The Entrance Chant

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). Today, we transition from preparing for Mass to the actual celebration of Mass itself. Now, the Catholic Mass is separated into four parts: The Introductory Rites, The Liturgy of the Word, The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and The Concluding Rites. Today, we start the Introductory Rites.

What:

We stand. The music is played to accompany the Procession (next post’s topic). You may1 join in singing the entrance chant.

Why:

Why Introductory Rites?

Their purpose is to ensure that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves properly to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 46

Why Stand?

Standing is a Sign of Prayer and attention to someone or something important. (e.g. Nehemiah 8:4-5)

Here, we show this sign of Respect for the Priest as God’s minister, acting in the Person of Christ.

Why Chant?

Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 47

Going Deeper:

Don’t just sing the song. Concentrate on how the words are a prayer; lift them up to God; picture yourself singing these words to God in Heaven.

He who sings well prays twice.

St. Augustine

What About You?

  • How has the singing the Entrance Chant helped you enter into the Mass and dispose you to receive the graces available?
  • Do you have any pointers for better disposing yourself to receive graces by singing the Entrance Chant?

Footnotes

  1. N.B. Not all songs are equal. Some do a great job of directing us to God both by the words and by the melody. Officially, the Church’s music is Gregorian Chant, but other types of song have been allowed. I encourage you to sing, but if you find that a particular song doesn’t glorify God well, you don’t have to sing it.

Pray to Prepare for Mass

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What

Please find a place to sit, reflect, and prepare yourself for the celebration.

Why

Before Mass begins, we spend time in quiet preparation, focusing on God, asking for His help to participate in the Mass well, and bringing to mind the prayers we want to unite with this Mass.

It is not a moment for chit-chat. It is a moment of silence for preparing ourselves for dialogue, a time for the heart to collect itself in order to prepare for the encounter with Jesus . . . silence is so important.

Pope Francis. Wednesday Audience. Nov. 15, 2017

Going Deeper

Many saints have written prayers in preparation for Mass. These can be guides to deepen your pre-Mass preparatory prayers. Here are a couple of the most famous examples:

Lord, Jesus Christ, I approach your banquet table in fear and trembling, for I am a sinner, and dare not rely on my own worth but only on your goodness and mercy. I am defiled by many sins in body and soul, and by my unguarded thoughts and words. Gracious God of majesty and awe, I seek your protection, I look for your healing, poor troubled sinner that I am, I appeal to you, the fountain of all mercy. I cannot bear your judgment, but I trust in your salvation. Lord, I show my wounds to you and uncover my shame before you. I know my sins are many and great, and they fill me with fear, but I hope in your mercies, for they cannot be numbered. Lord Jesus Christ, eternal King, God and man, crucified for mankind, look upon me with mercy and hear my prayer, for I trust in you. Have mercy on me, full of sorrow and sin, for the depth of your compassion never ends. Praise to you, saving sacrifice, offered on the wood of the cross for me and for all mankind. Praise to the noble and precious blood, flowing from the wounds of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world. Remember, Lord, your creature, whom you have redeemed with your blood. I repent my sins, and I long to put right what I have done. Merciful Father, take away all my offenses and sins; purify me in body and soul, and make me worthy to taste the holy of holies. May your body and blood, which I intend to receive, although I am unworthy, be for me the remission of my sins, the washing away of my guilt, the end of my evil thoughts, and the rebirth of my better instincts. May it incite me to do the works pleasing to you and profitable to my health in body and soul, and be a firm defense against the wiles of my enemies.

Amen.

St. Ambrose

Almighty and everlasting God, behold I come to the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: I come as one infirm to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of everlasting brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore I implore the abundance of Thy measureless bounty that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to heal my infirmity, wash my uncleanness, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty and clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, with such sorrow and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention as may be profitable to my soul’s salvation. Grant unto me, I pray, the grace of receiving not only the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, but also the grace and power of the Sacrament. O most gracious God, grant me so to receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, which He took from the Virgin Mary, as to merit to be incorporated into His mystical Body, and to be numbered amongst His members. O most loving Father, give me grace to behold forever Thy beloved Son with His face at last unveiled, whom I now purpose to receive under the sacramental veil here below.

Amen.

St. Thomas Aquinas

What About You?

  • Do you have a favorite pre-Mass prayer?
  • Do you have any comments or stories about how praying before Mass has helped dispose you to better participate in the Mass?

The Nave (and Holy Quiet)

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Once we enter the body of the church (the nave; where the pews are), we remain quiet.

Before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence 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 of the Mass in a devout and fitting manner.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) 45

Why:

We have left the outside world, transitioned through the narthex, and have now entered a place for prayer. Here, we begin to observe “holy quiet,” a respectful silence because we are in the Presence of Jesus (reserved in the tabernacle). This also better allows us (and those around us) to focus on praying in preparation for what we are about to do.

The Body and Blood of Christ present under the appearances of bread and wine are treated with the greatest reverence both during and after the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. Mysterium Fidei, nos. 56-61). For example, the tabernacle in which the consecrated bread is reserved is placed “in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer” ( Code of Canon Law, Can. 938, §2). According to the tradition of the Latin Church, one should genuflect in the presence of the tabernacle containing the reserved sacrament. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the traditional practice is to make the sign of the cross and to bow profoundly. The liturgical gestures from both traditions reflect reverence, respect, and adoration. It is appropriate for the members of the assembly to greet each other in the gathering space of the church (that is, the vestibule or narthex), but it is not appropriate to speak in loud or boisterous tones in the body of the church (that is, the nave) because of the presence of Christ in the tabernacle.

The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions and Answers (USCCB, 2001) #9

Going Deeper:

Offer a prayer as you enter the Nave and quiet yourself. Among other things, you can:

  • Tell God that you dedicate this time to Him
  • Make acts of adoration (small prayers of worship) to God
  • Make small prayers about honoring God’s house and the community He has gathered

Zeal for your house will consume me.

John 2:17 (see also Psalm 69:9)

Take a minute to notice the architecture of the church building.

The word “Nave” has the same root as “navy.” The Church has often been likened to a boat (commonly called the “Barque of Peter”). You might notice that this part of many churches might look like the inside of a ship—the pews arranged like benches for rowing. You can imagine that you are entering a great warship and are about to set off in battle against the devil’s forces and/or you can imagine how you are in this “ship” (this church building) while you take part in the great ship of the Church (the Body of Christ), which will lead us to the safe shores of Heaven as the ark preserved Noah and his family from the flood and landed them safely on Mt. Ararat.

The Church is the successor of the temple, the place of right praise—the Biblical vision is that salvation is a cosmic reality—God’s trying to save all of His creation. That’s the Noah story. The ark is like a floating temple, so it’s a little microcosm of the right order of things, led by a family that’s properly ordered. And what are they concerned about? The animals, the life that God created. That’s why the ark becomes a symbol of the Church. So all the churches are meant to look like ships… They’re meant to be a little floating temple where creation is honored and preserved.

Baron, Bishop Robert. Interview with Jordan Peterson: https://www.jordanbpeterson.com/podcast/s2-e14-bishop-barron-catholicism-and-the-modern-age/

In the same way, the nave is also symbolic of the mother’s womb, in which pilgrims are kept in a nurturing environment that helps them to develop, mature, and grow toward their eternal des tination with God in the heavenly kingdom. The Church, in fact, has long been referred to as Mater Ecclesia, Mother Church, mother of all. The church building, then, is a physical representa tion of the maternal place on earth, where the pilgrim goes so as no longer to feel a foreigner, where he goes for sanctuary. It’s a sa cred place conducive to prayer and worship.

The Fathers of the Church often spoke of the maternity of the Church, and church builders have long manifested this maternal aspect of the Church in her sacred structures. Thus, the church building is also seen as a representation of Mary, who nurtured in her womb and brought forth the incarnate Son…

Another aspect of the nave is that it’s always directed toward the sanctuary, at the head of the building. Indeed the nave is also a representation of the body at the service of the head, just as the Body of Christ is at the service of Christ the Head…

The layout and various artistic and architectural elements that the nave comprises help to reflect Christ’s journey from Galile to Jerusalem, that same journey that plays out during the Mass.

Ugly as Sin, Michael Rose, 54-56

Silence is Golden

Growing up, I attended a parish where it was common for some people to remain in the nave after Mass and talk instead of moving to the narthex or parish hall. I never thought about it because that was my normal experience. In my twenties, I started attending a different parish, where the priest had cultivated a deep respect for Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist. He tried to keep the doors between the nave and narthex closed, he led the congregation in observing holy quiet, and he arranged the architecture of the church in such a way that I was moved to silence by the beauty of the place. He even politely asked me once to move a more boisterous conversation from the narthex to the parish hall to respect the people still in the nave. That respect really made an impact on me as soon as I walked into the nave. This made me deepen my respect for what goes on in that building and helped me to enrich my participation in the Mass. The change between those two atmospheres made a huge impact on me and set me on this road of wanting to get more and more out of Mass and help others to do the same.

What About You?

  • Have you ever been awed to silence by walking into a beautiful church?
  • Have you experienced the difference between a parish with a culture of silence in the nave versus one where the nave is treated more casually?
  • Do you have any stories of experiencing the power of silence in a church full of people?

Holy Water

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

When entering the church, bless yourself by dipping your hand in the provided holy water, making the sign of the cross1, and praying: “In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”2

Why:

A holy water blessing is done while entering the church (the building) to remind you of your Baptism—your entrance into the Church (the family of God, the Mystical Body of Christ).

The prayer “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is a way of initiating a dedicated time for God. Your words proclaim that you are doing this in God’s name—doing it for God, not just for yourself. Those words also echo Jesus’ command when He told the disciples to Baptize all nations, so they can remind that your Baptism is part of a chain of Baptisms leading back to Jesus.

Holy water is a sacramental. Sacramentals dispose us to better receive the graces God offers us. Holy water, in particular, is also known for driving away demons, and strengthening against temptations, so this is a great primer to help you pray better during the Mass.

Nothing drives away the devil faster than holy water.

St. Teresa of Avila

Going Deeper:

Don’t rush this practice. It can be very tempting to fall into a robotic motion with this–simply getting your hand wet and waving it around your body (1, 2, 3, 4). While this could possibly give you some spiritual benefit, you will get much more from focusing on:

  • Remembering what your Baptism did (see CCC 1262 – 1274):
    • Washed away original sin (inherited from Adam and Eve) and any actual sins you had committed up to that point
    • Initiated your membership into the Church, giving you access to the other Sacraments
    • Made you a new creature (many baptismal fonts are 8-sided as a representation of how Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated a new creation–the 8th day of creation)
      • Made you a son/daughter of God and co-heir with Christ
      • Gave you Sanctifying Grace (God’s life in you)
    • United you to all other members of the Church
    • Gave you a share in Jesus’ priestly, prophetic, and royal mission.
      • Priestly – worship God through the offering of the Mass
      • Prophetic – Spread God’s Truths
      • Royal – Enjoy the dignity of God’s family and serve other people
  • The Cross
    • Jesus used the cross to conquer sin and death and give us the Church and Sacraments
    • Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s great sign of His love for us
  • The Words
    • Focus on each person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    • Dedicate this time to God
    • Praying a Sign of the Cross well can gain you an indulgence

Some people will take their extra holy water that is left over on their fingers and sprinkle it on the ground as a prayer for the souls in Purgatory. St. John Macias was known for doing so whole praying: “By this holy water and by Thy precious blood, wash away all my sin, O Lord, and relieve the souls in purgatory,” after which he would make the sign of the cross.

What About You?

  • Do you know any stories that show effects of holy water?
  • How has holy water and/or reflecting on your entrance into the Church via Baptism as you enter the church building prepared you for Mass?

Footnotes

  1.  Marking ourselves with the sign of the cross:

    And the LORD said to him, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” (Ezekiel 9:4)

    “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.” (Revelation 7:3)

    Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)
  2.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)

Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c5/Holy_Water_Font.jpg/1920px-Holy_Water_Font.jpg

The Church Facade & Narthex

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

The front outside wall of the church (or any building) is called its facade. Take note of its architecture as you approach and enter.

The narthex (the gathering space or vestibule) is the lobby-like section of the church that is at the entrance.

If there is a procession for Mass, it will usually begin here.

Greet other people who are entering the church.

Prepare to enter the nave (where the pews are).

Why:

If well designed, a church facade tells the world outside what type of building this is, how special it is, and what goes on inside. It should lift the passers-by’s hearts and minds to God and invite them to “come and see.” (John 1:39)

The façade acts as a “vessel of meaning” in the most straight forward of ways: it’s the foreword of a book as much as it’s a grand summa – a foreword to the Catholic Liturgy that takes place inside, a prelude to the great truths of the Faith, and a welcoming invitation to the maternal sanctuary, simultaneously, it’s a summary of the Faith in its totality (its catholicity).

Rose, Michael. Ugly As Sin. 44

The main doors of the church tend to be one of the most ornate parts of the facade. This is partly because they are the most functional part (where we enter), but they double as a representation of the gates of Heaven. The person approaching a church is approaching God and having crossed its threshold, has made a definitive shift in the transition from the secular to the sacred.

If only for practical purposes, the portal, made up of the architectural elements surrounding the door, is of greatest importance in the façade. For this is the door to the domus Dei [house of God], to the porta coeli [gate of Heaven]. It’s the means through which our pilgrim reaches the threshold of God’s house. Through the centuries, architects and church artists have responded to the obvious by paying particularly close attention to the design of the elements that surround the openings into the church. These are often elaborately treated with carved ornaments of saints, kings, men, animals, or foliage, depending on the popular symbols and images employed during different ages.

Ibid. 46

In order to emphasize the church as a place of prayer, we section off the main prayer areas (the Nave and Sanctuary) from social places (Narthex, Parish Hall, etc.). This is similar to how the Jewish Temple was laid out. The holiest place is in an inner room. There are different levels as you approach that room.

This is no mere foyer, mudroom, or lobby; it’s primarily the final transitional space from the outside world (the profane and temporal) to the church’s interior (the sacred and eternal). It’s here where our pilgrim will first smell lingering incense and the burning wax of vigil candles. It’s here where he’ll be given a hint of where he’s headed. Thus, it’s a dimly lit place decorated modestly with religious art, perhaps a crucifix hanging on the wall, with a prie-dieu beneath it. It’s the first devotional space of God’s house.

In addition to its primary function as a transitional space, the narthex serves a practical liturgical function: providing a place for space, the processions to assemble. Thus, the narthex is known as the “galilee,” since the procession from narthex to altar symbolizes Christ’s journey from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Crucifixion. It isn’t uncommon to see a wide red carpet beneath the central door to the nave leading down the central aisle up to the altar, a reminder of the symbolic road our Savior walked to redeem the world.

Ibid. 50

Going Deeper:

This time of entering the church is a transition from your ordinary life to a time reserved for the worship of God. As you make that move from the secular to the sacred, allow it to move your mind and heart. Allow yourself to let go of your to-do list for this time. In fact, you are stepping outside of time and into a foretaste of eternity. Perhaps now is a good time to reflect on the following Psalm:

For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Psalm 84:10

In this time of transition, think about how our lives are supposed to be on a similar path from worldliness to holiness. Ask God to help you in that growth and to help you remain open to the graces He wants to give you in this Mass.

While there is usually more time for this after Mass, entering the church can be a time to greet others who are doing the same. Ask God to help you build relationships with other people at your parish, so you can push each other on in greater holiness. 

Another thing you can do at this time is to look for new people, welcome them, and offer to help them if they want to know more about the Mass or the Catholic Church. On any given Sunday, you might have visitors. The Mass can be very intimidating and/or confusing to a newcomer. Offering yourself as a seasoned guide can make their experience much better.

Don’t take too much time, though. You want to enter into the church proper with enough time to pray to prepare yourself for the great act of worship in which you are about to participate. (More on that later.)

What About You?

  • What do you do to transition your mind and heart to prepare for Mass?
  • Do you have any stories of a particularly beautiful church facade that inspired you?
  • Is there anything about the design of a church facade and narthex that helps you make the transition from ordinary life to time set aside for God?

Travel to a Catholic Church

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Join the rest of your community at a Catholic church—a holy site that is consecrated (i.e. blessed and set aside) for Mass and other prayers.

Why:

Just as God instructed the Jews to gather at one spot (the Tabernacle, later the Temple) to worship Him, so Jesus led the Apostles to gather the community to worship God together in an official public ceremony (“liturgy”) using a building dedicated solely to the worship of God.

Going Deeper:

While you’re at Mass, you will be taken outside of time and made present at Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. As you travel to Mass, dedicate that time to God in prayer:

  • Consider Jesus as He “set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) or you might consider the steps that led Jesus to Golgotha (AKA: the Way [or the “Stations”] of the Cross).
  • While traveling to Sunday Mass, our family reads that day’s meditations from Fr. Francis Fernandez’s In Conversation With God. I have found this to be a great way to set my mind on the Lord and the theme of that day’s Mass and to prepare to delve more deeply into the readings and homily. Even on weekdays when I am not able to attend Mass, these reflections have been a great way of guiding my prayer.
  • At times we have listened to Praise and Worship music on the way to Mass. I know of other families who do this and it really helps them to prepare them as they travel.
  • Reflect on the Jewsh pilgrims of Jesus’ time who had to travel to the temple in Jerusalem in order to offer sacrifices to God.
    • Depending on where they lived, some had to travel great distances. Be thankful that Jesus’ sacrifice changed that and allowed Mass to be celebrated in any city of the world.
    • They had particular Psalms they prayed at specific points of the journey.

Try to arrive early so you have time to quiet your mind and pray to prepare yourself to properly participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. [More on this in a future post.]

Making the Trek for Grace

This whole series is about trying to maximize your disposal to the graces available in the Catholic Mass. As I’ve mentioned before, different parishes will offer the Mass in different ways (some of them are legitimate options that are within the laws of the Church; some are not). Those variances can be better or worse at helping you be disposed to focus on God and receive as many graces as possible.

When participating at Mass in various Catholic churches, take note of how well any of the following things take you out of ordinary life, point you to the majesty of God, and help you focus on participating in co-offering Jesus’ Sacrifice to God the Father along with the priest:

  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Music
  • Vestments
  • Priest’s Demeanor & Homilies
  • Reverence
  • etc.

In the past, I’ve found that the closest Catholic church to me wasn’t always the one that chose the best options for disposing people to receive grace, so, at various times in my life, I’ve had to drive to parishes that weren’t the closest ones to me. Sometimes there were even 4 or 5 others I’d pass up to attend a parish that was really good at disposing me to grace. At different times in my life, as I’ve lived in different places across the country, my travel time to Mass has varied from across the street to 45 minutes away.

Your travel to Mass might be longer or shorter, but do what you can en route to focus your mind and heart as you go.

What About You?

  • Have you found anything particular that helps you prepare for Mass as you travel there?
  • How has dedicating your travel time helped you dispose your heart to more deeply participate in Mass and receive the graces God is offering you?
  • Do you have any stories about traveling to Mass?

Prayer Intentions

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Catholics bring with them to Mass particular things about which they want to pray.

Why:

Mass is the greatest form of prayer. It is the best time to bring with us things about which we want to pray.

Remember, Mass is the re-offering of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Part of the reason He gave it to us is that He wants us to unite our prayers to His sacrifice, thus making them more powerful.

Going Deeper:

Reflect on the different types of prayer:

  • Adoration & Praise – worshipping God as God & acknowledging things that are great about Him
  • Contrition – expressing sorrow for sins
  • Thanksgiving – expressing gratitude for what God has done for you
  • Intercession – asking God for help for others
  • Petition – asking God for help

Think about all the different areas of your life. He wants you to bring everything to Him.

For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [1 Pt 2:5] Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.

Lumen Gentium 34

Other ideas for intentions include:

  • What makes you anxious?
  • What is exciting in your life?
  • What questions do you have?
  • For what are you hoping?

Ask other people if you can pray for them and what you can pray for. Bring those intentions, too. 

Utilizing Social Media

On most Saturdays, my wife and I reach out to friends via Facebook, stating: “Like this post and we’ll pray for you by name at Mass tomorrow. Comment or send a personal message for particular intentions.

We’ve been doing this for a while now and people have come to expect our Saturday posts. I’ve gotten to know a lot more about friends’ lives.

Answered Prayers

Here are some examples from my life of the power of prayer. While they both were answered directly after prayers outside of Mass, we also had been praying for these things at Mass beforehand:

What About You?

  • How has bringing intentions to Mass with you changed your participation in the Mass?
  • Have you tried bringing to Mass a written list of things to pray about?
  • Do you have any stories about answered prayers?

Fast

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What

Except for water and medicine, Catholics must refrain from all food (including gum) and drinks for at least one hour before receiving Holy Communion (unless some physical/medical needs require otherwise). 

For many Masses, Communion is late enough to only require a 15-minute fast before Mass.

We may fast longer. The rule used to be fasting for three hours before Communion, and before that, the rule was fasting from midnight until Communion,1 which would “break fast” (hence the term “breakfast”). Some people choose to continue to offer the greater sacrifices that were previously required.

Why

Out of respect for Jesus (whom we’re about to receive into our bodies via Holy Communion), we both:

  1. make sure there is no regular food in our bodies so that only Jesus is present in our digestive systems (giving Him special treatment) and
  2. offer up the small sacrifice of our hunger as a preparation for getting to have God “enter under our roof.” (Matthew 8:8)

Remember that our salvation was won for us through an act of suffering. Our Savior wills for all men to be saved, but for certain souls, He wills that they come to Him through the prayers and sacrifices of others. That is what St. Paul means by stating:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.

Colossians 1:24

Whether we actively allow ourselves to suffer (e.g. fasting) or we passively receive unexpected suffering, it can be offered as a sacrifice to God, offering Him worship, thanksgiving, and praise, and pleading for our good and the good of others. This is called active or passive “mortification.”

Actively mortifying ourselves  (bodies and minds) also gets us in the habit of turning suffering into sacrifices, so that when faced with passive suffering, we’re more likely to see and use it as an opportunity to help more souls to go to Heaven.

Jesus also underlined the importance of fasting to improve the effectiveness of your prayers when He explained to the disciples that the demons they could not exorcise required prayer and fasting:

This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.

Mark 9:29

Going Deeper

Consciously offer the fast to God. Many times we fall into a rut of just happening to not eat during that time instead of intentionally sacrificing what food we could be eating. The more consciously we offer our pre-Communion fast to God, the more we dispose ourselves to receive the graces He is offering us at Mass.

For Parents

While children who aren’t receiving Holy Communion don’t need to fast, it’s a good practice to not give them food during the hour fast, so they get practice before being obliged to fast. Yes, this means no Cheerios during Mass. I know this can be a tempting way to pacify kids, but I think helping them to learn self-mastery is much better in the long run.

What About You?

  • In what ways have you noticed fasting affecting your disposition to receive grace (during Mass and/or at other times)?
  • In what ways have you noticed fasting affecting your dispotition to accept suffering and offer it as a sacrifice?
  • Do you have any special practices with regard to fasting?

Footnotes

  1. https://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2017/08/31/canon-law-changed-fasting-communion/

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We're in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.


What:

Go to bed early enough to be well-rested when you wake up on Sunday.

This might require giving up certain activities that would keep you up late on Saturday night.

Why:

You would get a good night’s sleep before a big interview, a big game, a big test, etc. Since Mass is the most important thing you will do in your whole life, even more so, you should try to be well-rested for Sunday mornings. The greater your mental clarity, the better you will be able to focus on and participate in the Mass. This will help you be disposed to receive the most graces, grow in holiness, draw closer in your relationship with God, and most fully live the life to which God is calling you.

Going Deeper:

Before going to bed, offer to God your sleep in preparation for Mass.

Also sacrifice to Him what you might otherwise be doing if you were to stay up. I’ve quoted Maria Trapp earlier posts from her chapter about Sundays. In it, she mentioned how Austrians of her time would specifically go to bed early to prepare for Sunday.

Saturday night is a quiet night. There are no parties. People stay at home, getting attuned to Sunday. They go to bed rather early.

Maria Trapp, Around the Year With the Trapp Family: The Labs Without A Sunday

She goes on to explain how she and her family came to realize how important these Saturday customs were as a preparation for Sunday. Later, she described her experience when they moved to America.

As we got more used to being in America and as our English progressed, we made a startling discovery Saturday night in America! It was so utterly different from what we were used to. Everybody seemed to be out. The stores were open until ten, and people went shopping. Practically everybody seemed to go to a show or a dance or a party on Saturday night. And finally we discovered the consequence of the American Saturday night: the American Sunday morning. Towns abandoned, streets empty, everybody sleeping until the last minute and then whizzing in his car around the corner to the eleven o’clock Sunday service.

Ibid

Fr. Mike Schmitz has a great video about getting enough sleep. In the video, he mentions that before going to bed, Pope St. John XXIII would pray an act of faith that by going to sleep at a reasonable time, he trusted God to provide for all the things he would have otherwise stayed up to try to work on. It was something like “Lord, it is your Church; You take care of it. I’m going to sleep.”

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

I remember, in my early young adult years, regularly staying up late on Saturday nights, trying to squeeze as much fun out of them as possible. I also remember (or perhaps don’t remember) many sleepy Sunday Masses.

The more I’ve come to understand the importance of Sunday Mass, the more I’ve been okay excusing myself from social events or other activities that would keep me up too late. The more I see the Mass as the most important part of my week, the more willing I am to sacrifice other activities so that I can better participate in Sunday Mass.

Put on Your Sunday Best

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We're in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Catholics try to wear their best clothes to Sunday Mass. Often they have special Sunday outfits.

On Sunday everyone puts on his finery. The Sunday dress is exactly what its name implies—clothing reserved to be worn only on Sunday. We may have one or the other “better dress” besides. We may have evening gowns, party dresses—but this one is our Sunday best, set aside for the day of the Lord. When we put it on, we invariably feel some of the Sunday spirit come over us.

von Trapp, Maria, Around the Year With the Trapp Family

While we do wear good clothes, we try not to wear “flashy” clothes, and we definitely avoid anything immodest.

Women may cover their heads at Mass with a hat or a mantilla, etc., but men may not.

Why:

Why Dress up for Mass?

Sunday Mass is a formal event. We are going to the King of Kings. We would dress up to see the president or the Pope. Even more so, we ought to dress up to visit God in His house.

Wearing your “Sunday best” shows a special honor for God, the Catholic Church, the Mass, and the specific place where you are worshipping. It also gives the other people who might see you a good example of how to show that respect.

We avoid any clothing that might draw attention to ourselves during Mass. For example, a nice suit is great Mass attire, but a tuxedo is over the top. It would draw too much attention to the wearer unless he is involved in the Mass (e.g. groom at a wedding Mass, Knight of Columbus color guard, etc.). I’ve seen young people attending Mass prior to a formal dance, dressed in their tuxes and dresses. This seemed to me to be an appropriate exception to not wearing flashy clothing to Mass, but I’m open to other opinions.

Study to be neat, and let nothing about you be slovenly or disorderly. It is an affront to those with whom you associate to be unsuitably dressed, but avoid all conceits, vanities, finery, and affectation. Adhere as far as possible to modesty and simplicity, which doubtless are the best ornaments of beauty and the best atonement for its deficiency.

St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, III.25

Modesty

A risque outfit is never appropriate in public, but it is especially inappropriate at Mass.

Modesty in dress and bodily adornments inclines a person to avoid not only whatever is offensive to others but whatever is not necessary.

Modern Catholic Dictionary: Modesty

Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

CCC 2521-2522

While Church is a good place to find a spouse, you will not attract the right kind of spouse by dressing immodestly.

Head Coverings

Hats off to the men

For men, wearing something on one’s head is traditionally a sign of position and authority. In times past men had different kinds of hats depending on what position they had in society. However, before God, we are all equal. To show this, men don’t wear hats in church (except for those involved in the Mass: during certain parts of the Mass, priests may wear a biretta, bishops wear a miter, Knights of Columbus might wear their regalia hats, etc., but they all take their hats off during the Eucharistic prayer). “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head…” (1 Corinthians 11:4)

Not too long ago, it was customary for a man to “doff his cap” (tip/lift his hat) as a “cultural expression of recognition, respect, gratitude or simple salutation and acknowledgment between two persons.” (See Wikipedia on Hat Tip”) A man removing his cap for Mass is doing the same for God’s presence in the church. Yes, God is present everywhere, but He is most especially present in the Eucharist (CCC 1373), so we men remove our hats as a sign of respect for the house in which His True Presence remains.

An A-Veil-Able Option

For women, wearing something on one’s head is a sign of humility. “Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head.” (1 Corinthians 11:5) In the past, it was mandatory for women to cover their heads in Mass. While it is not mentioned in the current Code of Canon Law, it is still a commendable practice. Many women wear a veil or hat as one more way of marking Mass time as special. (e.g. They don’t normally wear a veil, but they do for this special time in God’s house.) Veils can particularly also act as partial blinders (to keep out distractions and focus one on the Mass). Lastly, veils can also help keep other people’s attention on God by covering a woman’s hair, which can be a distraction because of its beauty.

A man removes his hat in Church to show those same signs of respect, gratitude, and submission to Almighty God. He recognizes that particularly in this place, God is present. Yes, he knows God is everywhere, but God is particularly present at Mass, most especially in the Eucharist. (see also CCC 1373)

Dressing for Daily Mass

Daily Mass is a different etiquette. Many people attending daily Mass are taking time out of their work and so will probably be dressed in their work clothes, tradesmen and businessmen alike. If a mechanic takes the time on his lunch break to participate in Mass, he probably doesn’t have much more time than it takes to clean his hands. I wouldn’t expect him to change for Mass.

In the Church, we have a concept of “progressive solemnity.” More or less: the higher the celebration, the fancier the Mass. On the highest days (Sundays and solemnities), we put out all the stops. On medium days (feasts), we have many extras, but not always all of them. On lower days (memorials, optional memorials, and weekdays) we tend to have more reserved celebrations. One simple example that many parishes so to express this is the number of candles lot at the altar. Six for high days, four for feasts, and two for lower days. We can reflect this idea in our choice of attire. Sunday best for Sundays and solemnities, next best outfits for feasts, and something nice for lower days.

Going Deeper:

Ask God to help you choose and/or acquire good clothes that will honor Him when you wear them to Mass.

Show intentionality by putting your clothes out the night before. You could even pray over your Sunday clothes and ask God’s blessing on them. I have not found an official Catholic prayer of this sort, but you can always ask God that through you wearing these special clothes, He might draw you and those around you closer to Himself.

As you get dressed, you might think of some of the scripture verses about being spiritually clothed:

  • “…clothed with power from on high” [in reference to the Holy Spirit] (Luke 24:49)
  • “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17)
  • “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)
  • “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Suiting Up:

Growing up, I attended a Catholic school with a dress code. What I wore to any given Sunday Mass wasn’t much different from what I wore to school. If you would have asked me, I would have been able to say that yes, the church building was a special place, but I had no idea how special of a place the church really was. Naturally, my choice of Mass attire didn’t really distinguish what I was doing at Sunday Mass from what I was doing the rest of the week.

As I grew in my understanding of what the Mass is, I wanted to find ways of consciously making Mass (especially Sunday Mass) extra special. I decided to start wearing some blazers I was given. Later, I had to purchase a suit as a groomsman in a wedding party. After that wedding, I wore that suit to almost every Sunday Mass. I eventually wore holes in the knees of the pants from kneeling in them so often. That simple act of changing my wardrobe to reflect the nature of the action in which I was taking part affected my experience of the Mass. Granted, it wasn’t a seismic shift, but it was, like many of these ideas, one extra piece contributing to an ever-opening disposition, allowing me to receive more and more grace.

What About You?

  • Do you have any tips for dressing up in your Sunday best for Church?
  • Do you have any stories about dressing up for Church?
  • How has dressing up affected your experience of Mass and/or recognition of the True Presence of God in the Eucharist?