Monday, November 9, 2009

15 Ways to Pay Attention at Mass

I’ve never been diagnosed with Attention Deficient Disorder (ADD) and I really don’t think I have it. I believe my characteristic of having to do two or three things at the same time is a learned behavior. I think in today’s world of multi-tasking we have trained ourselves to operate on different levels and our mind gets bored and wanders easily. This is why I can have a conversation with you while texting someone else and thinking about what I’m going to do the next day. So you take a guy with that mentality and put him I a Catholic church with statues and paintings and stained glass windows surrounded by people and you expect him to concentrate on the mass?? It’s even worse if the mass is in a contemporary church with plain walls and new fangled art and it is even more difficult to concentrate because for an hour they poor guy is wondering, “What in the HECK were they thinking?? Where is the tabernacle?? Where are the kneelers??”

With that in mind, I’ve decided to give 15 ways to pay attention at mass.

  1. Prepare. Don’t go into mass waiting to get blindsided. Find out what the readings are going to be before hand and read them. They can be found many places. They were probably in last week’s bulletin. You can find them in The Catholic Key and easiest of all you can find them on the US Bishops site. Read them before hand. Meditate on the readings. Let scripture speak to you.
  2. Arrive early. A sure way to be distracted is by walking down the aisle either right before or after the processional. People should not be wondering why you are not wearing an alb.
  3. Pray. What should you do with that extra time?? Sure, visiting with your fellow parishioners is nice but get to your seat 5-10 minutes before mass starts and spend it in prayer. Ask God to be with you during mass and to give you the grace to actively participate in the mass. And if you choose to continue visiting please do it in the entry. The sanctuary is a holy place and people are trying to pray.
  4. Sing. During the processional, the Gloria and all of the other parts of the mass. It’s been said that when you sing you are actually praying twice. You don’t have to be Pavarotti to sing as mass (if you haven’t noticed by the singing of some of the cantors!) Don’t be embarrassed. None of us are great singers but we are singing God’s praise and that’s a good thing. That doesn’t mean that you have to belt it out louder than everyone else in the congregation either.
  5. Follow along. I’ve heard pros and cons of following along in the missalette. I’ve heard that the lector is breaking open the word of God and we should be listening and not reading. Well, that’s a valid point but there are some of us out there who can comprehend better by reading than by listening. If this is you then follow along. Some churches have the readings in the back of the hymnal. Some have seasonal missalettes for you. Or you can bring your own. They sell them bound or in a monthly periodical called the “Magnificat.”
  6. LISTEN to the homily!! Father has got something to say!! He may not be some inspirational speaker. He may have been busy this week and not prepared the best homily but you never know. You can always find some nugget in what Father has to say. Sometimes you may have an “Ah-ha!” moment and you wonder if Father wrote this with you personally in mind. You will think to yourself, “No—it couldn’t be. I haven’t talked to him about this issue I’m having –besides—I’m from out of town and have never met the man!”
  7. LISTEN to the prayers of the faithful. For some reason I always find this a distracting time. It’s after the homily. It’s after the creed and my mind is stretched to the limit. Listen to each intention and when say, “Lord, hear our prayer” know what you are asking for. Maybe you will remember the name of a sick person or recently departed to take home to remember in your prayers there.
  8. Meditate. If you are still too shy to sing during the collection than spend that time meditating. Think back to the readings. Think about Father’s homily. Or prepare yourself for what is about to come.
  9. Repeat to yourself what Father is saying during the Eucharistic prayers. I admit that I get distracted during the Eucharistic prayers. So much is being said. After the priest says something simply repeat what he says in your head. A simple way to become a more active participant.
  10. Visualize what is being said during the consecration. Imagine Jesus at the Last Supper. Only he is right in front of you saying, “This is my body.”
  11. Appreciate what is going on around you spiritually. Sure, sure, you may be in a church surrounded by your friends and family but much more is going on in the spiritual realm. The mass is a unification of Heaven and Earth. You are in Heaven when you are at mass. It’s more than your wife and kids there with you. There is a giant cloud of saints there with you. Your loved ones who have passed are there with you. Even more than that—you are truly unified with the universal church and you are there with the church from across town as well from the church on the other side of the world.
  12. Realize what is about to happen as you walk up to communion. You are about to hold Jesus Christ in your hands. The creator of the universe is about to be put I your hands and you, the created are about to consume the creator.
  13. PRAY! The time after receiving the blessed sacrament is one of the best times to pray. Think of it. Jesus is never closer to you than at this moment. Jesus is literally in you. Thank him. Praise him. Offer him your petitions.
  14. Stay!! Mass isn’t over after communion! There is still a closing prayer!! Don’t be like Judas who left the Last Supper before it was over!! Sing that final song!
  15. Now here is probably the crazy suggestion. Stay after mass and pray some more!! Why rush off?? The parking lot is going to be crazy!! You are not going to get out of there for a good ten minutes anyway.

This list by no means is an end-all list. I’m sure there are hundreds of other tips and suggestions to pay better attention at mass. This list can actually be boiled down to three things: pray, concentrate and realize what a gift we have in the mass. Does anyone else have any ideas?


  1. Good advice! It all boils down to staying in the moment and to enjoying right now for tomorrow may never come - or get here all too quickly.

    I remember when I was young, Mass seemed to last forever - of course, in those days it was said and answered in Latin - and time dragged on and on...but now, I try to live in the moment and enjoy every minute as if I were living like it was my last day on earth.

    I've not always been that way, but sure glad I can be that way now.

    God bless you!

  2. number one is the best...I have gone over the readings with my family, or even by myself, and practiced lectio divina for many years. I also recommend it to the RCIA class I teach. Then you don't need the missalette and you can hear the Word of God proclaimed at Mass!
    Bring your laptop to code 7 or bring your Bible with the markings :) Michele- Retired Deputy from CA

  3. I think prayer, preparation and visualizaation are particularly excellent suggestions. They help us make the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and all the rest of our lives, an acceptable gift to God.

    However, I think some caution should be exercised in listening to the homily. In the three diocese that I have lived in, often, the homily is not merely poor, but scandalous. Priests or deacons have sometimes taught thing directly against Church doctrine or giving simply bad advice. For instance, on All Saints Day our deacon gave the homily and suggested we pick someone in our lives that WE think are good by our OWN standards and look up to that person asif he or she was a saint. In his case, he picked his grandfather who was not even religious and never went to mass at all. It might be worth listening to the homily to simply prepare yourself against heresy and bad advice, and to think up reasonable Catholic responses to those things

    And on that point, I think preparation is more assuredly worthwhile when we do it with the saints. Why turn to ourselves or others who have not undergone the full trial of life and death yet? The saints are proven soldiers of God and their commentaries on the scriptures are enlightening. (See St. Augustine for some great ones.) To paraphrase one of the psalms says, from hidden faults acquit us O God.

    - Eric

  4. These suggestions are very helpful. Thanks!

  5. I just came across your article on 15 ways, I will copy it, it will be very helpful for my Confirmation class that I teach.


  6. 1. Singing hymns is not part of the Mass. Only singing Mass parts should count here.

    2. "Holding Christ in your hands" is an abuse unfortunately tolerated.

    3. The Mass ends with the dimissal, not the final song (which is not part of the Mass). You can leave after the dismissal and have been at the whole Mass.

    4. The GIRM call for us to listen attentively to the readings. We are not to read along during the lessons or the Gospel.

    I would add one thing to this otherwise pretty good list:

    GET A MISSAL. If you must go to an Ordinary Form, I would suggest a used copy of the "Daily Roman Missal" (used since the better translation is coming out fairly soon). Read the Latin, to teach yourself the actual language of our faith (which is not English).

  7. I would suggest that also after Communion you should say the Anima Christi or the post-Communion prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas. Also after mass (since it probably will be close to noon or six in the evening depending on which Mass you go to) say the Angelus Prayer. These prayers are an older devotional practice but I find much good in them.

  8. wonderful suggestions. Thank you very much. What I do to avoid distraction is to sit in the front row very close to the altar. The more I move back, the more the distractions.

  9. I have to say when you mentioned the Eucharistic prayers and repeating them in your head, I also find it helpful to mouth the words while the priest is saying them. We hear them enough that it's pretty easy to remember the basics and also the Eucharistic prayers aren't meant to be just for the priest, but the prayers of the PEOPLE. Thinking the prayer, mouthing the prayer, opens the communal prayer to consecrate the gifts. It definitely makes me attentive and aware of the presence of Jesus while preparing for receiving the precious body and blood.

  10. Unfortunately, all that praying before and after Mass sure is hard when everyone around you is chatting about their kids' soccer game last night.

  11. As a thought on what divabella883 said, I would oppose to mouthing the words of the canon, especially the words of consecration. The consecration is the duty of the priest, not the people; the people, hearing and understanding the prayer, accept it with the Great Amen. And vice versa, the priest must not say the Amen, it is for the people of God.

  12. I find it really dissapointing that a great article like this can come under criticism. Sure there is much we are supposed to do and not do during mass but with today's society that is pushing the social norms in many aspects we shouldn't push people away with our brash behavior and beliefs. We should welcome people with open arms and if Jesus can forgive us of our great acts of sin, than we can forgive others of not doing everything perfect to canon. I for one feel closer to mass because it's said in English. If we were to take Mass back to its original language it would not be Latin but Aremic the actual language supposedly spoken during the time of Jesus Chirst. Or Hebrew for the readings, maybe some Babylonian, Greek, Latin, and hebrew for the Gospels.

  13. Excellent list! Very good, practical advice on how to participate in the Mass. I'm like you, in that I get distracted easily during Mass when I'm not actively doing something, and I know there are lots of people in the pews like this as well. I'd like to reprint these in my parish bulletin, if that's all right with you.

    BTW, Greg and Jennifer Willits spent one of their segments on The Catholics Next Door talking about this post. Expect lots of new readers, like myself, from their shout out!