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How to Behave at Mass

I don’t know if I am getting old, but have you noticed that people don’t seem to know how to behave at Mass anymore?

I will never forget the day I was at Sunday Mass, when a well-meaning dad pulled out a very large plastic bag from the Dollar Store. In it, he had a big new toy for his little son Johnny – something to keep him entertained at Mass. I can still remember how awkward it was seeing that big green logo come out from behind the kneeler, interrupting my attempts to pray.

Some parishioners were of course stunned watching the large garish neon plastic toy given to little Johnny. Since the toy was brand new, of course it had to be opened, unwrapped, right in the middle of Mass. I was mortified.

I fought all my motherly instincts to go over to that man and give him a good motherly scolding! I really wanted to give the dad a good tug to his ears, pulling him out of the church and say…

“What are you teaching your child? Do you want teach little Johnny, that no matter what is going on around him, he is entitled to be entertained and have fun?”

With the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation upon us, most parishes are seeing an influx of visitors to Mass. I think most people would agree that the experience is both joyful, but at times extremely frustrating, for two specific reasons.

First, as a parish community we are all wondering, will we ever see these kids and their families at Mass again? Secondly, it often becomes abundantly clear that many people just don’t know how to behave at Mass. As a society, we have seen a general loss of decorum and civility in behavior.

Not too long ago, the entire world watched the Royal Wedding. Part of the fascination with the royal family is that it represents an era of dignity and civility, wherein a modicum of civil behavior is not only expected, but demanded.

My father-in-law often takes me to see the Toronto Symphony perform at Massey Hall. I am inspired by the back of the program where there are pages that outline clearly the defined standards of behavior for folks attending the symphony. There are sections under several categories which define the expected etiquette and courtesy to be extended to others at the symphony.

Why can’t we do the same for Mass?

I am thinking of publishing a booklet and a poster to distribute to parishes. It would read something like this:

Mass Etiquette: How to behave during a Catholic Mass

Remember you have entered into the house of God for the purpose of prayer, adoration, reflection, or to celebrate a sacrament. Now is not the time to talk to your friends, but to talk to God. Please do not bring in any cups of coffee!

In order to help you enter into a sacred space we ask you to remember,

1. Turn off cell phones. Do not text messages or check your Facebook account from the pews or the back of the church. Leave your social media devices in the car. It’s time to focus on God. It’s distracting for others who are trying to pray. If you are waiting for an important phone call, consider going to Mass at another time. Cameras, likewise should be left in the car, unless you are coming for a tour of the church and you have checked with the tour guide.

2. Do not chew gum during Mass or put it in your side cheek, to chew on it later. Spit it out before entering into a church. Did you know that you are supposed to be prayerfully fasting for an hour before Mass? There is a possibility that if you keep the gum in your mouth and resume chewing after receiving the Eucharist, you may unintentionally spit out a bit of the body of Jesus. That would be sacrilegious.

3. Dress with dignity for Mass. It seems that many women and girls in this day and age have a need to always have a ‘sexy’ look. Mass is not a cocktail party. Mass is not a hockey arena. Come dressed with decorum, an aura of dignity. Consider teaching your children that different types of dress are important for different occasions. For everything there is a time. Please remember to dress modestly and insure your daughters do, too.  Bare shoulders and visible bra straps are not a good idea. They are highly distracting.

4. Do not bring children’s activity bags, granola bars, Cheerios, juice boxes, water bottles, or toys, including a child’s DS, Playstation, Game Boy, iPod Touch or similar items of amusement to church. Mass is only one hour long. Children would grow in virtue if their parents expected them to detach from these things for at least an hour a week. For little toddlers there is a beautiful  series of little Catholic books put out by Father Lovasik. There are plastic rosaries or books about saints. Immerse your children in spiritual treasures during mass.

5. Parents have a duty give their children ongoing, on the job training, all the time. That includes the obligation to train their children in the appropriate times to kneel, sit, stand and face the altar. If children are engaged in playing with toys, or eating, and drinking, they are surely not being taught about the fact that Jesus is really up there on the altar, the significance of prayer, self control, and the importance of participating in the Mass. Parents themselves get distracted with managing the dispensing of food and toys. On top of that it is a distraction to others in the pews who are hungry themselves, or who are trying to fully participate in mass.

6. Do not drink bottled water in a house of worship. If an adult, for some reason needs to drink water to take some medication, please leave the church premises or at least the Mass, and drink the water outside the celebration of the Eucharist.

7.  If you are late for Mass, please do not walk down the aisles looking for a seat until it’s appropriate. You are disrupting others. The Toronto Symphony does not allow late comers to waltz in at ‘whatever’ time. Church ushers should be trained to enforce this. Please do not leave Mass before it ends. You will be missing the supernatural graces of the final blessing. Besides it’s a bad example for your kids

8. Do not be an observer of the Mass, but a participant. Don’t ask yourself, “What is this Mass doing for me?” Instead, ask yourself, “What can I do to participate in the Mass more fully?” Make an effort to listen, follow the readings, pay attention to the homily. You can read the scripture passages before Mass, learn the prayers of the Mass, follow along in the missalette, and sing! You will become an outstanding role model for your kids.

9. Do not have conversations during the mass. You would never have a conversation during a performance of the symphony. If you did, you would be asked to correct your behavior or leave. Quite simply, it is rude.

10. It might be useful to ask yourself: Who am I? Why am I here? The answer: To know God, to love him and serve Him — especially at Mass!


Dorothy Pilarski is a Catholic author, television personality, motivational speaker and consultant. She facilitates thought provoking conversations on Mothering, Full of Grace a program produced by Salt and Light TV. She is the author of Motherhood Matters. Visit her blog at http://gutsycatholicmom.blogspot.com/ or contact Dorothy at www.dorothypilarski.com.
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  • fishman

    Nice, now if we could get this read at homilies, posted on doors etc. The deeper problem however , has to do with WHY?

    WHY are you here.
    WHAT are you doing.

    There is a reason why the church used to separate confirmed members in good standing from , ‘everyone else’ and this is part of it.

    If you don’t believe in the WHAT how can you be expected to understand the WHY.

  • Trenton

    #6 is not so black and white. My mother is on medication that actually makes her mouth very dry, to the point of choking if she doesn’t drink water. Some folks actually need water with them all the time…even at mass.

  • AnneG

    When you see me looking at my iPod, and my husband, too, at Mass, we aren’t checking email or Facebook. We are following the readings on our Magnificat app. Just saying. Ask to see it if you don’t believe me. The rest is ok, ESP the gum, ARGH!

  • The Cathoholic

    Great list, but you should also add incessant loud talking before and after Mass. Does anyone have respect anymore for people who are in prayer?

    • My thoughts exactly. In some parishes it is impossible to concentrate and sometimes the chatter continues well into the procession. So we pray at home.

  • goral

    Actually none of these are black and white. C’mon Man!
    we’re American catholics, casual, easy going, bishop-doubting (not automatically a bad thing) and self-styled to the point where the self really melts in with the other Cretans and there really is no style to speak of.

    Nice try Mrs. Pilarski but you’re going to have to create an App for that and allow browsing in church otherwise no one will read it.

  • Hirduin

    Perhaps at the root of the problem is a lack of conversion of the heart. Ditto all your comments about behavior at Mass. Especially the after Mass talking while in church by groups of people greeting each other and carrying on as if not in the presence of God. It boils down to a loss of Faith. If one really, really believed that God was present under the appearance of bread in the Tabernacle, no one would talk until they had taken their leave. Instead of complaining, let us all do more penance and acts of reparation.

  • bd86

    Good article.

    If people would just remember this is Gods dwelling, maybe they would remember to act that way. If mass is not your reason for being there maybe one should re-evaluate their life. I have yet to be to a parish where there is space of various behaviors, and the sancuraty should only hold reverence to God. In those parishes that inculcate a reverenence there are vocations galore, makes one wonder . . .

  • Claire

    The issue with toddlers and food in Mass isn’t black and white either. When my son was a toddler, every Mass overlapped with one of his feedings (4:30 vigil went into his dinnertime, 9:00 morning Mass was breakfast, 11:30 Mass went into lunchtime, 5:30 Sunday evening Mass was dinner). My son was a little tiny boy and keeping him on the growth chart has always been a challenge. If he was hungry at Mass and wanted some cheerios or ricemilk (dairy allergy), I fed it to him. He has always been one of the best behaved children at Mass, and his consumption of cheerios or ricemilk was not disruptive. He’s 4 now, and I probably haven’t given him anything to eat or drink at Mass in over a year. But when he was younger, it was perfectly appropriate.

    • Liberty

      Please, if you can adjust your child’s nap or mealtimes or other activities in life you can certainly adjust them by 1/2 hour for Mass.