So I when to Mass last Sunday, and coming from a low church Anabaptist background, it was really stressful for me as I for 90% of the service I had no clue what was going on and what I would expect to be doing. I stood when everyone stood, kneeled when everyone kneeled, and kind of mumbled faintly when everyone was reciting stuff, but the only time I felt like I knew completely what was going on and what was expected of me was during the Collect at the beginning and the sign of peace. No I didn’t take communion. I was a little bit weirded out by people constantly crossing themselves or kneeling before getting in the pews. I would like to go again so I can get a sense of what I actually think of the service without freaking out about what’s going on, and don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. Any advice?
If it fits into your schedule you may want to try to go to a morning Mass during the week and sit in the back. There is way less people (sometimes as few as 20 or 30 people depending on the size of the parish) and you will still have to sortof stand when they stand and kneel when they kneel but if you are in the back, you probably won’t stand out. The daily Masses are quite a bit shorter, usually too, but follow the same pattern. And don’t worry, what you have described above is common for people who are not used to the Mass. Oh, and if you grab a missal (basically prayer books you can find in the pews) you can follow along with almost all of the parts of the Mass…the readings are in there, the responses the congregation makes, the Eucharistic prayers, etc.
God bless you.
Yeah. I’ve been there. It just takes a while to learn all the tricks. I used to just sit at the very back and watch.
You will experience quite a lot of culture shock, so give yourself lots and lots of time to get used to it. You are literally learning a new language and way of thinking.
The Mass happens in four distinct movements - the Introductory Rite, which begins with the Sign of the Cross and ends with the Collect. Next is the Liturgy of the Word, which consists of a reading from the Old Testament, a sung Psalm (verses from one of the Psalms of the Old Testament set to music - typically some form of chant, but often there are modern settings used as well), a reading from the Epistles, and a reading from the Gospel. We stand for the Gospel, and you will notice people making a small cross on their forehead, lips, and heart to signify that they are welcoming the message of the Gospel into their minds, on to their lips, and into their hearts. The Gospel is followed by a short homily, and then the Creed (normally this would be the Nicene Creed, although if there are a lot of children present the Presider may choose to use the Apostles’ Creed instead) and the Prayers of the Faithful.
After the Prayers of the Faithful is the Offertory, and you will see people bringing up the bread and wine, as well as the offerings from the collection baskets.
This is followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which consists of a great many dialogue prayers. These, you simply listen to and learn by listening. Don’t worry about trying to memorize everything at once - it will come with time. The trickiest part is that there are several options for each section of this part of the liturgy, so there’s no way to know which combination the priest is going to use, ahead of time, and there is no point in trying to follow along in the Missal - this just comes by listening, and eventually you realize that you’ve known it for a long time, although you don’t remember learning it.
This is followed by the Our Father, the Sign of Peace, the Lamb of God, and then the distribution of Holy Communion.
Last of all we have the Dismissal Rite, which ends with the Sign of the Cross once again.
The priest and servers typically process in at the beginning of Mass, and process out at the end of Mass. These processions are accompanied by hymn singing, and you are welcome to join in with the hymns if you happen to know them. Again, you will learn these soon enough through frequent repetition.
You probably noticed already that the procession is headed by a little boy who is carrying an image of Jesus crucified on the Cross on a high stick. This signifies that the Mass is the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for sins. We aren’t actually re-sacrificing Christ, but we are in a sense going back in time to that moment on the Cross when Christ gave up everything for us.
Don’t worry too much about keeping up with the postures, or knowing the prayers off by heart. Instead, listen very carefully to the words of the Mass, ponder their meaning, and realize that everything you hear is Scriptural, and every action, every gesture, and everything you see is intended to make Christ present to you in the way that He had originally intended to come to you.
Thank you all for the help! I’ve downloaded an app to help follow along. Should I remain sitting when everyone is going up for communion?
That would be fine, or if you are sitting on the end you can stand up and step into the aisle to let everyone pass. If you know someone who is Catholic ask if you can go to Mass with them and they can walk you through it.
This is a good idea. If you are so inclined, you can pray an Act of Spiritual Communion, by asking Jesus to be with you in a spiritual way, since you can’t receive Him in the Eucharist at this time. You can pray in your own words, or you can Google “Act of Spiritual Communion” and find one to memorize.
Others have given good answers. The first time I went to Mass it was daily Mass not Sunday. I think that helped as there were less people so I felt less nervous. It took several Masses before I didn’t feel weird and out of place. It wasn’t that the people were unfriendly or the service completely alien. It was just a bit surreal me being in a Catholic Church.
As for communion until I was received into the Church I just always sat at the end of a pew. I stepped aside and let the people partaking pass and then resumed kneeling. Or if on the other end just remained kneeling until those in my pew came back and then stepped out to let them by.
As far as following the Mass others have given good advice. You can find all the prayers online, in some apps, and in the missalette. I linked the basic outline from the USCCB. One thing to know if you go to daily Mass is that they typically do not have all the elements that Sunday has. I didn’t know that at first myself and it caused me to get lost.
Others have given great advice, but I’d add, Be patient with yourself. You aren’t going to learn everything overnight.
There should be cards which have the parts of the Mass, the peoples’ responses and the Order of the Mass, available at the back of the church. They are probably next to the hymn books. Look for them when you go in. Then you can join in or at least know what they are praying.
The bulletin in our parish has the Sunday’s Scripture readings printed in them. Some parishes print them in monthly booklets. Again, check at the back of the church. The Readings are probably available in some form. The monthly booklets also had the Order of the Mass at the front. Ask if you can’t find them. I’m sure anyone would be glad to help you.
You are commended for respecting our practice and may God bless you greatly. You may make a Spiritual Communion.
“My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire You in my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though thou were already there, I embrace You and unite myself wholly to You; permit not that I should ever be separated from You.”
However, we receive Communion, we do not take it. I know many Catholics use the phrase as well, but it’s about the theology behind the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a great gift which we receive from God, we do not take it from Him. I had never even thought about the difference myself until I went through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).
The people are genuflecting to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle before seating themselves. At the end of Mass, not all of the consecrated Hosts are consumed. They are reserved in the Tabernacle. The consecrated Hosts are Jesus in the flesh, physically Present in the church. The only time Jesus is not Present in the Tabernacle is from the end of Mass on Holy Thursday, through Good Friday and up until Consecration of the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass.
Thanks! That’s awesome! How do you genuflect?
Just wondering, is it normal for Catholic hymnals to only have the melody for hymns? I ask as I am used to at least four part harmony for hymns in church.
I can’t say this is universally the case but in my experience it seems that you’ll only find the melody and that is the only part sung. You’ll also find many don’t sing. I came from a four part background and did enjoy singing as a Protestant. Personally I very much enjoy daily Mass for the absence of hymn singing. With the Mass silence can be wonderful. Chant, which is very much part of the Catholic tradition, would be wonderful but is often rarely done. The issue of hymns can be a contentious subject as some love the melody only hymn singing and some don’t like hymns at all.
Yes. It’s a relatively new phenomenon to have members of the congregation join in with the singing, so everything is kept very simple. Perhaps one day we will have 4 part harmony coming from the Nave, but first we have to get past the idea that singing is only for the professional choir, or that there is something very forward about lay people singing in Church.
I sometimes hear lay people singing the harmonies at daily Mass, so we might even live to see the day.
It is what you saw the people doing, bending one knee to the ground and crossing themselves, before entering a pew and seating themselves.
We also bless ourselves with holy water on entering the church. The font is there near the entrance. We dip our fingers into the water and cross ourselves, that is, make the Sign of the Cross on ourselves.
When we touch our foreheads, we say, ‘In the name of the Father’, our chests, ‘and of the Son’, and left/right shoulders, ‘and of the Holy Spirit’. It calls to mind the grace we received in Baptism.
This is a very ancient Christian practice.
Music, melody, harmony??
Some of our hymn books only have the lyrics and you just have to know the hymn. :o