How important are the little things at Mass? Very important. The Eucharist is so important to the Christian life that it’s considered “the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission.” It should shape who we are and how we live. But if we don’t watch the little things during the Eucharistic celebration, we risk losing the depth of the very mystery in which Christ comes to us.
As one priest put it, “We are seeing a deterioration in Catholic culture, which can be seen very often during Mass.” For this reason, we have asked priests from around the archdiocese to provide tips to help you overcome this problem and encounter Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
1. Receive Communion reverently
The Eucharist is the body of Jesus Christ himself, which means it must be treated with the outmost respect. A priest should never have to worry about dropping it or whether it was consumed. A few tips from our priests to improve your Communion reception: If you are receiving on the tongue (which is “highly preferred”), “open your mouth widely [and] stick your tongue out far.” If receiving in the hand, “place one hand flat over the other, palms up, and immediately place the Host in your mouth” in front of the minister.
“Genuflecting manifests a faith in the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament,” a priest stated. “[However], the practice of bowing from the waist – or a simple head bow – has crept in to replace a genuflection, even among people who have no physical handicaps.” Priests ask that all faithful do a full genuflection when they enter or leave the Church, if they are capable: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth” (Phil 2:10).
3. Arrive early and stay
“Passing from a secular atmosphere to a sacred atmosphere requires some preparation,” a priest said. Arriving at least 10 minutes early would do. This helps prepare the heart and mind for the Lord who comes to us, he added. And don’t leave early. One can leave only after the celebrant processes out because “he’s acting in the presence of Christ,” a priest emphasized.
4. Dress up for Jesus
What we wear says a lot about where we’re going. A priest recommend dressing “as if one was going to an audience with someone more important than the Pope,” which is certainly the case. For this reason, they discourage wearing anything that may seem as if you were going to the beach or a sporting event, for both men and women. “May your body and clothes manifest your heart before God and your brothers,” another priest added.
5. Respect silence
“Sacred silence is part of the celebration of the Mass,” a priest said. “[It] leads us toward God and others.” Other than being silent during Mass, we should also refrain from talking before and after Mass, since these are important times for preparation and thanksgiving, another priest added. This also includes desisting from applauding, he added. As Pope Benedict XVI put it, wherever applause break out in the Mass, the essence of the liturgy is lost, and it’s replaced by a kind of “religious entertainment.” It becomes something that it’s not.
6. Watch your posture
Gestures and body postures are very important at Mass. They are meant to help us enter more fully into the Mystery, a priest said. “Standing means respect and readiness to serve. Sitting means attention and obedience. Kneeling means adoration.” This ranges from kneeling erect to sitting appropriately and even singing. The better you do these small things, the more you will be attentive to what is really going on during the Mass.
7. Pray in unison
“[Although] the Mass is personal, [it’s also a] communitarian encounter with Jesus,” a priest said. It’s personal because we encounter Jesus. It’s communitarian because we encounter him as a Church. “When people pray at their own pace, [this] sense of praying to God as one is lost,” a priest added. Therefore, they recommend listening to those around you to pray together.
8. Turn off your phone
God asks for at least one hour a week to put everything in his hands. That hour is the Holy Mass. “There’s something way more important going on,” a priest said. “[So, please], don’t text, and if it happens to ring… never get up to answer it!” The habit of turning it off or putting it on airplane mode before entering the church can make all the difference.
9. Give a dignified sign of peace
The sign of peace is highly symbolic. It’s meant to dispose oneself to receive Communion, signifying peace, communion and charity with one’s brothers and sisters before going up to the altar. “It can and ought to be simple and dignified, always respecting the presence of Christ on the altar and the sacred character of the Mass which is still in progress,” a priest said. “It should not be a time for carousing and garrulousness.”
10. Love (crying) children
Most priests will agree that children shouldn’t be running around during Mass, but also that they shouldn’t be kept at home. A priest specially dislikes when people give the “’sour-grape-face’ at the poor mother who is trying to calm her crying baby.” While solutions are highly debated, another priest said that “[A baby’s] cries glorify the Lord. It is a joy to have them at Mass. If the baby happens to cry too much, one of the parents may go to the back of the Church and take some time.”
Editor’s note, March 9, 2018: An earlier version of this article misstated the intent behind the sign of peace. It has been updated to the correct intention according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is to extend peace, communion and charity to fellow faithful.