The Huntington Campaign
Catholic Mass Information
Information for Non-Catholics Attending Catholic Mass (All are Welcome!)
About three or four times a year, I preside over Mass in a Catholic church in the Savannah area (i.e., this means as a priest conducting the Catholic form of a worship service). In the past, some of you have expressed a desire to attend such Masses and have asked for advanced notice of when I will be doing them. As a side note to others, keep in mind I fully understand that spirituality and religion is very personal and there is absolutely no expectation on my end of things for any of you to be in a Savannah church when I happen to be there. Nevertheless, everyone is, of course, welcome to come.
In light of all this, I thought it would be good to list some brief instructions about what to do in these situations. After all, Catholic Mass is different from that of many other churches, and a visitor may be worried about looking out-of-place and not knowing what to do. Therefore, here are some simple points to follow (and they are applicable regardless of what Catholic church one happens to walk into around the world):
1) How Long is a Mass? Catholic Mass on a Saturday evening or on a Sunday lasts approximately one hour (or, in some places, a little over an hour). A Saturday evening Mass is called a “Vigil Mass” meaning that it is already an observance of the following Sunday.
2) Is there any preaching? Yes. The Mass begins with readings from the Bible, after which either the priest or deacon preaches (for about 10 to 15 minutes). I like to preach, but sometimes I fill in a church when it is a deacon’s turn to do this, and I sometimes do not know the arrangement until I arrive. Therefore, know that if you come to a Mass, there is no guarantee you will get to hear me preach. In terms of frequency, I would say that I preach nine out of ten times when covering a Mass in Savannah.
3) Whether to Sit, Stand or Kneel: A notable amount of sitting, standing and kneeling happens throughout the Mass. Just select an area where you can observe other members of the congregation and do what they do. The position of kneeling is considered an act of worship directed towards the Eucharist (i.e., the consecrated Bread & Wine which we believe to be the actual divine presence of Christ) so a non-Catholic who feels uncomfortable with such a display should feel free to simply sit during such periods. The same goes for anyone who is suffering from knee problems. Of course, worshiping is ultimately an act of the will, so kneeling does not automatically signify a person’s inner disposition.
4) The Exchange of Peace: At one point in the Mass, a priest or deacon will invite everyone to give each other a “sign of peace” (or words to that effect). At this time, just shake hands with the people next to you and say, “Peace be with you.” Other people may use different words, but “Peace be with you” is the standard expression. Husbands and wives sometimes exchange a kiss instead, and family & friends may decide to exchange hugs; it’s a personal preference. Just keep things brief and respectful (i.e., don’t start twerking).
5) What about receiving Communion? Non-Catholics are welcome to attend Catholic Mass and do everything alongside everyone else, with the sole exception of the reception of Communion (i.e., when people line up to consume the consecrated Bread & Wine). This is reserved for Catholics who have been instructed in the sacraments and feel properly prepared (from a spiritual standpoint) to receive Communion. I know this may make us sound a bit elitist, but it is the way that it has been done for 2000 years (and the Eastern Orthodox Christians and Oriental Orthodox Christians have similar policies).
During Communion time, all others may receive a blessing from the priest, deacon or minister instead of Communion. This is done by joining the line with everyone else and simply crossing ones arms over ones chest. This body language instructs the person distributing Communion to give a blessing (in the name of the Holy Trinity) instead. Hence, the person does not even have to say anything. After this, the person should simply skip the second Communion line (i.e., the line going to a cup where the consecrated Wine is provided, which we call the Precious Blood) and return to the pews.
Note that most churches have multiple Communion lines for the sake of expediency. Just go into the line that the others in your area of the pews are going into (i.e., follow those who appear to know the routine in that particular church).
Another option for someone who is not receiving Communion (for whatever reason) is to simply remain quietly in the pews during Communion time. You will notice a number of people doing this.
If anyone has any questions, please feel free to let me know.
Peace & Goodness,