QUAERITUR: What to do about people being late for Mass?

From a reader:


I recently moved and in my new parish I notice that on a consistent basis approximately 5- 10% of the congregation shows up late to mass. The majority of those that are late generally arrive within the time frame of the First Reading to the Psalm. Of course, this is terribly distracting to those of us that arrived on time, as ushers scatter up and down the aisles directing traffic like a NYC cop at rush hour.  Naturally,  lateness to Mass is not a new occurence. Perhaps the percentage of those arriving late is not even much different than at my previous parish and I had just grown so accustomed to so as to barely notice.  I have three questions based on my observation: [I like one question, but I’ll be lenient.]

1) Was this such a common problem pre Vatican II? (My guess is that it was not)

2) Is this a common problem currently in Extraordinary Form parishes? (My guess is that it is not)

3) What practical measures might be taken by conscientious parishioners and or the clergy to reduce the amount of parishioners arriving late?

Thanks for all of your holy, courageous work and I encourage all of your coffee drinking readers to buy some Mystic Monk coffee – it’s the real deal! [And that is why I was lenient.]

Considering the number of authors who have dealt with the question of just how late one could be and still consider that one had fulfilled one’s obligation, it’s safe to say that late arrival for Mass is not exclusively a post-Vatican II problem.  I’ll bet it goes back to the earliest days of the Church.  That said, however, everyone was on time for the First Mass, but only Judas left early.

I suspect few lukewarm Catholics regularly go to Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  An unintended blessing of the Extraordinary Form being, well, extra-ordinary, is that those who attend really want to attend.  They often have to make sacrifices to get to Mass which is far away and at a tough time.  I know that is the case where I usually say Sunday Mass: it is early in the morning, the parking is awful, many come from a distance and with small children and… quite a few people are late.

A caution needs to be applied here: when nearly everyone who is there comes from devotion rather than mere obligation, some spiritual hubris can set in. We should remember that our brothers and sisters whose devotion or interest in the Holy Mass is less than ours are still our brothers and sisters.  Close parenthesis.

Another factor: Perhaps culture of lateness developed in a parish because for years Mass didn’t start on time.  Mass should start on time. That is something that the pastor owes to the congregation: be on time.

What can one do to reduce the number of parishioners arrive late?

That’s a difficult question, not knowing the specific congregation and the reasons for the lateness. Is this mere laziness? Are there parking problems? Do many of the people in the parish work in jobs that have odd shifts?  The pastor would know.
It would be best to presume the best of people.  Perhaps the person is arriving late because the relief nurse, who was hired to watch over dear old dad who suffers with Alzheimer’s, was late.  Perhaps he had to stop and help an elderly woman change the tire on her car.  Perhaps there was a mixup and decaf coffee was mistakenly substituted for the normal routine of Mystic Monk Midnight Vigils blend.

What can a parish do to lessen the impact of parishioners arriving late? Here we’re on more solid ground.

Yes, Father could address it in the bulletin and in the pulpit, but with great care.

Perhaps more people could sit closer to the front and leave the pews in the back for the latecomers to make as unobtrusive an entrance as possible. Yes, I know.  We are talking about a Catholic church: Come early and get a seat in back!  So, fill in the pews in the front and center aisle – leaving room on the side aisles for the ushers to escort the later arrivals to their places… discreetly. Indeed, the pastor should tell the ushers not to make a scene every single time someone comes in late.

If you know your always-late-fellow-parishioners well, then perhaps fraternal correction can kick in.  Raise the question – still presuming good intentions – and if the answer is mere laziness, then gently challenge, encourage, and even goad a little.  Offer to drive.

But do be wary about focusing on this question too much.  The Devil constantly strives to distract us from fully putting our hearts and minds into one’s own full, active and conscious participation at Holy Mass.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    If the Last Supper is the model, the answer to question 3 is simple. Just don’t start until everyone is there.
    As to question 2, whether it’s common for people to be late for Extraordinary Form Masses, at my parish it’s common for me. Luckily, Father’s not looking.

  2. acricketchirps says:

    By that I mean I try to slip in when the priest has his back turned.

  3. APX says:

    The members of our EF Mass on Sunday frequently show up late. Our priest has actually commented on how when he does the Asperges there’s not many people in the pews, but by the time the sermon comes along the pews are filled. I agree with the questioner about it being distracting, especially when they waltz up to the front of the church while jangling their umpteen keys. That being said, it could just be old bad habits as our other priest used to hear confessions right up to a few minutes before Mass, which meant Mass always started late.

    I’m not sure if it has gotten any better since it’s been pointed out. I know the choir is more prompt at getting up to the loft on time so Mass wouldn’t start without them.

    I suppose the questioner could bring this up to his pastor to address, but as an individual, I don’t think he’ll cause change.

  4. L. says:

    Our former Pastor used to start our Masses (ordinary form only) at times that varied from the specified start time to five or more minutes early. He was never, ever late in starting. Timely attendance did not seem to be a big problem back then, because, I think, no one ever knew when a “little late” was going to be “very late.”

  5. aegsemje says:

    I am sometimes guilty of being late. With 7 children, it seems like right before we leave someone needs a diaper change, or has to use the bathroom, or can’t find their socks, etc. we do our best, but it often doesn’t work out.

  6. Imrahil says:

    Wise answers.

    I might add that fraternal correction is, if at all, something for sins. Thus, for late-coming per se, only on the obliging Sunday Mass. And even on a Sunday, it could be that the late-comers, for desire to not sin even venially, might still choose to attend another evening Mass; or that they have already attended the Eve Mass.

    Yes, I speak out of experience. Being scolded for something not actually wrong is rather distracting too.

    Around here, ushers are unknown. Late-comers (and just-in-time-comers) often stand in the back. That said, if those early take seats more to the front, and in the middle rather than right or lefy of an empty pew, it would help too. Though I might think ushers can be helpful that they get real seats, and do their thing silently.

    As to the Asperges, I think as it’s technically a liturgy in its own right rather than part of Mass (except in the OF, but they don’t do it anyway in the very most cases), I think it outside the venial obligation too, so It would be rather logical that the Church is rather less full… not the best thing of course.

  7. Faith says:

    We live in a culture of “lateness.” My boss doesn’t leave the office for a 9 o’clock meeting until 9:00. Every meeting I go to doesn’t start on time because we’re waiting for latecomers. That’s the way it is. You’d be constantly in a knot if you let this bother you.

  8. mamajen says:

    Our tiny Church fills up so quickly that if you’re late you can pretty much forget about finding a seat. That’s pretty good incentive to get there on time. The ushers will keep people who are late at the back until an opportune time, and usually scope out empty seats for them, so disruption is minimal. Some people go straight to the crying room, which is accessible from a side door.

    I totally agree about sitting near the front. We do so our oldest can see things, and very rarely do latecomers venture up that far. Much easier to focus up there. The times when we have been late (it happens), I am grateful for seats near the back so we don’t have to make a “grand” entrance.

    It can be really tough to get everyone out the door on time when you have kids to wrangle. It’s a lot like herding cats. I’ve had to deal with last-minute shoes on the wrong feet, shirts backwards or inside out, and one time my son came down the stairs “ready to go” having forgotten his pants.

  9. Magash says:

    Our pastor has asked that anyone arriving after the Liturgy of the Word starts but before the end of the Gospel reading remain in the commons outside the sanctuary until the readings are over. The ushers will not seat anyone during this period. They also will not seat anyone after the homily is completed.
    The previous pastor had also, from the pulpit, pointed out that only Judas left before the conclusion of Mass. It had some effect on the number of people slipping out right after receiving Communion.
    However like father I think that we must be charitable in this. As I recall the Church has actually made the call that you meet your obligation by arriving before the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and leaving after the conclusion of the Communion rite. That tells me that someone in Rome believes there are legitimate reasons to get to Mass late or leave early. We should be charitable in this.

  10. cpttom says:

    In my parish folks the bulk of the parish shows up about 2-5 minutes before mass. It even happens at the few Ventus Ordo masses we have. It is really nerve racking when you are doing an “ad hoc” Ventus Ordo, that the pastoral administrator is counting the number of people in the pews, and 80 percent of the congregates shows up right before the Asperges!

    We’ve tried to make some guess about it, and it seems some of it comes from the fact that the acting-music director (the PA’s son) has 15 minutes of praise music just before the NO masses, it seems that has had a rather adverse affect on early arrivals!

  11. Martlet says:

    We live 90 minutes from the US military base where we attend Mass and sometimes it is simply unavoidable that we arrive a bit late. Here in a part of Germany with many micro-climates, the weather can be great where we live, only for us to hit dense fog for part of the journey and then for it to be sunny again on the other side of the hills. Or we get stuck behind a tractor, or we find that an entire valley is closed because of some cycle event, or, as once happened, a herd of horses escaped their field and are on the road. We do give extra time, but sometimes that is not enough. There are many reasons why people might be late, as Father said, and personally, I am just glad people are there. For the lukewarm, it would be easy to say, “We’re late so we may as well not go.”

  12. Phil_NL says:

    People being late is probably unavoidable. But the impact of people being late can be cut back dramatically, first and foremost by not having ushers – no offense to those who volunteer, but I cannot describe it any else than the most useless of ‘jobs’ in a Church.

    No ushers means that just the people who are late are disturbing the peace, rather than that the ushers join in. Really, how hard is it to find a seat on your own? And how hard is it to find a seat discreetly if someone else wants to show you to the place where you don’t want to sit, who weares noisy footware, who attracts attention because he/she might indicate to make room (so everyone keeps subconsciously track of an usher) and so on? Ushers are the most distracting and needless invention in Church, and one can do perfectly without, as just about all of Europe proves.

  13. JamesA says:

    I have often thought of this as a good idea to curb lateness, or at least make it less distracting : Reserve the last 4 pews (or as many as might be needed) until after Mass starts and seat only latecomers in them. That takes care of two problems — it causes folks to sit closer to the action (after all, we want active participation, right ?), and makes for less of a fuss with the late people coming in, who have no right to a “good” seat. One would hope that the stigma of being seated in the “late section” would also, over time, encourage people to be punctual. I would be interested in what any priests might have to say about this idea.

  14. anilwang says:

    One thing to consider is that you might not know the whole story of why they’re chronically late.

    I go to daily mass 4 times a week during lunch hours. I’m generally able to arrive on time (it starts on 12:10), but occasionally I’m delayed a few minutes for job related reasons and a few minutes late (arriving just before the first reading) and try to sneak in as unobtrusively as possible. Given that people who attend this daily mass take time off from work, it’s not uncommon for a minority of others to be late as well (sometimes as a norm). I don’t know their reasons for lateness, but given that some people at mass make about a 10 block trek to get to mass in 10 minutes, its understandable that they would be….even if they weren’t delayed.

    The valid excuses for being late for Sunday mass are fewer, but there are people who are forced to work even on Sunday, so the above reasons might still apply. Other challenges such as getting all one’s children ready, bringing relatives with disabilities, or relying on others to bring you to mass (if the parish is far) may also apply.

    I don’t presume to judge, but in any case, there should be a basic etiquette on mass lateness, that should be noted at the doors of the parish (besides the “turn off cell phones” notices), to ensure that late people do not harm the devotion of those who are early.

  15. William says:

    I’ve even heard of folks deliberately arriving late for Mass so as to be spared all the glad handing and ‘Gather Us In’ music. We could perhaps do without ushers; but calling for the elimination of Greeting Ministers would be tantamount to sacrilege.

  16. Anti-Relativist says:

    As the person that lobbed this grenade and emailed Fr. Z, I would like to thank him for his response and also thank all of you for your thoughts. I know that people are always going to be late – and as some of you pointed out there are certainly legitimate reasons why that might be the case. I was, and still am surprised at the consistent number that seem to be showing up late on a regular basis and that surprise was what prompted the inquiry. I am inclined to agree with Faith’s comments and attribute much of the behavior to a more general trend away from punctuality in society. With some thought I think that my original final question would have been better posed as, “What can be done to reduce the distraction caused by the entrance of those that arrive late?” It certainly would have been less judgmental of me to view the issue in that light. I greatly appreciate the kick in the rear from Father and others in reminding me to be charitable!

  17. Kat says:

    When I arrive late for Mass, which happens occasionally with kids being what they are, I’ve always employed the training I received as a child – wait for the intermission. Not to make it sound like a theater, but it’s courteous to stand at the back until there is an opportunity to enter with the least disturbance. That sometimes means waiting until everyone rises for the Gospel. But it also gives me an opportunity to scout for the best seatin solution, as well.

  18. Palladio says:

    One can never be late to one’s own funeral Mass.

  19. trespinos says:

    The Sunday Mass I usually attend begins at 8:45 AM. All of us in attendance are used to seeing arrivals up to 9 AM almost as if rounding up to the next hour is considered acceptable. May I suggest that reverend fathers avoid scheduling Mass on the :45 hour if at all possible.

  20. amenamen says:

    A precedent (from the Life of Saint Anthony):

    “Not six months after his parents’ death, as he was on his way to church for his usual visit, he began to think of how the apostles had left everything and followed the Saviour, and also of those mentioned in the book of Acts who had sold their possessions and brought the apostles the money for distribution to the needy. He reflected too on the great hope stored up in heaven for such as these.

    “This was all in his mind when, entering the church just as the Gospel was being read, he heard the Lord’s words to the rich man … “

  21. LeeF says:

    At the NO parish I attend, a newer construction, we have a church in the round. While prior to the start of Mass one can come in around the sanctuary from the front, after the start everyone has to enter in behind the last row of pews, which cuts down any distraction dramatically. I guess this is a positive of such a seating plan.

    Re the percentage of late arrivers, I would conjecture that the number of those consistently coming in late is rather small, and that the remainder are a constantly changing mix of parishioners who are late only occasionally for specific reasons not due to laziness (and who thus forget in between that arriving late means taking the furthest away parking spaces with a longer resulting walk adding to the lateness). Families with young children or many members are always going to be at the mercy of the slowest /most time consuming member.

    On a side note, as an early arriver, I have for years been puzzled by those, who seem to be non-smokers, and who do arrive early but choose to sit in their car for some time before going in. What’s up with that?

  22. Marie Teresa says:

    when my children were young, we attended a large parish, and the ushers kept latecomers in the foyer until after the Gospel. I’m never-late, always early by nature, so I didn’t know.

    I slipped out the side door to take my 2-year old to the restroom, leaving my 5 & 6 year olds in the pew alone. Less than five minutes later, I returned to find myself locked out. Thank goodness, the other two were perfectly behaved!

    The ushers let us in following the Gospel and before the Homily.

  23. Wiktor says:

    I had this terrible habit of being always late for Mass. But since I began attending mostly EF, I was never late. Even though it’s not 5 minute walk anymore.

  24. Fr AJ says:

    It’s even better when they come in late and leave during Holy Communion, I just shake my head.

  25. Imrahil says:

    Dear @William, they have Greeting Ministers? Ah, please, have mercy on the would-be attendants!

    If I am a non-Catholic and potential Catholic convert, or a Catholic out of the habit fulfilling the Sunday obligation for years and years, and I once for whatever reason do show up at a Catholic Church…

    chances are that the presence of a Greeting Minister makes me run into the wild, to do everything but attend.

    I am shy, you know? I have some faint suspicion that the Catholic Church could be the true Church, perhaps? Or otherwise, I’m haunted by a bad conscience that I, really, should have gone to Church all these years? In which cases, I’ll long to just sit on the outer end of the second but last (not last! much too special) pew, speaking with noone except perhaps for the occasional sign of peace, and just wait and be silent.

    Have a greeting minister to say goodbye, would be great to see you again, at the end of the Mass. But do leave me alone at the beginning.

    Dear @LeeF,

    I see three possibilities:
    1. they do not feel like doing some prayer, now (except Mass of course), but they are nevertheless early.
    2. they are too shy to show up in Church early.
    3. they prefer not to choose a pew early with the effect that it remains empty afterwards; they’ll just wait until the Church has somewhat filled, and then choose a full pew (but with one place left) themselves. Possibly (supposing they’re male) next to some great Catholic women of couse (and no, that does not break the Sermon of the Mount).

  26. RafqasRoad says:

    acricketchirps , AMEN!! Sadly, this is me from time to time and was definitely me this morning; 9:05 arrival for a 9:00am mass; Fr. Was already well into his homily!! Its not as easy slipping into an unobtrusive spot up in the cheap seats when one has a guide dog…Re lateness, you Roman Riters haven’t seen anything until you start attending a Maronite parish!! There’s time, then there’s ‘Maronite Time’!! Both are very different things and the poor Maronite priests have long ago decided addressing this would be akin to climbing up Mt. Everest backwards and blindfolded! Ah, St. Charbels; the only parish where I was comparatively early :-) As they had confession right up until and during Mass, it actually payed to be a little late as at around the five minute mark, the second confessional would often be opened up so one could avoid waiting in a huge line that often contained stragglers who’d missed out from the previous mass (remember, St. Charbels has four masses from 7:am till Midday).

    To those who live very close e.g. close walking distance to their Sunday church as I do now, one can become lulled into a false sense of security with ‘ah, its only 150 metres up the street, it’ll take no time to get there…’ this leads to bad lateness and I’ve been counselled about it – trying to mend my ways. Back in my SDA days one of my regular fello parishioners had the take on all of this ‘if I’m here in time for the sermon, all’s well’.

    For those with children, my heart and prayers go out to you. I marvel that larger families can co-ordinate operations in such a way to get everyone ready and to church at all – know that someone out here in ‘Catholicland’ admires your efforts very much.

    Finally, if folk are relying on public transport e.g. busses, especially for morning mass, often the first bus of the day does not run early enough to get one to mass on time e.g. first bus of the day here is 7:54am; arrives in town at 8:10, ten minute walk on top of that to the church and one will potentially be 20 minutes late for a morning weekday mass. ARGG!!!

  27. kimberley jean says:

    My husband is an usher and most of the people who come late are women with kids. You can’t say anything to them or there will be cries of “the parish is mean to kids” and “unwelcoming!”

  28. LeeF says:

    @Fr AJ,

    While I have to admit to being a chronic leaver immediately after I take Communion, I come in 30-40 minutes early to pray and prepare for Mass, and there is a very brief to no quiet time after the entire congregation has received. So I would rather avoid standing through another insipid Marty Haugen song and instead leave quietly and have my own silent post-Communion reflection as I walk to my car and drive away. I have tried to break myself of this habit the past couple years, and make it through the final blessing which I think is important, but the combination of little/no quiet time after Communion and lackluster modern songs just keeps me heading for the door early.

  29. Nan says:

    For me the most important thing is to focus on Him, not them, which can be a challenge. There are so many possible distractions that I know it isn’t the people coming in late, it’s my state of mind and lack of focus that’s the real problem.

  30. jfk03 says:

    I will answer Q#1:

    Yes, late arrivals were common in my pre-V-2 parish. The priest didn’t like it . One could fulfill one’s Sunday obligation in about 20-25 minutes, assuming the sermon was short, as it usually was. There was a mass every hour on the hour starting at 7 am. Saturday “vigil” masses did not happen because of the Eucharistic fast.

  31. sunbreak says:

    I can’t say that there is any excessive amount of lateness in the parish I attend. Most late people will just stay at the back until an opportune moment to slip into a pew. It’s not a problem since the church is not so full that it would be difficult to see a free seat.

  32. Sword40 says:

    At our EF parish, I have found an interesting detail; those who are late for Mass are those who live closest to the church. My wife and I live 80 miles away and we are, normally the second family to arrive.

    We missed Mass once in two years because of heavy traffic.

  33. Katylamb says:

    We are car sitters before Mass. We drop our son off early as he serves just about every week. We sit in the car until Mass time and talk. I will admit to once being late because we were in conversation and didn’t notice the time. What I want to know is: How do you know how long the car sitters sit in their cars before Mass, or whether or not they are smokers? :)

  34. TKS says:

    A pet peeve of mine and very distracting. In 10 years of daily Mass in the same parish, the same people are late every day. And I know they don’t have the excuses I read in earlier comments. Wait a minute, when they are EMHCs, they are amazingly on time. Go figure.

  35. LeeF says:


    Re smokers or not, that is easy because I didn’t observe such people smoking whereas I have seen plenty of smokers doing so and knew that was why they were waiting. As to knowing how long presumed non-smokers actually sat in their cars after I entered, I don’t know for sure, but often observe a couple not in an obviously energetic conversation just sitting there. I thus assumed, perhaps wrongly, that they were going to continue to do so.

    Not to be critical, but a question for you is why you and your husband, who presumably get plenty of time to talk at home, would not prefer to spend a little more time in Church? Even though I dislike one aspect of arriving early, which is having to try mightily to tune out the choir practice and incessant talking of others, I still would rather put up with that and prepare for Mass and say a rosary in Church than in my car or on the drive there. However I can understand not wanting to deal with that noise (and why have “gathering spaces” when the talking still gets done in the pews?).

  36. LeeF says:


    I just noticed your comments re mine. Those are reasonable possibilities for early car sitters that I had not considered, though the one re people not wanting extra prayer prior to Mass seems strange as they could just as easily sit there indifferently thinking of other things as they likely do during the Mass. I mean if Mass were that important to them, one would think they would enjoy extra prayer time in Church.

    Lukewarmness has always seemed to me to be more of a danger to the spiritual life than actually not even attending Mass at all. Being cold at least offers a distinct contrast to hot and the possibility of change, which the lulling doziness of lukewarmness does not.

  37. KateD says:

    One Sunday, we were so late, we seriously considered going to a N.O. Mass. We decided to just push on and be present for what we could. When we pulled into the parking lot, we scared off some really unsavory characters trolling the parking lot and looking into parishioners cars. Had we not been late, some folks would have been missing a few crucial items out of their cars.

    Sometimes God calls us to be late for His purposes. Not everyone is wired to answer that sort of a call, fortunately for our brothers and sisters, that day we did.

  38. Priam1184 says:

    People have reasons for showing up late, especially those with small children, so it is better to err on the side of charity in this question. However I will agree with the commenter above who said that ushers (and I would add door greeters as well) tend to just be in the way and the Church could do without them. But they are an institution at most parishes and aren’t going anywhere.

  39. Priam1184 says:

    @Fr AJ: I don’t know how things run at your parish so I will just send this out to all parish priests who read it.

    If you want people to return to the pews after receiving Holy Communion instead of going out into the parking lot then #1 Get rid of the LOUSY Communion hymns that massively distract people from the fact that they have just received the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; if you cannot play a reverential and ancient hymn then just let their be silence, as there was on Calvary #2 Quit it with the announcements about the parish bake sale between the post Communion prayer and the dismissal. Make the end of Mass as reverent as the rest of Mass and it will have a trickle down effect.

  40. Phil_NL says:


    There could be more prosaic reasons still:
    – Maybe the pews are physically uncomfortable, and people would prefer spending as little time in them as possible. I know a few churches where the pews must have been designed by Torquemada, so to say.
    – Maybe the church is too hot or cold for their tastes (rarely is a church acclamitized well, grabbing a few more minutes of welcome heat or airco can be a blessing)
    – Maybe they know that if they go in early, they’ll be pretty much forced to chit-chat (maybe even with persons X and Y) and rather pass on that.

    And so on, and so forth. Saying rosaries or prayer before Mass simply isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and then there can be dozens of reasons to wait a few more minutes in the car.

  41. Palladio says:

    What priests have to deal with. This thread should be read alongside of the thread on wailing kids and loud mouth parishioners. One theme is a pseudo-fatalism about the so-called society, to which we, at Mass, are supposed to give in. There is no society without the bonds of courtesy, which include punctuality. Another theme is the pseudo-fatalism about so-called culture, before which we are equally to stand dumb (albeit not mute). Yet, again, there is no culture that does not make us better than we were, just as there is no agriculture which does not produce better crops. Then there is an inability to distinguish between an explanation and an excuse. I am reading excuses posing as explanations about every third post. I am imagining my parents responding to such arrogant and ignorant stuff, or my first priests and nuns, and most especially the Jesuit who taught me Old Testament and celebrated our marriage. And they are not amused.

    I very much like what Priam1184 wrote.

  42. guans says:

    Not only does the devil distract us in mass, he puts all kinds of obstacles into getting there on time.
    I cringe from embarrassment coming in late.
    The last time, the parking lot was full, hence I had to parallel park. It took me about 10 min- either
    I was against the curb or a foot away from it. Finally my daughter got out of the car and
    parked it.

  43. Imrahil says:

    Dear LeeF,

    thanks for your kind answer. Only I’d not consider it lukewarmness if one prefers to relax a bit more instead pray. Prayer is work. Nor would it be lukewarmness, though possibly scrupulosity, not to sit there indifferently thinking of other things.

  44. Imrahil says:

    In the first comment above, “not to sit there” means “refusing to do in Church anything but pray”.

  45. Imrahil says:

    Dear Palladio,

    the Church could gave punctuality in a minute if she advised the said ushers to close the door after Mass begins and open it only to let the mother who was calming her child. “no, better be on time next time!”

    That could even be chosen for,valud reasons, I do think, though yes I primarily put it up as a strawman.

    The Church in her wisdom and mercy has chosen not to do so.

  46. Marc says:

    Please be charitable when considering those who are coming in late. You really don’t know why they are, even the habitual ones. Perhaps they were delayed; perhaps they get off work just before and cannot get there in time and this Mass is the only one they can attend. Perhaps it’s a case of one spouse not really wanting to go and the husband/wife is doing their best to get them there.
    A similar situation has happened to me. I have heard people comment that the size of a family in church indicates that they are not observing the Church teaching on contraception. Last year’s Fortes in Fide retreat, a gentleman asked the question very similar to yours but on this topic. Basically he asked how do you change the hearts of those with few children to be open to life. This question hits home for me and my wife. If you see our family, you will see my wife, my two girls ages 14 and 10, and myself. What you don’t see are my 6 other children who died either during the pregnancy or immediately after. Please be charitable and do not assume the worst. Pray for them!

    PS: We are happy to be blessed with all 8 of our children, those God has chosen to be with us and those God decided to have praying for us in heaven. I know I need all the prayers I can get!

  47. cwillia1 says:

    The simple answer to the question of what to do about latecomers is to seat them in the back pews or have them stand. It may be the case that the majority of latecomers do not have a good reason to be late but we shouldn’t speculate on this. If it is distracting people can sit in a front pew.

    Once I drove my daughter to a play practice 50 miles away from home. I went to the local parish for Saturday vigil mass. I arrived in time for the sermon and sat in the back. The alternative was to take a walk or sit in the car. The next morning I went to my home parish around the corner.

    There are three issues, arriving late, distractions and meeting the Sunday obligation. They are distinct questions. How can it ever be wrong to attend part of a mass as long as your intentions are good?

  48. Just wanted to say echo what some others have already said – that you never know why folks are late…perhaps car trouble, perhaps a child “needed-a-new-diaper-right-now”, etc.

    Sometimes my husband and I come in just a few minutes prior to Mass starting, but it’s because we sing with the scholas / choir and we are doing some last minute music preparation until right before Mass begins. To some it may look like “Heh, they’re sliding in at the last minute!” but in reality we have been there for an hour already (sometimes more – on major feasts or for weddings/requiems sometimes we arrive up to two hours early to warm up and run through the music).

    Just my humble opinion (are opinions ever humble? :) – I dislike it greatly when I hear stories of ushers keeping people outside until “intermission”. I would rather be distracted from my prayers and know that family who arrived late found seats than have them kept outside until the homily. IMO that’s ridiculous.

  49. Let me clarify…because I can tell from how this thread has gone so far that someone is going to pick on this: we are never late to Mass because we’re warming up with the choir.

  50. bookworm says:

    “Get rid of the lousy Communion hymns”

    Or play the classic “4′ 33″” by John Cage…


  51. donadrian says:

    Growing up (as an Anglican) in the sixties, I was always fascinated by the detailed instructions in RC books about how much of the 8 o’clock you had to hear before you had to stay for the 9 – from before the Gospel until ‘at least’ after the priest’s communion, I recall. Such institutionalised laxity contrasted strangely with the rigour of the Established Church, where lateness was unthinkable (the churchwardens of my parish church were a Brigadier and my own Headmaster, which rather helped matters). If you know you can afford to be five minutes late, then the likelihood is that you will be five minutes late, and the legalism of the little holy books of yesteryear rather encouraged a mind-set that perhaps still lingers on.

  52. Palladio says:

    Dear Imrahil,
    The Church has not need to make a rule concerning courtesy, including punctuality. Punctuality, like silence, goes without saying, for more reasons than one. I wonder why the Ordo Missae is an ordo? Hmmm…

  53. Fr AJ says:

    Priam1184, I do not give announcements after Holy Communion. If there are any, I do them before the homily. And we do not play insipid hymns that drive people out of the Church. Even if we were, in my mind, there is no excuse to leave Mass early habitually.

  54. THREEHEARTS says:

    really what does the Church say about being late for Mass? Someone might may, in the previous comments, have mentioned it. I find the comments on most catholic blogs tainted strongly by the don’t knows. Most comments usually justify feelings one way or the other. I attended the Tridentine rite since before the second world war, until I had to go to serve through National Conscription. It was very much a working class parish. We had men who worked for the city council and swept he payments (sidewalks) 5 days a week. Men who worked on the docks, men who cleaned sewers and other like employments. We had large families and many of us walked a mile or two to Church twice on Sundays us kids often walked three times for Sunday school. Sunday masses and Saturday confessions were packed it was nothing to have an hours wait for confession and have to return early in the Saturday evening because of the number of penitents. Why did we do this? Because I say without fear of contradiction, we had the Spirit of Discipline. Read first chapter of wisdom, it will help you. Of course we did not have the devils magic lantern, the TV to watch on saturated evenings and I say my mother taught me to prepare Saturdays for the spiritual and secular aspects of going to mass. I can say very few people were late and those who did not attend usually had someone close by their house on some occasions drop round to see if they needed help for sickness. You know there were never the recriminations one gets today for interfering in their neighbours’ lifes.
    What does the Church say about com minting a mortal sin by not attending mass. We have to be there before the Gospel and not leave before the final blessing or else it is considered you have missed mass. That we were taught at Catechism in school, at Sunday school and when the priest saw we were becoming lax. He said, Canon Percival Hayes, often do not come to communion if you missed mass until you have confessed that sin.

  55. Palladio says:

    “we had the Spirit of Discipline.”
    And more!
    God bless you!

  56. Priam1184 says:

    @Fr AJ You are 1000% correct that insipid hymns and announcements are no excuse to leave Mass early (and I am happy to hear that you avoid this practice), but they are a reason. I am not making excuses for people who leave early. I am trying to get through to people in charge of these things to stop giving the devil reasons that he can use to work on people who suffer from this temptation

  57. Priam1184 says:

    @Fr AJ I would ask your forgiveness for my harsh tone. I have had to listen to one too many miserable Communion hymns lately and I guess it finally got to me. I don’t know. Maybe if fewer people bolted after Holy Communion the music directors would take it more seriously I don’t know.

  58. NoraLee9 says:

    Two comments come to mind: 1. we have the Second Confiteor specifically for the latecomers.
    2. My best friend from Grammar & High School was 1 of 8 children. The only time she was ever on time for Mass is when she spent the weekend at my house. I lived in the village, across from the Church (if there are any Una Voce Mooneys here, yes it was Homer, NY). My friend lived 20 miles away on one of the Finger Lakes. G-d bless her mom and dad. You can’t hardly pay anyone to have 8 children anymore. I say, you’re gonna bring all those kids to church? You can interrupt my prayers anytime. And if you need a diaper change, you can ask this middle aged lady for help too. I think mothers of large families are heroines. Just sayin’

  59. pmullane says:

    This made me smile, I was (very) late for mass last Sunday because (several) other attendees had parked so inconsiderately that I couldn’t get in the car park, and had to trawl the streets looking for a parking space. Heaven help the person who would have ‘fraternally corrected’ me then.

  60. Imrahil says:


    and not leave before the final blessing

    I don’t see where that used to be said. And that was before the possibility of long annunciations was introduced.

    Also, I don’t think you’ll find the statement “the television is the Devil’s magic lantern” anywhere in the Catechism.

  61. Random Friar says:

    For my Spanish Mass, it’s usually 5-10% who are there when Mass starts. It’s usually full by the Gospel. I haven’t had much luck in convincing folks that it’s ok to be there before the procession.

  62. Gail F says:

    There is no reason everyone has to be there on time — other than that, as Americans, we like everything to be on time. [Ummmm… no. There are good reasons.] There is also no reason for it to last exactly one hour, but we do that too. My question is — ushers? What do you need ushers for? I have very rarely seen a situation that really needs them, although they do exist. Sit in the front if you are annoyed by people being late and stop worrying so much about others!

  63. KateD says:

    We say our rosary as a family on the hour+ drive to mass, but are delighted when we arrive early enough to join in any part of another rosary with our fellow parishioners.

    Regarding time:

    There is no time in Heaven, or rather all time exists at once, and linear time is only a part of the material world……then should one be so attached to it? And should fidelity to something so transient be considered “virtuous”? I acknowledge a value for punctuality, I just don’t believe in elevating it to a virtue. A virtue is always a virtue. Since linear time does not exist in Heaven, then punctuality cannot be a virtue and pride in the exercise of it can be a vice. (Patience would be a good example of a virtue.)

  64. Palladio says:

    “Since linear time does not exist in Heaven, then punctuality cannot be a virtue and pride in the exercise of it can be a vice. (Patience would be a good example of a virtue.)”

    Yet, virtue is a word making sense only in the here and now, for starters. It has no point in heaven, since only perfectly holy beings are in it, humans beings incapable of vice, in no need of virtue, for being in eternity with God by His grace. There is equally no patience in heaven, since that is a word which makes sense only in time, and so both punctuality and patience remain the virtues they are just where they are needed, on earth. We will still need patience for the people who are late for Mass. Quite a lot of it, given the epidemic of lateness we seem to be suffering through.

  65. jhayes says:

    We have to be there before the Gospel and not leave before the final blessing or else it is considered you have missed mass.

    That’s what I learned from the Sisters, too, but repeated discussions here have tended to say that they were too strict and that the real limits are arriving before the Offertory and (as donadrian said above) not leaving before the Priest’s Communion.

    Rather than repeating the whole discussion, could Fr. Z just give the answer?

    Not to encourage any one to choose to be late or leave early but simply to resolve the questions of anyone who is in that situation not by choice and who wonders if he/she will be in mortal sin if he/she doesn’t attend another Mass

  66. lars45 says:

    In one parish I was a member, the pastor solved the problem of late comers by making it clear to the congregation that anyone coming in after the entrance procession had begun would politely be asked to wait at the door to the nave of the church until after the readings were proclaimed, then they would be seated as Father was preparing to give the homily.
    I predict this will be perceived by many as harsh and not very pastoral, but in this parish, it worked very well. For people to arrive late and expect to be seated in the middle of a pew while those around them are trying to concentrate on hearing the Word of God is just plain rude.

  67. mysticalrose says:

    @mamajen: LOL about the pants!

    I don’ think that I was ever late to Holy Mass before I had children. I would show up early, sit in the front, and stay for a long thanksgiving afterward. Now that I have so many small children, I am routinely late for all the reasons stated above by other commentators — no parking, no socks for small children, hair messed up, missing items of clothing, a child (always one of the boys) gets mud on his pants while walking to the van, and always, always a last minute potty emergency (these can even happen when you’ve gotten to Church in a fairly timely manner!). I think many parents are so exhausted just getting to Mass . . . and then you have to manage to get your children to be perfectly silent once you get there. Honestly, Sundays make me cry. Please don’t judge too harshly. And please, for all that is good and holy, if you get to Mass early, sit in the front!!

  68. mysticalrose says:


    Love is a virtue that will persist behind the status viatoris.

  69. mysticalrose says:

    “beyond” not “behind”

  70. KateD says:

    I am sincerely stoked, Palladio, that we have come to a point of agreement! You are soooooo right. We must exercise Patience with our fellow parishioners and a healthy dose of Charity, too. ‘ “If I . . . have not charity,” says the Apostle, “I am nothing.” Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, “if I . . . have not charity, I gain nothing.” Charity is superior to all the virtues. ‘ CCC 1826

    People arriving late is a fact of life, and in all honesty, haven’t we all been late a time or two? We should all strive to be on time (and I know for certain, even tardy people strive for this), especially to the Mass, but being upset about it does no one any good. ~When~ I arrive early, I put on my veil, sit up as close to the front as I can, and hit the kneeler. By doing this I am better able to focus all my attention on my prayers and on the Lord and the Mass, I can also hear what the priest is saying and follow along better in my missal. No one who arrives late wants to sit in the front, nor do they wish to disturb their fellow parishioners, but often times, the only seats left available to them when they arrive are in the center of the middle to front pews.

    Regarding there being no virtue in heaven, I would have to disagree. “… They [The Virtues] have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.” CCC 1812

    If the origin of virtue is God, then they exist in Heaven .

    Lastly, I don’t think anyone has a right to keep children away from their Father, especially in His own house. Besides, to do so could prevent a fine young person from becoming one of the churches greatest saint. To quote what amenamen said in an earlier post:

    “Not six months after his parents’ death, as he was on his way to church for his usual visit, he began to think of how the apostles had left everything and followed the Saviour, and also of those mentioned in the book of Acts who had sold their possessions and brought the apostles the money for distribution to the needy. He reflected too on the great hope stored up in heaven for such as these.

    “This was all in his mind when, entering the church just as the Gospel was being read, he heard the Lord’s words to the rich man … “

  71. mysteriumfidae says:

    Some of us travel 2 – 4 hours *each way* to traditional mass *every week*. if a train breaks down etc we will be very late. how else can you travel 100 miles on Sunday-timetable public transport? so quit the snide glances at the person sneaking in 30 min late, you dont know how many sacrifices they have made to make a hard journey to get there. also, it strikes me how many people say they would die for the mass, but would not travel over an hour to get to one.

  72. The Masked Chicken says:

    “We have to be there before the Gospel and not leave before the final blessing or else it is considered you have missed mass.”

    Of course, that is wrong. I can think of several examples where not only may one leave Mass early, but one must leave Mass early. For instance, suppose you are in a packed church where the CO2 level is close to causing hypoxia. You can either leave and go sit outside or pass out. Suppose you are the guardian of a high-functioning autistic child. They might be good enough if you get them to Mass early, before the rush, but the rush and conversations after Mass can send them into a tizzy. For the sake of charity towards them, if you can’t stay in a quiet place after Mass, you would have to leave early. In my own case, I catch the bus to Sunday Mass and if I miss the connecting bus at the bus stop outside of the Church, I have to wait an hour to catch another bus to even begin the trip home. Try doing that in -5 degree weather. The bus goes by the stop at a fixed time (give or take) and Mass is almost finished (a TLM) up to the Last Gospel. The Ite Missa Est has already been said (so, too, the Final Blessing), but I cannot always count of how long the Mass will go because different priests say the Mass, so, some weeks it ends early, but some weeks it can go fifteen minutes past the bus time. Some times, I have to call a cab, if I don’t make the right decision about leaving and that can get expensive. I talked to a confessor who is a moral theologian and he said that there was no sin in leaving slightly early (always after communion) in cases of necessity. I also have a medical condition that is made worse by crowds and the back-to-back Mass schedule does not allow me to stay behind between Masses anymore. Should I risk a stroke by trying to wait until everyone is leaving?

    The saying, necessitats non habet legem – necessities have no laws – should always be kept in mind as a remedy for scruples about leaving or coming to Mass early. It must be a genuine necessity and not merely the result of sloth, but they do excuse.

    The Chicken

  73. RichardT says:

    I am habitually late for everything, but I stand quietly at the back of church until there is a noisy enough moment to slip into a pew without disturbing too many people. The Credo is usually a good time for that.

    Fortunately we do not have ushers and I agree with the earlier commentator that, earlier in my life, they would have scared me away from a church.

    Having also experienced the righteous Anglican attitude towards latecomers, I am very pleased that the Catholic Church is more tolerant.

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