I’ve noticed that some people often say “assisting at Mass”, while others say “attending Mass”.

Is there any particular reason to use either one?

People who use the term “assisting” are conforming their terminology with that used by canon law. Unfortunately, it’s a bit confusing to those who are not aware how this is used, and people sometimes assume “assisting” applies only to those serving as a reader or an usher, etc.

I have not heard a good explanation of why the word “assist” is used rather than “attend” or “participate.”

My first thought was that it is a Latinism, since the French word for “attend” is “assistir”, but a quick reference to my Latin dictionary shows this is not the case (or I need a bigger dictionary…).

In adjacent canons, “observe” and “participate” are also used with some overlap in the meaning we are discussing.

Attend is used in canon law only to describe attendance at synods, councils, and lectures, with the one exception being “a diocesan bishop is to attend to presbyters and listen to them as assistants and counselors.”

Assist is used frequently in its basic sense, e.g. “cardinals assist the Roman pontiff.” But in the context of assisting at a liturgy, it is used almost exclusively to mean witnessing a marriage on behalf of the church - normally it’s a priest or deacon doing this assisting.

Another example that could fall into the category of assisting at a mass is “a person to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who assists an adult in Christian initiation.” However, it’s not clear whether the assisting in this canon is throughout the RCIA process, or specifically at mass. It’s also using “assist” as a transitive verb, so I lean against this as a separate example of assisting at mass.

Since “assist” at mass seems to be used in the rest of canon law only to describe witnessing a marriage, I have to wonder whether its use in canon 1248 is meant to be this narrow as well, and only by extrapolating does the rule apply to everyone else.

Here is a thread last fall where I discussed with tee_eff_em and jkarp the use of assist rather than participate in canon 1247 and 1248 §2, in one translation of canon law found online.
cameron_lansing** also discussed the issue a bit in post #24 of this thread, but his post was more of a lecture on how one should approach interpretation of canon law, rather than a statement of what his interpretation is, or why the canon is worded that way.

No, no particular reason. It’s just a matter of ones own personal habits when it comes to vocabulary.

Get a bigger dictionary. :wink:

*assisto, assistere *comes from *ad *(“to” or “at”) + *sisto, sistere *(“to cause to stand, to place, to set”) and so means “to place one’s self somewhere, to stand, post one’s self” (Lewis&Short), and only secondarily (in Latin) means “to stand by (as counsel) one on trial, to aid”. In English these two senses have become reversed, but “assist”/“to be present (as a spectator)” is still a secondary definition (according to Merriam-Webster).

“Happy to assist” :tiphat:

It occurred to me to search recent Church documents on japhy’s site, which shows this terminology has been used for some time, and demonstrates that my fear at the end of post #4 was probably misguided.

In addition to what t****ee_eff_em said, you may have hit on part of the truth. Italian is the usual language that business is conducted in at the Vatican. But depending on the composition of the dicastery or committee, meetings and draft documents may be in French, English, etc. The use of that word in French (or perhaps Spanish or Italian) may have influenced the choice of wording in Latin and English.

Cool, thanks everyone!
So, in using “assist”, how do I, as a layman-in-the-pew “assist” at Mass?

By being present.


I would follow the advice of Pius XI from 1928, in the japhy-link above.

It is most important that when the faithful assist at the sacred ceremonies, or when pious sodalities take part with the clergy in a procession, they should not be merely detached and silent spectators, but, filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy, they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir, as it is prescribed. If this is done, then it will no longer happen that the people either make no answer at all to the public prayers - whether in the language of the Liturgy or in the vernacular - or at best utter the responses in a low and subdued manner.

But it’s clear that while this is “most important,” it’s possible to assist without doing so.

Keep in mind: the Mass is not supposed to be said alone*.

In attending, one is assisting the priest by participation. I’ve been to daily masses where I was in fact the only person present besides the priest, and without my presence, the mass would not have been said.*

The mass is a dialogue; without the responses of the faithful, the mass is not complete.

  • there are some conditions where a roman rite priest may say a mass with no one else present. they are rare.

By paying attention and praying to the best of your ability.

Without meaning this in a negative way, since I never heard the term used when I grew up with the TLM pre-Vatican II and we just “attended” Mass, I kind of get the idea that it is the way that those who favor the TLM explain how their being present in prayer complies with the SC priority that the liturgy should involve active participation. “Assisting” sounds much more like active participation that “attending”, even though the active participation called for in the document is clearly different than what “assisting” describes.

Even tee_ef_em’s quote from the dictionary, “but “assist”/“to be present (as a spectator)” is still a secondary definition” seems troublesome from that standpoint though if it is an attempt to imply a compliance with the intent of SC since at least a major consideration of the Council was to make those present much more than “spectators”.

I personally have no problem with the differences in how the “active participation” is achieved as by personality we will have different ways of offering our praise, some being more vocal while others are more interior. In my mind, neither is “superior” but is a function of how one best focuses on God.

To me, this is one of those areas that have valid arguments on both sides and really calls for understanding from each “side” that someone praying “differently” from the way “I” might prefer doesn’t make them “wrong” or less acceptable. Whether it is one reveling in the silence at at TLM, or a “charismatic” who just can’t restrain himself from shouting out his praise, or the majority who are somewhere in between, God delights in our praise.



I don’t think that is it. “Assist” was in use quite a while ago, since you can find it as a common phrase to “assist at Mass” in books from the mid-19th century on (1850 -).

Perhaps your recollection of “attend” was a local custom? Or perhaps “attend” and “assist” were both used generally. Oh, and let’s not forget “hear” – I’ve seen that before as well.


Hi VC,

From reading some of the previous citations, it is clear that at least at some level in the more distant past this terminology was used. I lived in several different places and attended several different parishes growing up and can honestly say I never heard the term used before a couple years ago, and this site is the only place I have actually “heard” it. I definitely won’t use my own experience though, as wide as it may have been, to claim that it wasn’t used anywhere.

It is quite possible that it has come back “into vogue” as being more descriptive of the way those at the TLM view their participation, and again I’m not assigning any kind of negative connotation to it. I guess it’s also possible that it has been back around for a longer time but I’ve just not been aware from not having been present at a TLM for so long.

I can honestly say I’ve never heard “hearing” Mass either. Is that a Southern term possibly, like “carrying my mother to the store”? I know there are a lot of local colloquialisms where I live that I have never heard anywhere else.


I can honestly say I’ve never heard “hearing” Mass either. Is that a Southern term possibly, like “carrying my mother to the store”? I know there are a lot of local colloquialisms where I live that I have never heard anywhere else.

I’ve heard the term “hearing mass” here in Pittsburgh, although the term is a bit archaic.

The term dates to traditional times when all the masses were Tridentine Latin masses. In that rite, the faithful keep silent during the entire mass- all of the responses are given solely by the altar servers. The people are there to pray and to hear the mass.

Actually, by being fully present - body, mind, and soul - with our full attention on the movements of the Mass, the prayers, the gestures, and the graces that are to be received, and by joining our hearts to the prayers as they are being recited, whether by us, or by the priest.

From Baltimore Catechism #3


Q. 946. How should we assist at Mass?

A. We should assist at Mass with great interior recollection and piety and with every outward mark of respect and devotion.



Q. 947. Which is the best manner of hearing Mass?

A. The best manner of hearing Mass is to offer it to God with the priest for the same purpose for which it is said, to meditate on Christ’s sufferings and death, and to go to Holy Communion.
Q. 948. What is important for the proper and respectful hearing of Mass?
A. For the proper and respectful hearing of Mass it is important to be in our place before the priest comes to the altar and not to leave it before the priest leaves the altar. Thus we prevent the confusion and distraction caused by late coming and too early leaving. Standing in the doorways, blocking up passages and disputing about places should, out of respect for the Holy Sacrifice, be most carefully avoided.

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