Sacred Mass: Does Our Behavior Reflect the Sanctity?

church, priest, ordination, mass


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops estimates that some 30,000 people came into the Church at the Easter Vigil Masses this year. That is wonderful news for the Church and for those who have joined the Church! We welcome everyone to Holy Mother Church and pray for the greatest blessings upon them. As Catholics we are blessed to take advantage of sacred rituals and prayers, including Holy Mass. What sort of example are we setting for our newly baptized and confirmed brothers and sisters when they attend Mass with us?

Not-So-Sacred Behavior

Whether we are new to the Church, or seasoned veterans, are we aware of the awesome sacredness of everything related to the Mass? Far too many times, we may find a less-than-sacred atmosphere in church before Mass begins. People are carrying on conversations in the pews—some even standing up and talking out loud. After reception of Communion, some may be talking or whispering with their neighbors, anticipating the end of Mass and the dismissal. Now, there’s nothing wrong with greeting one another. Acknowledgement of our neighbors is good protocol. There’s nothing wrong with catching up or building relationships–at the right time and place. The chit-chat simply should take place in the gathering space or the parish hall before or after Mass. The church proper is sacred space, set aside for sacred activities, including quiet prayer before and after Mass.

Sacred Space

In Solomon’s temple at the time of Jesus, the highest, holiest place in the temple, the Holy of Holies, housed the Ark of the Covenant. It was so sacred that only the High Priest could go in there, and at that, only once a year. When he did enter, he had to have a rope tied to him in case he died. That way the others could remove his body without violating the sacred space. It’s interesting to ponder the difference between the reverence shown to the Ark of the Covenant back then with the reverence shown to Our Lord, Jesus Christ, today in our parish churches.

First, though, just what does “sacred” mean? Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary tells us:

SACRED. The holy or divine. The sacred is that which pertains to God, as distinguished from what pertains to human beings; that which is eternal, in contrast with the temporal; the heavenly as opposed to the earthly; the mysterious and therefore not the rationally explainable; the infinite and not the finite. In all religions, the sacred is the Absolute, which does not change, whereas the profane is the relative, whose essence is to change. (Etym. Latin sacrare, to set apart as sacred, consecrate.)

Our faith is all about the sacred—the holy or divine—related to God. From a practical perspective, consider the space in which we worship God. The church space itself is sacred. This is not only where we worship—it’s also where the God of the universe, Jesus Christ, resides. He really is present in the tabernacle, in His transubstantiated, Real Presence. The Lord, in His body, blood, soul and divinity, rests in this sacred space, waiting for us to come to visit, worship and adore Him.

Sacred Vessels and Furnishings

The altar in the church is not just a table or some liturgical furnishing. It is sacred as well—this is where the priest, in persona Christi, through the Holy Spirit, consecrates the offerings of bread and wine that become the transubstantiated body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. It is the place upon which the un-bloody sacrifice of Jesus is re-presented at every Mass. It is from the altar that Our Lord breaks the bonds of time and space to bring us all to Calvary at the Mass. How awesome (and sacred) is that?

The various vessels the priests and deacons use at Mass are sacred. The chalices, patens and ciboria are not just cups, plates or dishes. They are blessed instruments used in the holy sacrifice that takes place there. They will end up holding Our Lord’s precious body and blood. The real, transubstantiated presence of Our Creator and Redeemer goes into these vessels. In fact, only ordained priests and deacons, or instituted acolytes, are allowed to perform the initial purification (rinsing after Communion) of these vessels.

The ambo, the stand from which readings and preaching take place also is sacred. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal 309 indicates as much and states that, “…The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should stand at it.” In other words, this sacred furnishing is intended solely for use in the proclamation of the Word.

Sacred Silence

Recollection, concentrating on the presence of God, is the least we can attempt to do when we come to the sacred space of our local parish church. Particularly as we enter church, to prepare for Mass, we ought to be seeking a prayerful disposition, open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Through the course of the Mass, we should, as an act of will, stay focused on the readings, the homily, the prayers and the actions. It means that we need to silence ourselves, externally and internally and practice the presence of God. This means we need to be quiet and listen, while of course, praying out loud the liturgical responses and joining in the singing as appropriate.

We are so unbelievably blessed to be able to receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist! This fact alone should have us in reverent silence, inspired with awe, after receiving Holy Communion. We should be silently thanking Jesus for all of the blessings we’ve received and that we will receive, being grateful for this wonderful opportunity. This is a time to bask in the light and warm love of our God. It’s not a time to be chatting up the neighbor next to us. There’s plenty of time for that after Mass, outside the church.

Practices to Make Our Mass Participation More Sacred

We might want to consider the following basic practices to help us get more out of Mass:

  1. Prayerfully read the scripture passages for the upcoming Sunday Mass throughout the week, meditating on them and what they say to you.
  2. As you prepare to leave home for Mass, place yourself in the presence of God and ask for the graces you need to be attentive to Him at Mass.
  3. Arrive 15 minutes early for Mass so you can quiet your mind and focus on God. Thank Him for the opportunity to be there; ask Him for the grace to participate worthily, attentively and devoutly.
  4. Prior to the readings and homily at Mass, ask Him to open the ears of your heart and let His holy Word puncture and soak into your heart and soul.
  5. At the offertory, offer up all you are and have to Him, united to Jesus crucified, for His greater glory.
  6. Before receiving Communion, ask the Blessed Mother to make room in your heart for His merciful love.
  7. After Communion, give thanks and praise to Jesus for allowing you to receive Him and be one with Him.
  8. Spend a few moments in silent prayer after Mass ends, in gratitude and openness to Him.

We all have only a short time here on earth, and limited opportunities to spend time with Jesus in the sacrifice of the Mass. We ought to guard this time with Him zealously. Let’s ask Him to help us get the most out of our time with Him. We can always catch up with our friends and relatives after Mass is over–meanwhile, let’s give ourselves 100% to Him during Mass.

Resources on the Mass

There are a variety of really good books on the Mass that can help us get develop a deeper understanding of, and devotion to, the Mass. We ought to take advantage of one or more of them for some spiritual enlightenment. Following are a few that I like:

(The last two are written on the Tridentine Mass, but they may be informative, nonetheless, for those of us who attend the Novus Ordo Mass.)

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14 thoughts on “Sacred Mass: Does Our Behavior Reflect the Sanctity?”

  1. I have frequently observed at sporting events in the U.S. that before the game begins the crowd stands, men remove their hats, everyone goes silent and looks toward the American flag, and someone sings the national anthem. Almost never do people in the crowd disrespect the moment and bother others with rude behavior. If they do they are clearly told to behave by those around them. I am not making an argument for having the national anthem at sporting events, or that the “sacredness” of it corresponds to the celebration of Mass, but it begs some serious questions:

    Why is it so clear to the crowds at sporting events that venerating the flag with proper behavior is the right thing to do (and they all know this, and parents train their children), and yet to so many Catholics proper behavior (and dress, etc.) at Holy Mass before the Real Presence is not so obvious?

    Was it always this way, or is this far more common with the new Mass (the Novus Ordo Mass that we all know) than with the old tridentine Mass?

    Does the new Mass (really no longer all that new — we have been with it long enough to take stock of its nature and effects), in its structure, prayers, “style,” etc, lead parishioners (perhaps subconsciously) in such a way as to behave and dress with less reverence and propriety than is proper to the Mass?

    Consider: Like some churches feel more sacred because of their architectural design than others, does the design of the new Mass feel less sacred than the old, and thus people feel less need to treat it as sacred?

    I am not a traditionalist (not yet at least), but I have come to believe these questions, and others like them, are worthy of serious consideration, perhaps more than many Catholics feel comfortable to ask. We should not be afraid to ask them.

    1. You can find video clips from the late 1960’s showing men wearing dress shirts and ties to baseball games.

      The designated hitter was introduced in 1973. Now, no one “dresses up” for a ball game.

      To claim cause-and-effect in this case, makes about as much sense as your argument does.

    2. Dom Cingoranelli

      Thanks for your thoughts. I believe, with many others, that the architecture does make a difference. One of the “modern” churches in our diocese is set up in the round. It has the feel of a small, enclosed stadium, which I think contributes to the buzz instead of sacred silence before Mass.

      As to dress at Mass, I don’t go often to the Latin Mass up the road from us, but the people there do tend to dress more formally than at the NO Masses, typically. And there is a more respectful atmosphere there.

  2. I imagine that everyone reading this site would agree with the concepts in this article and probably already follows the practices suggested, more or less.

    But so what? The message is not reaching those need to hear it. In my area, priests are copying excerpts from articles such as this – word for word – into their parish bulletins. (And giving full credit to the original author – perhaps for plausible deniability on their part.) But bulletins get read (maybe), discarded, and quickly forgotten.

    One parish has tried to reduce pre-mass chatter. First they played chant music over the speakers. That lasted about two weeks. Then they tried forcing everyone to say a pre-mass rosary. Again, about two weeks. Finally a bulletin message which has had no effect at all.

    Until a pastor gets the courage to go to the pulpit before mass and put the hammer down, nothing will change. And maybe not even then.

    1. Dom Cingoranelli

      What we’ve done at one of our Sunday Masses is have a few designated Knights of Columbus take turns leading the Rosary. Rosary starts at 9:05 for 9:30 a.m. Mass. This Mass was the rowdiest, with lots of loud kibitzing, but now with the Rosary, it’s 180 degrees different.

      If laity will volunteer to lead the Rosary at just one Mass a weekend, it will make a difference, and I suspect most priests would support it–a big thing is to get it started in time to finish on time and not hold up the Mass.

    2. I don’t agree with the idea. When my parish did it, my initial reaction was to wonder if someone prominent in the parish had died. The ushers claimed not to know why it was being done. To me it just seemed like creating “noise” to suppress the general chatter, instead of making a pulpit announcement telling people to “shut up” or even to tap people on the shoulder individually and ask them to be quiet. Which no one has the guts to do.

    3. Dom Cingoranelli

      You can disagree all you want – that is clearly your prerogative. The facts are as I stated with respect to the Mass where we pray the Rosary–that is not an opinion. Praying the Holy Rosary is never “noise” and the effect of doing so, through the Blessed Mother’s intercession is powerful. Announcements from the priest, in the bulletin, etc. as to the need to be quiet in the church may help, if made, but I will tell you that our experience is that the Rosary does indeed help. And, to boot, we’re doing as Our Lady requested – praying the Rosary for her intentions and ours. Now, in my opinion, that’s a pretty good deal. Thanks for weighing in.

  3. retiredconservative

    Thank you. I’m tempted to print off several hundred copies of this article and to slip them next to the weekly bulletin.

  4. Pingback: FRIDAY MORNING EDITION – Big Pulpit

  5. Good article and reminder for many .

    Encouraging Adoration by staying in church ( thus near the tabernacle ) for awhile after the Holy Mass can help to foster the attitude of reverence too .

    Hope that the book ‘In Sinu Jesu ‘ –

    might encourage same, if such is allowed by The Church, in places such as nursing homes where ministers of communion can be instrumental , to allow small groups of families to be present along with the residents , in praise and worship , adoration , even some cultural activities with the younger ones.

    God bless .

    1. Dom Cingoranelli

      Thanks, Maria. I think that Mass is celebrated periodically at some of our local nursing homes–not sure how many family members show up for it when it is celebrated, though.

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