One priest’s tips for a better celebration of Holy Mass

At the site of the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald, there is an interesting piece by a priest who gives tips for a better celebration of Holy Mass, am improved ars celebrandi.  There are tips for the priest and for congregation.

Let’s see what you think about them.

• Start the Mass on time. If it says six o’clock, then let it be six o’clock, not five past or seven past.
• The priest should turn up in good time. Seeing a flustered looking chap rush in at one minute to does not help. After all, Mass is important, and for important events we always turn up in good time, don’t we? Besides, ones needs to prepare.
• Wear a chasuble, and make sure it is the correct colour.
• When you preach, it really is not a good idea to go on too long. And to help you keep within a reasonable time frame it is a good idea to plan the sermon. Less really is more when it comes to saying things: say it concisely and people may get what you are saying; say it in a prolix manner and your meaning may well get lost in the verbiage.
• The same goes for bidding prayers. Short and sharp. And do we need them in the week? I doubt it.
• Do not leave bits of the Mass out. The Opening Prayer, the Creed, the second reading – why do these sometimes fall by the wayside? There can be no good reason for this.
• Do not ad lib, and especially do not as lib during the Eucharistic Prayer. The people surely want to hear the words of the Church not the words of Father Joe (or whatever he is called).
• When celebrating Mass, look at God, not at the people, especially not at the strangers in Church (you never know, one of them might be a spy from the Catholic Herald.)

All of the above applies to the celebrant, but there are some points that ought to be recognised by the faithful.

• Don’t answer your mobile in Church. And when you do, which you should not, do not converse in a loud voice on the said phone, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer. In fact, just switch the thing off.
• Arrive on time.
• Yes, you have lots of important things to discuss with your neighbour, but surely they can wait twenty minutes? After Mass, you can talk to your heart’s content. During Mass, talk to God. Silently.
• Leave your shopping alone. No need to rustle through the contents of that bag at all.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Christopher says:

    ‘Yes, you have lots of important things to discuss with your neighbour, but surely they can wait twenty minutes? After Mass, you can talk to your heart’s content. During Mass, talk to God. Silently.’

    Before and After Mass, the talking should be done outside of the Church. Two hours to God per week out of a 24 hour per day cycle is not asking of too much surely.

    God Bless.

  2. wanda says:

    Aaaagghh, that rustling bag. Oh, the number of times – quiet times during Mass – that I have wanted to get up, retrieve said plastic, grocery-type bag that someone permitted junior to bring with toys and snacks in it – and fling it out the door. Forgive me.

    I’m not just picking on junior, adults have been guilty also.

  3. DavidR says:

    Good points all; I guess we don’t do them due to lousy catechesis. My wife and I entered the Church 16 years ago this Easter. I am certain we weren’t told any of these.

    I note with interest that Pope B XVI has transferred responsibility for catechesis to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. See the link below. Sorry, don’t know how to embed a hyperlink.

  4. marajoy says:

    The “not answering your phone” thing should apply to the priest also… I saw that once at the little church on a certain famous island off the coast of Michigan…

  5. All these tips seem pretty superficial, things that really ought to go without saying. As for things that may actually need to be said, do these tips fully address the comportment of celebrant as he offers the Holy Sacrifice in persona Christi with reverence and seriousness of purpose in every word and gesture?

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    At my parish, every mass is preceded by an announcement by the organist that cell phones should be turned off. In seven years, I have heard only two rings. One was at the Christmas vigil mass last year, and the other was the priest’s phone, receiving a call from his mother.

  7. akp1 says:

    Yes, they should all be done as a matter of course, BUT sadly these points are actually needed in most churches that I go to. We need to pray more for our priests and for the people who chat/answer phones (I find that so shocking!) etc. I used to put this in our Parish bulletin : ‘Before Mass, speak to God. During Mass, let God speak to you. After Mass, speak to each other – outside!.’ a quote from Cardinal Basil Hume, well I added the ‘outside’ bit. Nobody took any notice!

  8. lydia says:

    I would like to see a dress code imposed. Most resturants have them. I love my Greenbay Packers but I won’t wear my Clay Matthews jersey to Mass. Everyone likes a day at the lake but don’t wear your shorts to Mass. Some come looking like they just rolled out of bed.

  9. APX says:

    • Don’t answer your mobile in Church. And when you do, […] do not converse […] during the Eucharistic Prayer.
    Back in the summer one evening someone’s phone started ringing quite loudly during the silent Canon at Low Mass one Friday evening. The person either didn’t know how to turn it off, or was just ignoring it and letting it ring. I could feel the glares from the congregation. Then finally the ringing stopped. The person answered said phone and started conversing. You could cut the tension with a knife. Coincidentally on Sunday, the sermon was on fraternal charity and, for example, “one always remembers the sign at the back of the church reminding oneself to turn off their cell phone before entering the church, and that one would never answer their cell phone during Mass because that would be against fraternal charity and their brothers and sisters in Christ would not be pleased with them.”

  10. Angie Mcs says:

    It’s best to refrain from conversation, not only after mass has ended, but after one has left the sanctuary. There are many times when people remain in their pews, praying quietly and reflecting on what they just experienced. Yet they have to listen to people who approach their friends, laugh and start extended conversations, sometimes rather loudly. A quick, friendly greeting is one thing, and its nice to share camaraderie with one’s fellow Catholics, but I believe it would be considerate to discuss your news out in the hall, the back or the church’s cafe, if they have one.

    Wanda, bring your fellow church goers with the annoying bags a nice cloth grocery bag and say it’s your gift to the kiddies. Much more ” green” and certainly quieter than all that paper/ plastic rustling! I know it would be costly, but I certainly understand your feelings and temptations :-)

    Forgive me too…I have my own issues to work on!

  11. lizaanne says:

    The list is very good, and surely could be endless if we really had a go at it.

    Here’s my input.

    The homily IS NOT the time for you to take out your check book or wallet, and fuss with the offertory envelope. If you forgot to do this, then just wait till after Mass or even next week. A once in awhile laps in getting it into the basket on time is not the end of the world. But when the priest is speaking — be still, and listen. You may just learn something.

  12. Speravi says:

    Also should be included in the rules for the faithful is the following: “Unless you have a serious reason, stay out of the sacristy. If you have a serious reason, be brief and be quiet.” If this rule is not followed in a given parish, then some priests might find it helpful to modify the second rule for the priest to read: “Prepare everything before the people arrive…then go somewhere alone to pray and prepare well so as to be able to show up 10 minutes before Mass recollected and ready to pray with the servers, vest, and start Mass on time.”

  13. Cathy says:

    Two things disrespectful of children at Mass, bringing toys and cheerios or other snacks to Mass – indicates that the children will surely be bored-rectified by food and toys, during Mass, and the little color and word finds for the children at the entrance of the Church, again, because children will surely be bored during Mass.

  14. APX says:

    Speaking of children at Mass, if you must keep taking your child out during Mass, please don’t sit up at the front and keep walking up an down the aisle during Mass. It’s so distracting. Even with my eyes closed and my head bowed down it’s still distracting because I can hear and feel you walking by. Also, as some seasoned mothers have commented, in doing so you look really stupid and are reinforcing bad behavior. Just something to think about.

  15. Lara says:

    I’m not exactly sure how walking a child out of Mass would be “reinforcing bad behavior”. I have a very squirmy 3 year old so we do sit in the back since I know that if I make it through the homily, it’s been a good day with him. However, my firstborn was much better sitting up front so he could see what was going on – but yes, even so, there were times that we did have to walk out. Clearly, having to make an exit with one’s child does not rank in the mother’s Top 100 Favorite Moments – not sure that its helpful to suggest she “think about” how “really stupid” she looks. When I hear a child being led to the back, I offer a prayer for that mother and that child.

  16. NoraLee9 says:

    I used to bring Fr Lovasik book on the saints, for Catherine, as well as the coloring books associated to that series, when she was too little to really grasp what was going on. Little, by little she wanted to do what the grown-ups were doing. She’s 15 now and attends Mass without prodding.

    I thought I was the only one annoyed by the rustling of the shopping bags….

  17. acardnal says:

    Lara wrote, “When I hear a child being led to the back, I offer a prayer for that mother and that child.”

    Me, too. I often say a prayer to both the mother’s and the child’s Guardian Angels. It often works. I recommend it. :-)

  18. VexillaRegis says:

    Speaking of keeping out of the sacristy, do not, I repeat, do not ask Father to hear your confession five minutes before Mass! And, in case you do that anyway, do not get crotchety when he asks you to come back after Mass.

  19. Nun2OCDS says:

    If the clock in the sacristy is battery opperated, check the time regularly. This has been known to be the reason why a priest was late beginning Mass. It could be why others are early.

    While I was a grad student, on weekdays I could barely make it to Mass on time. There was one priest of the many who served at the cathedral who always began Mass five minutes early. I once asked him about this and was told that most who attended worked and needed to get out quickly. Names of priests offering daily Mass were not announced in the bulletin. My only options were not to attend Mass or be late whenever he offered Mass.

    Whatever the scheduled time please keep to it.

  20. Joe in Canada says:

    Many of these should be covered by “say the black, do the red”.
    I would add, for the priest: a) do not give a homily at the beginning of Mass, while everyone is standing there; b) do not wait until after the Collect to say, “Can I have a volunteer to do the reading?”; and c) do not start a homily by saying “I didn’t really have time to prepare a homily but here are a few thoughts.”

  21. robtbrown says:

    • Start the Mass on time. If it says six o’clock, then let it be six o’clock, not five past or seven past.

    That pretty much eliminates any mass said in Rome.

  22. fvhale says:

    Dear robtbrown,
    The article is from London, where time is kept. They gave themselves the Prime Meridian, after all.
    Their view of time is very different from that found in Rome, where time is long and to be enjoyed because life is too short.

  23. sbvarenne says:

    The article describes attitudes and behaviors for Mass for both priest and lay people which are certainly minimal. The Mass is our encounter with the risen Christ who walked as the living face of God among his people and who remains with us now in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This should be the whole focus of the life of the priest and, as such, carefully and lovingly tended to. The sermon needs to be prepared in advance in a spirit of prayer. No one will profit from tossed off comments that are offered just to fill in the blank where the sermon belongs. The priest is officially charged with presenting the prayers and the Canon of the Mass according to the official church. It is the least he can do. As for the people, NO talking in church. Others nearby have the right to a bit of silence for prayer and reflection and peace of soul. Keep your chat for later. As for cell phones, turn them off before you come in. A ringing phone and, worse, someone taking a call, are highly disrespectful to the priest, to the congregation, to the Lord Himself. And even these reminders are just a matter of fundamental respect. Come on, everyone, think of what we are doing when we go to Mass.

  24. Dr Guinness says:

    Wear a chasuble, and make sure it is the correct colour.

    I’m aware the Church is having some turbulence at the moment, but is something as absolutely basic as this really necessary? Surely, it can’t be that bad that priests aren’t even wearing the correct vestments?

  25. VivaLaMezzo says:

    What is “too long”? I don’t mind a longer homily – as long as it doesn’t ramble. Should it be concise? Yes, please get to the point. However, let the length be determined by the depth/breadth of the topic. If you really want to save time, minimize (or cut out) the jokes, jibes and personal narratives.

  26. Medjugorje Man 07 says:

    You should see some of the scenes my family can create during Holy Mass with 4 children under 9 years old! I love the looks. I simply tell people the Church made me do it! I never had this problem when I was Protesting.

  27. LisaP. says:

    To me, these lists only make me laugh or get my back up. I mean, they’re kind of “Cosmo list” fun, but for any one suggestion there are so many cases in which a person could break the rule and be perfectly golden. I also think it’s hazardous, because folks who are scrupulous or overly sensitive to group opinion can be driven to unfortunate choices if they feel visually scolded when they are trying very hard to be reverent but circumstances make their reverence look different — for example, the woman who attends Mass daily but has to leave early to make it to work, and feels the eyes on her every time she leaves, may stop coming on work days.

    I think the way the Church lays out universal rules and then directs you to follow them using your well formed conscience as they apply to your particular situation is, obviously, wise. The rule is pay attention to God, know he’s there and that this is why you’re there. For some people, that looks like coming to church 10 minutes before Mass and sitting in adoration; for others, it means getting to Mass at all despite the many real and overwhelming obstacles.

  28. LisaP. says:

    Medjugorgie Man,

    “I never had this problem when I was Protesting” should be a bumper sticker! Such wide applications!

  29. The Sicilian Woman says:

    How about: Just shut off your cell phone before Mass – PERIOD. That would eliminate all temptation to answering it. Answering it during Mass is not even an option. I’ve seen people answer it, and I’ve wanted to smack them, including the ones who walk outside to carry on the conversation, because unless the offender walks many feet away from the church, you can still hear the conversation in the church.

  30. VexillaRegis says:

    Cell phones, don’t get me started, grr. One lady, originally from a South Eastern Asian country, answered her phone twice during a Sunday Mass. She sat about three meters from the priest and talked loudly and merrily with a friend or relative, knowing that no one else in chuch understood what she said. The second time, Father stopped half way through his sermon, and asked her not to have a phone conversation in church. She left talking and later complained that the priest was nasty and uptight!!!

    On the other hand, I heard of a minister in the finnish Lutheran church, who answered a phone call from his mother standing in the pulpit (and they a very high). His bishop gave him a warning…

  31. LisaP. says:

    Sorry, Sicilian Woman, I’m not going to. :) If I’m at Mass without my kid, her caretaker needs to be able to get in touch with me immediately. I put it on vibrate, walk well out to call back, but he may need information only I have to address a medical condition. You didn’t mean that, right? Or the ob on call? Or the general who may need to immediately deal with an urgent situation? The guy who’s mother in in the ICU and just took a sharp, unexpected turn for the worse?

    Personally I hate cell phones and remember well the days when they weren’t in use — we survived. They are used poorly by many. But they are a useful tool in many ways and when used correctly are appropriate to have on at Mass.

    I’m fortunate that I’ve never run into some vacant teen texting about Gaga during the consecration; or the business exec who can’t miss this call or the deal will go through, whatever! I’m sure that’s irritating! But, no set specific “rules” for me, besides “Love God and love your neighbor” — that should allow the first set of calls and take out the second, all on its own!

  32. Pingback: Man's Role in Writing Sacred Scripture | Big Pulpit

  33. Will Elliott says:

    Wear a chasuble, and make sure it is the correct colour.
    I’m aware the Church is having some turbulence at the moment, but is something as absolutely basic as this really necessary? Surely, it can’t be that bad that priests aren’t even wearing the correct vestments?

    Sadly, there are still many priests who treat chasubles as an optional item for weekday masses. I’m not sure of the rules for concelebrants, but it makes me sad when I see concelebrants without chasubles at a church I know has enough matching sets.

  34. Ed the Roman says:

    “Don’t answer your mobile in Church. And when you do, which you should not, do not converse in a loud voice on the said phone, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer. In fact, just switch the thing off.”

    I cheat. I keep my phone on vibrate almost all the time, which precludes my having to think about it.

  35. my kidz mom says:

    As Father Z hath recently spake, “People on call in emergency professions might need to respond to texts, calls, “pages”. They can go out. But the rest of us? Not so much. Unusual circumstances aside, when Mass begins it is best to turn off the phones or at least switch off the ringer.”

  36. Imrahil says:

    Dear @lydia,

    dress code – on Sundays and HDOs, perhaps. On weekdays – we do not want a person not going to weekday mass because her honest, decent clothing does not fit the dress code and cannot be changed within given time. (And, in the sense I mean, jeans and t-shirt is honest and decent clothing.)

    Dear @APX,
    I do not agree that a woman who walks out her child is a distraction at all. The point is that we are not disturbed in our adoration. I do not think it is that we do not see or feel or hear anyone walking by.

  37. Medjugorje Man 07 says:

    LISA P in the house—not having the piety police

  38. Moro says:

    Don’t treat the kneeler as a foot rest. First of all, it’s a kneeler. It’s meant for kneeling. Second, when you put your feet on a kneeler, you leave dirt, sand, and in some cases, worse materials, on the kneeler. That’s rather inconsiderate to the person who comes along after you.

  39. LisaP. says:

    MM, you’re a kick!
    Hope I don’t come off that way, hate it when I venture into the area of “I’m judging you for judging!” — makes me cringe when it’s directed at me and it embarrasses me when it looks like I’m being that way.

    I just think we need to discern when it comes to behavior at Mass. Yes, people need to be reverent, and so we should to a degree police that, and people need to avoid near occasion of sin, so if someone is being immodest and that causes a problem for me I have a right to try to change that person’s behavior.

    But I’m seeing a lot, on these threads, of “it distracts me, so it’s bad behavior.” My question would just be, “where is it written that you shouldn’t be distracted at Mass?” There are a lot of different kinds of prayer. If I were saying my rosary with friends I would not expect another mom to leave the room to breastfeed so that I wouldn’t be distracted — it’s not that kind of prayer. If I were praying on the sidewalk in front of a clinic, I wouldn’t expect the world to hush about me. Now, if I found care for my kids and went quietly to a home grotto and tried to contemplatively pray while meditating on a passage from the Church fathers — sure, I’d yell at my kid if she came out to ask me if she could have a popsicle.

    So, what makes folks think Mass is more like the grotto and less like the family room? Seriously, the “I was distracted, I might miss out on something” argument is appropriate for opera or concerts or lectures, but we say over and over here that Mass is not a presentation or an entertainment event, and it’s *not about us*. Of course, it is, but it isn’t. If I “miss” a prayer because the kid in front of me is crying and mom takes him out, maybe I wasn’t supposed to be hearing the prayer right there, maybe I was supposed to be hearing the crying. Maybe philosophers think Hell is other people, but God wants heaven full of the irritating things.

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