Ten ways to step up your Mass engagement

Improving etiquette during the central hour of the week

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

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.

2. Genuflect

“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.

COMING UP: Children in Mass are gifts, not distractions

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In the last print issue, we published an article titled “How to survive Mass with a toddler” in hopes that it would be a source of encouragement for parents (like me) who struggle to teach their child to behave in Mass. Much to my surprise, the feedback I’ve received has been rather unexpected.

Read an earlier online version: “Narthex laps and cracker crumbs”

One reader said they were offended by my advice to parents to sit in the front with their kids. “Maybe you should expand the statement to include ‘never mind how distracting you are to others, disregard Christian consideration of others and how you are undermining the worship of others,’” they wrote. Another more politely suggested that parents take better advantage of cry rooms in churches, while a fellow parent wrote in and recounted how they remedied the issue by simply not bringing their small children to Mass.

Not to sound brash, but: Really?

I realize that these responses to an article meant to encourage young families in the thick of the most difficult and important task of their life – that is, parenthood – are not what the majority of my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters really think. But as a parent who is currently in the thick of it, I’d like to share what it’s really like to bring a toddler to Mass and challenge those who seem annoyed by children in the pews to remember the words of Jesus: “Let the children come to me” (Mt 19:14).

I think I can speak on behalf of any parent who’s had a child act up in Mass that it’s most stressful for us. I can also safely say that nobody is more distracted than the parents themselves. My wife and I couldn’t tell you what the priest said in the homily most weeks. Add to the equation a sneer or glare from someone nearby, and an already embarrassing situation begins to feel shameful. Here’s my question, though: Why should a parent ever feel ashamed for bringing their child to Mass? Furthermore, why do some fellow parishioners – fellow members of the body of Christ – think it’s OK to make parents feel that way?

If my daughter begins to truly misbehave in the middle of Mass – I’m talking a full-on meltdown or deliberately disobeying my wife and I – then one of us takes her to the back of the Church. However, to those who suggest we remove kids from the church completely or retreat to the cry room, I’ve got news for you: That’s exactly what they want. I don’t know a two-year-old who can sit still for more than 10 minutes at time (excluding marathon runs of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood), and kids are smart – they will do anything possible to get to a space where they can run free – including throwing things, screaming or hitting. But it would be counterproductive to reward that kind of behavior, which is precisely why kids should not be whisked away to the cry room anytime they misbehave.

As a convert to Catholicism, I’ve seen how other churches do it. Most other Christian churches, no matter the denomination, have Sunday school classes or programs that parents can leave their children at during the service. This is fine for those churches, but the celebration of the Mass is not the same as a regular church service. If, as the Catholic Church proclaims, the Mass, and the Eucharist in particular, is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324), then children especially have every right to be there in the church, partaking in the holy sacrifice, as much as everybody else. This is made even more apparent at Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew.

As a parent, I feel disheartened by some of these comments I’ve received. As a Catholic, I feel embarrassed. We are all part of the same body of Christ, attempting to reach the same paradise. We may all have different paths, but ultimately, Jesus was clear with his instructions to us as Christians: Love one another. I ask the naysayers: Is there love in making parents with small children feel unwelcome in Mass? Parishioners of any church should rejoice at the sights and sounds of children in Mass, because it means that the church is vibrant and alive. Please, Catholics: let’s do better. Be the village for struggling parents. We’re all in this together.