When people think of Mass etiquette, probably what comes to mind most are the obvious: having cell phones turned off, no chewing gum, keeping quiet etc. While these are valid points to remember, Mass etiquette is not only a listing of “do's and dont’s” but an invitation to all who come to church to remember where they are and to act accordingly.
At this page, you will find the Mass etiquette broken down into the various categories of: Before Mass, During Mass, After Mass and Common Practices.
- Important Things to Remember
- Welcoming Others
- Promptness For Mass
- What to Wear and Not to Wear
- Non-Catholic Guests/Visitors
- Sacred Silence
- Bowing & Genuflecting
- State of Mortal Sin
- Receiving Communion
- After Receiving Communion
- The Mass is Holy
- Dress Appropriately (See “What to Wear and What Not To Wear”)
- Be On Time: It can be distracting when others arrive late at Mass. If you do arrive late, be thoughtful and considerate, by sitting or standing at the back so as not to disturb the Mass.
- Turn Cell Phones Off
- Sit Quietly: Once we have found a seat, we should sit or kneel to quietly pray, reflect or meditate. This is not a time to socialize with those who we know. If we must talk, it should be done very quietly and kept extremely brief. Respect must be shown for Christ, whose Eucharistic presence is amongst us in the tabernacle and for all our fellow parishioners.
- Stay Until Mass Is Over: Judas was the first to leave the first Mass at the Last Supper, let us not follow his footsteps. The Mass ends when the priest says, “The Mass has ended, go in peace,” after which we reply, “Thanks be to God.” It is proper for the congregation to remain in their pews until the completion of the recessional hymn. Respectfully waiting for the celebrant and those accompanying him to leave the Nave, is expected and only then do individuals begin to leave the pews. If an emergency or unforeseen or uncontrollable event should arise, every effort should be made to leave the Mass in a discreet manner, so as to not disrupt the Mass.
- Leaving The Church: As a matter of respect, leaving the Church does not mean the beginning of socialization and chatter. Out of reverence, we must always remember our Savior and Redeemer’s true presence, only a few feet away in the tabernacle. Leaving quietly is proper to our respect and reverence. There are those who desire to remain after Mass and continue with personal prayers and as such, the proper respect should be accorded to these individuals with our quiet conduct and considerate departure from the church.
- Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the Church, near the Church or by the entrance/exit areas. If you are a smoker and must smoke, please keep a significant distance from the church to ensure that no second hand smoke will enter the church itself.
- Keys and Other Personal Items: Prior to the entrance of the church, all keys and personal items should be dealt with. It is inappropriate to be dangling keys and making any type of noise with any personal items once inside the church.
Every effort should be made so that all who come to Mass feel welcome. We can begin this by not judging others who do not know or understand the proper attire and etiquette. Properly done, our behavior and disposition toward others should be respectful. It can be tempting to give others improper looks, appear uncomfortable in their presence and in general, display a lack of charity in attitude and action. Our approach when dealing with those who are new to the faith, visiting our parish or lacking in understanding should be one of providing an example for others. If we must speak in a corrective way, let it be loving and gentle.
Arriving to Church on time is important! Certainly, some things can not be helped or foreseen, that results in a late arrival. Every effort should be made to plan ahead for coming to Mass and to allow for some personal time, for prayer and adoration, to prepare for Mass.
Although children can be a little noisy at Mass, it is understandable that some level of noise will exist. If children become out of control, enough so to be disruptive and distractive to parishioners, then it would be appropriate for the child or children to be taken to another part of the church (chapel) or quiet room. An effort should be made by parents, in the home, to teach children the importance of the Mass and how best behavior and proper manners are expected. Parents should endeavor to discuss the “do’s and dont’s” in Church. For example, standing on the pews, chewing gum, eating, bringing toys, looking at parishioners in the other pews, screaming, running etc. Of course, infants and very young toddlers are exceptions to the rule!
As a sign of respect for our Savior and Redeemer, it is important that special consideration be made to attire. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.” (CCC, 1387)
Specifically, we should endeavor to be modest in dress, clean and decent. Immodest dress, especially for women, distracts others and could cause them to sin in thought. Cloths that draw attention to ourselves due to color, style or quality are not appropriate to wear at Mass. Wearing one’s best is always encouraged and certainly reflects the importance of the Mass and our respect for Christ.
- Shorts and Sweats: not appropriate
- Blue Jeans/Jeans: nice jeans, plain in style with no holes are permitted
- Ties and Jackets: for men, this is considered to be the mark of a “well dressed” man
- Head Coverings/Hats: not permitted with the only exception to certain ceremonies or organizations (eg. Knights Of Columbus)
- Special To Women: a dress or skirt is considered most appropriate, but with hemlines that cover the knees, shoulders should be covered and necklines modest. Tight fitting clothing should be avoided!
Any clothing that is revealing is never acceptable. Specific to each gender:
- Men: any type of shorts and tank tops
- Women: any clothing that bares midriffs or cleavage, mini skirts, sleeveless tops, tight clothing that accentuates body parts
Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation is necessary for all of us, especially so for those who are in the state of mortal sin and desiring to receive Communion at Mass.
Typically, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is made available before the Saturday Vigil Mass or any time during the week by appointment. If you are desirous of confessing your sins before a Mass, be conscious of others who wish to do likewise, especially if time is running out and there remains quite a few individuals who want to confess their sins. In such a scenario, simply state your sins, without explanation or added discussion as a courtesy to fellow parishioners. Then at some later point in time, you can schedule a confession appointment whereby time and other individual confessions are not restricting your need for an extended confession.
When in line to confess, keep a distance from the confessional that ensures privacy. After completing your confession, if there happens to be many people waiting to confess and time is limited, inform the priest as to how many people are waiting.
For further information on Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance, please see the following resources:
- St. Peter's Sacraments page | Penance and Reconciliation
- A Guide For Confession from Catholic Online
Non-Catholics that have been invited to attend the Mass should be provided with an explanation of the “do’s and don’ts” specifically with respect to their not being eligible to receive the Eucharist and what aspects of the Mass they can participate in.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that “sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times...Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” (45)
Sacred silence as a part of the celebration is to be observed at the designated times. The avoidance of unnecessary conversation should be maintained coupled with an attitude that the Church is a holy place. Every effort should be made to keep the atmosphere of the Church a quiet one. Keeping quiet is a must in a library, how much more so is it in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bows: one, a bow of the head and two, a bow of the body. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal section on Genuflection and Bows, provides guidelines for when a bow is to be made:
- Bow of the Head: A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
- Bow of the Body: A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Almighty God, cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (Lord God, we ask you to receive); in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . and became man); in the Roman Canon at the words Supplices te rogamus (Almighty God, we pray that your angel). The same kind of bow is made by the deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the priest bows slightly as he speaks the words of the Lord at the consecration.
Genuflecting is the bending of the right knee all the way to the ground. This signifies adoration and is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
The General Instructions of the Roman Missal states that genuflecting is made by the clergy, deacons and other ministers and the laity:
- Clergy: During Mass, three genuflections are made by the priest celebrant: namely, after the showing of the host, after the showing of the chalice, and before Communion.
- Priests, Deacons and Other Ministers: If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.
- Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles may bow their heads instead of genuflecting.
- Laity: Otherwise all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession.
Be seated at Mass in such a manner that it signifies attentive listening and readiness to be instructed. Sitting up straight, quietly and reverently is proper. Remember, that being in Church is not the same as sitting in one’s couch or living room lounge chair. One’s posture while sitting should be indicative of one’s intention to listen to scripture. This posture should reflect attentiveness and alertness.
There is a moral obligation by each Catholic to examine one’s conscience prior to arriving at Mass for the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. Special attention is drawn to those who are in a state of mortal sin, which does not permit them to receive Communion until after having received Confession. To learn more about mortal sin, please review the following resources:
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON - ARTICLE 8 SIN
- Sin In Various Categories from Catholic Online
All Catholics who are properly suited (those who have received their First Sacraments, who are not in a state of mortal sin and have fasted one hour prior to Mass) to receive Holy Communion may do so on their hand or tongue. The obligation to do so is once a year during the Easter Season.
When walking up to receive Communion, be conscious of what is happening and who you are about to receive. You are about to receive the Lord Himself. Be on guard for any lack of reverence.
After receiving Communion, keep a “custody of the eyes,” that is be conscious to not let your eyes wander around. Instead, it is proper to keep your focus in front of you, with you head toward the floor.
The traditional posture of walking with your hands together, either in prayer position with palms facing each other at chest level is certainly acceptable. Common is to simply keep hands held together at the waist level, with one hand overlapping the other.
A “custody of the eyes” is also important for those who are in the pews who have yet to join the Communion line. It is not proper to stare at those who have received Communion. The time of Communion is a very intimate, personal and for many an intense time. Respect and courtesy should be forthcoming.
Upon returning to the pews, kneeling in prayer is considered appropriate. If you have been standing at Mass, standing and prayer is acceptable under such circumstances. If for some reason you can not kneel, sitting in silent will suffice.
It is important to remember that when receiving Communion, we are receiving Christ, therefore, be on guard against any lack of reverence.
Mass ends only when the celebrant states, “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” and the congregation replies, “Thanks be to God.” If there is a recessional hymn, it is most polite to stay in the pew until the hymn is completed. If there is no hymn, the proper order of departure from the Mass first allows for the celebrant, concelebrant and assistances to descend from the Altar and proceed down the middle of the nave. It is only then, does the congregation begin to leave, starting with those in the front pews and followed by others in the successive pews. This order is important because upon leaving the pew, we are required to genuflect in the direction of the location of the tabernacle, where Christ’s true presence remains always. When one leaves the pew, one should not be confronted with people walking toward one as one genuflects!
For reasons which are not related to the historically rooted purpose of blessing oneself upon entering the Church, some parishioners sign themselves with Holy Water upon exiting the Church. It is fine to do this in terms of one’s piety, but it is not required that one do so. The blessing with Holy Water is for upon the entering of the Church, not the exiting.
Christ’s true presence remains in the tabernacle always and as a sign of fidelity and respect to our Savior and Redeemer, after Mass has ended, we should endeavor to leave the church in a quiet and reverent manner. This should also been done as a courtesy to those who have remained after Mass to pray!
Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of Saint John, stated “The sign of the cross is a trophy raised against the power of the prince of this world; when he sees it, he is afraid; when he even hears of it, he is filled with terror.” The sign of the cross is our hope, our salvation therefore, let us make the sign of the cross in a purposeful and meaningful way.
When making the sign of the cross, ensure that you are attentive to the act. Do it carefully, deliberately and with reverence. When we cross ourselves, instead of a small embarrassed, cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, make a large measured sign, one that extends from the forehead to the naval, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it envelopes you.
Making the sign of peace should be done without any undo noise or commotion. The celebrant, as the guardian of the Eucharist, does not leave the altar and he does not shake hands as shaking hands may contaminate the Eucharist species.
Under normal circumstances, the congregation is permitted shake hands, make a sign of peace or simply say, “peace be with you.” There may be special circumstances when physical contact of hands is discouraged, as was the case with the recent H1N1 Influenza virus.