. JKnott says:

    I respect Father’s balanced answer …. and his caution.
    The Mass is a prayer which is the raising of our heart and mind to God and traditionally includes adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition. It is essentially the public prayer of the Church and not private personal prayer. Prayer requires recollection and detachment from oneself. The actions required to do the note taking must necessarily interrupt from the other important sequence of the entire prayer and necessarily interrupt our neighbor’s own recollection.
    Ultimately I think writing during Mass is vanity. It takes the focus off of the Holy Sacrifice and onto MY agenda. Maybe a better, and dynamically committed solution, would be to remain in quiet meditation after Mass to reflect on the particular light that made such an impression during the Mass and talk to the Lord about it and ask and resolve then and there how to grow in virtue and put into practice. Then use it as a thoughtful “gum drop” throughout the day and perhaps write the resolution in a journal during evening personal prayer. If it is that important, it is worth acting on it.
    Many of the great saints wrote in conjunction with their prayer but …. at Mass? When God infuses special grace, it comes with a certitude that is memorable.

  18. jkm210 says:

    Oh, Chicken, no need for apologies. I wasn’t angry, nor would I accuse you of being uncharitable. As we all know, in the Catholic blogosphere, ending an argument with an accusation of being uncharitable is the equivalent of saying “I have no further rational comment to add,” while ending an argument with “I’ll pray for you” is the equivalent of flipping someone the bird. :-)

    I’m no genius, theologian, or philosopher (despite my bachelor’s degree in philosophy), I just think that common sense can answer a lot of questions.

  19. charismatictrad says:

    Matthew Kelly suggests keeping a Mass journal. To be honest, I kind of struggle with it. I think it could aid in keeping focus and keeping a good spiritual journal, but I think for reverance’s sake it’s a little awkward.

  20. rhhenry says:

    @charismatictrad: I heard Mr. Kelly say something along those lines on a CD lecture (i.e., keeping a Mass journal). I may have mis-understood him, but I thought he was speaking more along the lines of furiously scribbling something in the parking lot after Mass, not taking notes during Mass itself. For what it’s worth, I’ve found “holding something in mind” (dare I say, “pondering things in my heart”?) for the remainder of Mass to be a profitable exercise (e.g. how does the Consecration seem different in light of insight X, suggested by the homily / Scripture reading / etc.?)

  21. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    The main trouble with taking photos during the celebration of Holy Mass is the need to use flash illumination to successfully capture the image indoors. Those flashes are deadly to the recollection of others in the congregation, and as such bespeak a photographer who has zero regard for the sacredness of the worship or for the prayer of others. This being the case, why attend the Mass at all? Why not take photos outside the church and/or at the indoor gatherings with flash before and after Mass?

  22. What is meant by “Mass is not a didactic moment”? Sacrosanctum Concilium states that the liturgy has a “didactic and pastoral nature” (indole didactica et pastorali), and that it “contains much instruction”.

    I grant that Mass is not a classroom, but God is clearly teaching us in every moment of it.

  23. lgreen515 says:

    I always take notes during the homily. Otherwise I wouldn’t remember it very well.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If you have a vision, St. John of the Cross basically said that it was God’s will what you remembered of it, and that mostly the experience itself was what God was teaching you, not the recall of it afterward. So if God decides to teach you something and you forget what it was, the point is that it’s your soul that’s being fed directly, and not so much your mind. So yeah, this is pretty much the attitude I take towards Father’s good points at Mass. Usually I don’t remember them, but my soul got nourished and that’s what counts.

    That said, there’s nothing wrong with working to improve your memory, and you can file stuff away there without disturbing your neighbors.

  25. Jeff says:

    @charismatictrad @rhhenry Matthew Kelly says that you are to find one thing to make yourself a better person that week and jot the ONE THING down. I have practiced this exercise and my wife and I tend to have some good discussions on the way home from Mass, but my problem with it is that I never go back to reexamine how I am doing on that one thing later on. I suppose this is a fault of the practice and not of the method, but I do think its a good suggestion. I generally find that the one thing would be during the Homily, or during the readings (in which you can write it down during the Homily).

    I think Matthew Kelly has a lot of great ideas and there is genius in the simplicity of it. I think he has a way of affecting Catholics no matter where they are in their faith journey, and that is truly remarkable.

  26. I am a meticulous note taker….most of the time mental, occasionally written. My former SD was a very good SD and would often mention things in his homilies I’d like to reflect upon later, hence my note taking practice. I haven’t done much of it lately, I should start again soon.

  27. Incaelo says:

    My girlfriend frequently takes notes, but she does so in order to stay focussed on the Mass. She jots things down in order to keep them from distracting her. Even then, she doesn’t do it all through Mass.

  28. Ellen says:

    I’ve never been a note taker ever. I don’t annotate my books, I don’t “journal” (hate that word) and the only lists I make are grocery ones. There’s a woman who goes to daily Mass and spends most of the time scribbling furiously in a notebook all during Mass. I had to move away from her since she was very distracting.

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  30. The Egyptian says:

    VexillaRegis says:
    Also, do not take notes if you are not known to the celebrant; he might think you are an inspector from the diocese or a reporter from the Fishwrap, who has come to cause trouble.
    on the other hand think what the effect several people taking notes during a progressive off the wall mass might have on a wayward pastor, the reaction could be priceless

    I half kidding,,,,, but still ???????

  31. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Egyptian: Oh, that’s another thing ;-P! The one should bring a big scroll to write on.

  32. jmvbxx says:

    Father, while I nearly always agree with you I have to respond by saying that I strongly disagree with you comment about mass. Mass, especially the readings and homily is a strongly didactic event. Much more so than an hour adoration which is more pensive and reflective.

    The readings and the homily are designed to teach. I believe the writer should feel to write any comments or reflections based on what he hears.

  33. Angie Mcs says:

    Although all our parish priests give wonderful homilies, I especially like one priest. Sometimes he expresses a very powerful thought, the kind of thought which makes me sit up and goes to my heart. I feel it would take away from the moment to take notes at that point. I am usually so happy that I have heard something that touches me so deeply that I wouldn’t want to look for a pencil and paper. I feel that for me it would take away from the moment. I also would not like to draw attention to myself. On the other hand, I don’t look around at what others are doing. If someone is writing something down quietly and briefly, I would probably not be disturbed. (But thats my personal feeling . I have seen parents bring Jesus coloring books so that their children sit quietly during mass rather than disturb others. They are probably doing their best -and I don’t feel I can judge them either ) Anyway, my husband and I stay for a while after mass is over and pray, light candles, walk around, all the while reflecting quietly on what Father said and the mass in general. Later, I ask my husband to help me remember the homily’s stronger points, which leads to a more in depth conversation. I have to believe that “my soul got nourished and that’s what counts” , as Suburbanbanshee said. I understand Father Z’s response. His comments are balanced, careful and reflect that this is not a black and white situation.

    My church is also itself beautiful, and our pastor arranges for someone to take photographs during important masses and events. At that point, when the church is often dark, we do have flashes go off, but that is Fathers decision and it’s always very nice to see these photos on the website, which I believe is Father’s intent. However (this part is not a black and white situation) we have people who sit among the pews, and stand up during mass and take photos, take them while people are still in their pews praying. Not everyone gets up and runs out immediately, and their quiet should also be respected. Just like cell phones going off, people who talk during mass, or those who won’t take their constantly screaming babies to the back, photography takes away from the experience for the rest of us and is very disruptive. Their focus has moved from the mass to their own personal agendas, and they are also depriving themselves of the experience. Sadly, one cannot expect rude people to leave their bad manners at the sanctuary doors.

    Still, there are those sublime moments when one can hear a pin drop. Hundreds of people are quiet, still and focused on no other activity but the mass. One can literally feel the energy of all those people merging into one. It takes my breath away and feels as if a door has opened for the Holy Spirit to come in and sit among us.

  34. VexillaRegis says:

    Edit: 10.40 The= Then

  35. Banjo pickin girl says:

    We get 20 minute three-point sermons like the Methodists have so I take notes like the Methodists do. I have a good collection of things that have ended up incorporated in my Bible.

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