Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Mass Etiquette – Part I: The Congregation

December 13th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

Something which we have not, as of yet, addressed at Cleansing Fire is the topic of “liturgical etiquette,” that is, how people ought to act at Mass. Before you begin reading this post (and those which will follow it) you must realize that these observations are just that – observations. They are not judgments on people’s souls, attacks on children, or manifestations of cold-hearted anti-social tendencies. They are, however, simple pointers as to what you should and should not do at Mass. We will examine this in a multi-part series of posts which will encompass the following categories: 1. the Congregation, 2. the Servers, 3. the Lector, 4. the Choir, 5. the Family.

Part I: The Congregation

Thou shalt not:

  • Turn around during Mass. It disturbs those who may be trying to focus on something other than your charming visage, something such as the Blessed Sacrament or the liturgical dancer.
  • Slouch in your pew.
  • Talk during “off moments” at Mass, i.e. the Offertory (the collection), the Kiss of Peace, the time after Communion. You’re in the presence of God – act like it.
  • Congregate to talk after Mass while still inside the church building – go into a vestibule, the social hall, the atrium, the parking lot, or whatever facilities may be provided.
  • Make up words to hymns.
  • Cough and/or sneeze into your hands and then proceed to offer the sign of peace to those around you.
  • “slurp” the Precious Blood or “crunch” the host. You’re receiving God Himself, not some pre-lunch appetizer.
  • Yawn in the face of the priest/other minister(s). It shows a certain sense of disinterest in the Sacred Mysteries.
  • Crinkle paper, rustle plastic bags, flip pages loudly, or make other unnecessary noises. Silence is golden, and chances are your noise-making will disrupt the silent prayerfulness of those around you.

Thou Shalt:

  • Be attentive to the words of the Mass.
  • Feel free to sing from the hymnal or chant book – it’s there for a reason!
  • Act with reverence in everything – if you need to cross before the tabernacle on the way to the restroom, genuflect. If you pass the altar on your way back to the pew (or comfy chair), bow.
  • Be joyful in your disposition. Don’t be melancholy – there’s a big difference between reverence and depression.

Just as how there is proper etiquette for a fancy dinner, there is proper etiquette for Mass. I guess if we take the theme given to us by some of our more liberal friends, we could say that the Mass is “just a fancy dinner.” In actuality it’s much more than that, but for the sake of laying out what is polite and what is not it serves its purpose as a piece of trite sacramental theology.

The next piece of this series will focus on the etiquette of the servers (and other ministers within the sanctuary). Again – this isn’t some sanctimonious sermon on how badly you behave at Mass. It’s just a gentle reminder that you need to recall the simple fact that when you’re at Mass, you’re God’s guest. You’re not there to be entertained – you’re there to pray.

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20 Responses to “Mass Etiquette – Part I: The Congregation”

  1. avatar La Sandia says:

    I would also like to put in a word for appropriate attire for Mass, which has the potential to affect the congregation’s disposition markedly. When someone shows up to Sunday Mass wearing baggy jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie or a micro-mini and halter top, they are saying by their appearance that this isn’t very important. Of course, you don’t want to be pharasaical about it, but most people wouldn’t show up to work dressed like many do for Mass. Catholics really need to regain a sense of “Sunday Best,” and unfortunately we fall behind many of our Protestant brethren in that regard. However, this is usually not a problem at EF liturgies.

  2. avatar Choirloft says:

    If you are able, please genuflect before going into the pew. Not a curtsy, but an actual genuflection. And a reminder, you genuflect with your right knee to the floor. I’ve seen many people go down on the left knee.

    You only genuflect on the left knee when you are kissing the ring of one of the following: bishop, archbishop or cardinal. However, if the Pope is present, you only kiss his ring. Kissing the ring is a sign of great respect and reverence. If it is awkward or not possible to kneel, then a bow and kiss the ring will do. I can’t say whether the bishop will like to have his ring kissed or not. I’m pretty sure Bishop Clark doesn’t like it.

    A double genuflection is done only to the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

  3. avatar Matt says:

    I broke my left ankle a couple of summers ago. Right-knee genuflection was no small task!

  4. avatar Ink says:

    Add to the Thou Shalt Not: Text or use your cell phone in Mass. PLEASE.

  5. avatar Louis E. says:

    Aren’t the vestibule,atrium,and social hall part of the “church building”?

  6. avatar Gen says:

    They’re separate from the church proper where the Blessed Sacrament is reposed.

  7. avatar Matt says:

    though shalt not walk away carrying the blessed sacrament, then eat it like a dorito…instead, kneel and reverently receive on the tongue!

  8. avatar Persis says:

    Choirloft, you bring up something that I have been wondering about.
    I know that I should genuflect by bringing my right knee to the ground, but I have a problem with my left leg and am not able to bear full weight on it, which makes rising from a right-knee genuflection almost impossible, so I always go down on my left knee.

    Which do you (and others here, I am really interested in hearing the opinions, as I said, this is something that I have been pondering for a while! 🙂 ) think I should do, continue to genflect the “wrong way” or not genuflect at all and just give a profound bow?

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with the mass etiquette detailed in the article. I would like to add a pet peeve of mine for years—Hogging of the communion wine. The Body and Blood of Christ is a Holy Meal to be shared with the whole community. Jesus is the Perfect Example of A Host. He broke bread and shared it with those at table. He poured wine and shared it with those at table. He continually shares the Bread and Wine of Himself to all who come to His Table.
    There are those at various churches,who grab the cup when it is fairly full and guzzle down a large amount, not caring if there is enough for those behind them. They apparently want to corner the market on holiness as they believe that the more they consume, the holier they will be. They definitely are not in the spirit of the sacrament. Those type of people are the same type of people who practically knocked people down getting to the altar rail to be among the first. Some people have the mistaken belief that the more they consume, the holier they will become.-If you were at their home and they ate and drank in front of you without sharing any of their food or drink, what type of host would they be? If you were at their house and they rushed ahead of you to be seated at the table first, what type of host would they be? Especially in the House of God, we are called upon to be a Host to others as Jesus is Host to all of us.

    Also, many people have become too nonchalant or disrespectful of the sacred. At one church, years ago, visitor worshipers left consecrated hosts (bread) which they received at communion,scattered in the pews. For this particular Holy Day, unleavened bread was used. This type of thing still happens from time to time at various churches, with regular hosts as well, when for some reason people decide they don’t want to eat or consume them. If they had a concept of the sacred they would bring the unconsumed host or bread to the priest or other staff member to be disposed in the holy sink.
    The concept of reverence for things sacred needs to be retaught.

  10. avatar Abaccio says:

    @Christian 1954

    Or, better yet
    1) Do not give the chalice to laymen
    2) Only give the Eucharist to communicants on the tongue
    3) Only use consecrated hosts, rather than home-baked (crumbly) bread loaves.

    These three practices would severely decrease the risk of profanation.

  11. avatar Choirloft says:

    Persis – By all means do whichever way is more comfortable. Genuflecting isn’t meant to be an impossible task. Do what you are able to do. It is a sign of reverence to Our Lord. I, too, have a problem genuflecting. The church doesn’t expect the impossible.

    You are still most cordially invited to the Tridentine Latin Mass anytime. I would be glad to sit with you (if you like) and explain how things work together. Have a very blessed Advent and Christmas time.

    Oremus pro invicem!

  12. avatar Persis says:

    CL- Thank you for the kind invitation.
    I was actually there yesterday, the music was wonderful,
    still not so sure about the Mass experience, still “processing” that!

    RE: genuflection- the reason I asked is I had someone comment at my regular parish that I was “wrong” and should be “ashamed of myself” for not genufleting correctly and that if I could not do it “right” I should not do it at all! 🙁

    My feeling is, I do what my heart feels, and I feel that I must genuflect towards the tabernacle and anyway, God knows all about my problems and I am sure that He does not care what leg I kneel on!! 😉

  13. avatar Nerina says:

    Oh, Persis, that’s awful! I guess it reminds us all that we don’t know every individual situation. I’m impressed when anyone makes a gesture of reverence in my church because so many people don’t.

    I second Choir’s invitation. I now sing in the choir at the Latin Mass and I understand what you mean about “processing.” My family attended the Mass for the first time yesterday and they all looked a little shell-shocked afterwards. It is a completely different experience from going to Mass in the ordinary form.

    My husband commented that he was particularly moved and “overwhelmed” (his words) by the procession – especially when the entire church was singing “Rejoice! Rejoice!” in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” He said he had goosebumps and I had them too in the choir loft! He also find the actual liturgy comforting. He said it was nice just to take in the atmosphere and be in the presence of mystery.

    I heard an interesting comment from my children’s string teacher on Saturday. I told her that I had joined the Latin Mass choir and she immediately asked about coming to a Mass. Keep in mind, she is not Catholic but a non-liturgical protestant. She said, “I understand the reasoning behind changing the Mass, but I think the Catholic church lost something valuable when they did away with the Latin Mass.” I found that quite telling.

    Anyway. Next time you’re at the High Mass, look for me. I have red hair and I usually hang out in the vestibule for a few minutes after Mass. Hopefully, my family will make it to the next one, too (all my kids have red hair so we’re pretty easy to spot). Take care and Happy Advent.

  14. avatar Ink says:

    Christian: If you’re at the end of the line and the Eucharistic minister is underage (we’re not going to get into this, but I’m a parishioner at Mother of Sorrows, so we’ll just set these as the “givens”) and the cup is virtually full, I recommend taking a little bit more of the Blood than usual–the ministers have to consume all the Consecrated Blood, and it frequently gets passed around so there’s none to dump and to profane. It may be sacred, but it’s still alcoholic and all the priests and ministers have a bit of a difficult time drinking all of it sometimes.

    Nerina: Can I keep your youngest?

  15. To Ink: I agree with your comment about taking a little bit more if you are at the end of the line and the Eucharistic Minister is a teenager. But the instances I was referring to was someone near the beginning or middle of the line with a lot of people behind them. To be truthful, I have wondered if an alcohol problem was involved in at least one of these instances.

  16. avatar Gretchen says:

    Maybe the heavy imbiber of the sacred blood was a harried mom whose kids were trying her patience during Mass… Bottoms up!

    (Before anyone pulls out the flamethrower, please realize that I am KIDDING here.)

  17. avatar Christopher says:

    Perhaps you can offer some additional suggestions on how to maintain greater focus in mass in the light of these distractions as I’m sure most of the people who read this blog are not the offenders I’d like to think. Even in Churches where this does not often happen, I am sure some people are sitting there distracted in their own minds without the aid of outside influences like paper crinkling. I’m surely guilty of this at some point. That said, even being attentive might not be enough. We need to strive not only towards being attentive but absorbing (into memory) the Word of God when it is read.

    To help me focus, I like to think I’m going to get a 4 question pop quiz after mass.

    Question 1: How do the 3 readings and psalm tie together? They are carefully picked out for a reason. Sometimes the homily doesn’t pull them together.
    Question 2: Recite one or two direct quotes from the readings after mass is finished?
    Question 3: What one thing can I directly apply to my life from the homily?
    Question 4: Was I properly prepared and/or how can I prepare better for the Eucharist next time? (Do I need to fast from it a couple weeks or goto confession?)

    That said, I am fortunate that I’m able to maintain focus and not be distracted or attempt to be bothered by some of the things you mention. The hardest for me is the people who are loudly talking after mass when I’m trying to pray. The best way to train yourself to combat this is to pray more silently to yourself in public situations like while waiting in line at Wegmans, the bank, or eating alone at a restaurant attempting to avoid distractions. That or you could try some Kriya yoga meditation, just kidding, don’t. 😀

    Sometimes I do wonder if it would be rude or not to go up to the person who’s talking and whisper something so softly to them saying something to the effect of: “Hello, I’m Christopher, I’m very glad you are engaging in this great holy conversation, however, do you think you could perhaps move to the back of the church or outside to avoid distracting others who may be trying to pray for us.”

    Has anyone done something like this? What has your experience been?

    Also, with regards to mass attire. I agree we should try to dress up for mass and I always do try to. However, that said, I’ve invited protestant young people to mass before who show up in jeans and hoodie. Anyways, point being, don’t give these people a “stink eye” look, if anything they’re the ones who need our help the most understanding why it’s important to look presentable cause they probably don’t know what’s going on at mass. The priest should pull the person aside and say something to them. If it’s a reoccurring person(s) at your church, I wonder what would happen if you went up to the priest after mass and suggesting a bulletin notice about mass attire. Is that a fair thing to do?

    Do what you can do, right?

  18. avatar Ink says:

    Christopher: In response to question 1, sometimes the epistle reading does not tie in with the other two–it tends to be a continuation from the previous week’s reading. At least in Ordinary Time.


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