Attending mass as visitor?


Hello all!
I am a non-Catholic currently living in a Catholic country (Austria).
I’ve long been interested in Catholicism and am very interested in visiting one of the many gorgeous churches here to experience a Saturday or Sunday mass.

I’ve attended Christmas masses before, but I had someone with me. This time I will be going on my own and since I am shy, I’d really like to just sit in the back and take in the experience without any pressure to participate.

I just wanted to ask whether it would be possible for me to do so without drawing attention to myself, as I do not know any of the songs, rules about what to say and do, etc. Would it be okay for me to sit in the back and not get up, sing, etc when everyone else does? I do not want to accidentally distract any of the churchgoers or cause any offense by not participating.

Any thoughts or advice on this matter would be much appreciated.
Thanks very much!


Just be discreet, but don’t be afraid to mess up. Do what everyone else does. Don’t receive Communion, because Catholics believe, among other things, that the Eucharist is both a sign and a reality of union–“communion”–and if you are not Catholic, then you aren’t in union. It isn’t exclusionary, it’s just a fact.

Other than that, feel free to make the Sign of the Cross, to make the responses, etc. Sit when everyone sits, stand when they stand, kneel when they kneel, etc.

My advice about when Communion is being distributed is to sit on one end of a pew, not the middle, go back in the pew, and then let people out or back in (depending on which end you sit at).



Come along, our doors are always open to all.

Don’t worry about not knowing what to do, people will welcome the fact that you’re a visitor. Nobody will take any offence at all, quite the contrary. (A lot of the congregation don’t sing anyway, I’m not a great one for singing myself).

As for distracting people, if we can cope with the noise from the family section we can certainly cope with someone sitting quietly and minding her own business.

Don’t worry about not knowing what to do, just behave respectfully, join in with what you can (or with what you feel comfortable joining in) or just sit quietly. Just don’t go up for Communion, non-Catholics are not allowed to receive Communion in a Catholic Church (it is sacrilege to do so).

At the end of Mass why not shake hands with the priest as he waits outside after Mass greeting people and tell him that you’re a non-Catholic visitor. most priest would welcome this. Or even turn up a bit before Mass begins and tell the priest, or a greeter etc. (if that church has them) that you are a non-Catholic visitor and are a bit unsure of what you should do. You will be made welcome. Or if you’d rather slip in and out anonymously, then that is perfectly OK.

Really, the doors of our churches are open to all (as is the door of our Church). I have never come across a Catholic church where visitors are not welcome, and if such a church does exist then it is not a very Catholic place.

Let us know how you got on.

God Bless,



That’s what I did! Just sat in back and watched. It’s perfectly acceptable, don’t worry a bit about it, just go and enjoy :slight_smile:


Technically you participate by just being there but not to let it bother you.

I myself attended a pipe organ recital at a college chapel several years ago, only to realize that the last two pieces were hymns to be sung by those there. But not everyone did; they came to hear the organist.


Thank you all for your kind and informative replies!

I plan on attending both a Latin and a regular (German) mass this week.
Already looking into the texts of the rites and liturgies so I can familiarize myself with what is being said in the Latin one. Very much looking forward to the experience!

Many thanks to everyone for your help and encouragement.


Oh wow, a Latin Mass sounds very enjoyable! Do feel free to tell us how it goes, I’d be interested to hear :slight_smile:


That is the one I am most excited to hear. I’ve already watched a few videos of Latin masses and instantly fell in love. It has even made me want to re-visit learning the language (I’ve forgotten most of what I learned in school 15+ years ago).

And I will certainly report back and let you know how it goes.


As the song says

"All Are Welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place … "

Glad to have you! :slight_smile:


You’ll want to either bring a Mass book with you or see if the parish has one. (Usually you can find basic Mass texts in the front of most hymn books, if nothing else.) If it’s a Latin Mass, the parish usually has books for the faithful to use, since obviously most people don’t speak Latin. This way you can follow the responses. If you want to buy your own Mass book, they’re available at Catholic bookstores, or there are apps you can download for your phone (do make sure your phone is on “silent” during the Mass).

If you’re female and you’re going to be attending a Latin Mass, it’s customary for women to wear a veil or other head covering, to show humility. (Men do not cover their heads because they are a symbol of Christ.) If you’re female and want to wear a head covering, you can either buy a chapel veil (there are numerous places to look online for one) or you can use a scarf or a hat.


PLEASE do so with no fear. The church welcomes you with open arms.

Participation is not mandatory. Remember, every word said is a part of a perfect way to honor God.


We’re all just visitors at Mass!


Thanks for the advice! I do have an old German Mass book somewhere in my collection… I’ll be sure to bring it along.

And I am planning on attending the masses at the main cathedral (St. Stephen’s) so hopefully I won’t be the only non-Catholic visitor there. And that was very good advice about the scarf. I will be sure to bring one!


Attending a Latin Mass is probably less of an issue in terms of what to do when you’re there. At a Latin Mass you don’t have to do anything, members of the congregation don’t have to ‘do’ anything. You don’t have to make any responses at a Latin Mass. The mystery is there is front of you, you can just sit or kneel as you see fit and observe. I was told that by no less than Bishop Athanasius Schneider.

Whatever form of Mass you go to, if there is a social ‘Coffee and biscuits’ afterwards in the church hall, then do stay. People will welcome your presence as a visitor. Just chat and be honest about who you are and why you’re there. We like visitors.


Thank you, Brendan. I actually managed to find a smaller church that is holding a Latin mass tomorrow morning! Wish me luck :slight_smile:


One thing that I started to see at our church as a Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister were people starting to come up and they would just cross their arms across their chest in the form of an X (so their arms cross with this hands by each shoulder), and would just bow their head down slightly and then walk away. They do not take the host. I hadn’t seen this before and I asked my pastor what this was all about and he told me that these were people who were not Catholic yet but who were coming up to communion for a blessing. He said this is perfectly acceptable and that I should just say a blessing for them. I then asked if I was permitted to do this, and he said that anyone can pray for a blessing for someone else.

Anyhow, I don’t know if this is just a practice in my little part of the world or not, but I would presume you could do the same thing if you are so inclined. Just do not take the host unless you become Catholic and have received the rites of RCIA.

YBIC - John


I don’t understand why people feel the need to do this. There is nothing wrong with just sitting in your seat or kneeling while others are going up for Communion. We do not need to go up during Communion.

In fact when you look at the lack of people attending Confession, and compare it to the vast majority of people in the church receiving Communion at Sunday Mass, something is wrong here. But that’s a discussion for another thread.

If you are not going to receive Communion (visitors and Catholics alike) then I think it is definitely best not to go up for a ‘blessing’ (which EMHCs cannot give anyway) but to stay in your pew and just stand up to let others pass you as they go up to receive Communion. The bottom line is that if we’re not in a state of grace we cannot go up to receive Communion (whether we are Catholics or not).

And if it is a Latin Mass then do not go up unless you are receiving Communion, as blessings are not given as a substitute at Latin Masses. At Latin Masses there seems to be a higher percentage of Catholics that do not receive Communion (compared to an Ordinary Form Mass).


Hello again, all!
I just got back. This morning I attended my very first Latin mass, followed immediately thereafter by my second :slight_smile:

The Maltese Church (just around the corner from the Capuchin Church where the first mass was held) also held a Latin mass this morning, so I was fortunate enough to go to both.

There were about a dozen people in attendance at each… not too shabby for a Thursday morning, I suppose.

It was all very interesting to witness firsthand, and I especially enjoyed hearing the Latin echo off the ancient stone walls as the priest spoke. I also appreciated the lack of hymns/singing and the overall stillness and solemnity of the mass, which I found very calming.

The only part I did not really care for was that during both masses the priests read for a minute or two from the Bible in German. Much as I adore that language, this served to break the majestic spell of the experience, IMHO. I wonder if this is common practice in Latin masses the world over?


That depends. The Fraternity of St Peter in the UK read an English translation of the reading, whereas a priest whose Mass I’m attending tonight reads it in Latin (he’s an diocesan priest).

I usually attend Ordinary Form Mass, but feel that Latin Mass is often celebrated with more reverance. However I feel that the reading being in Latin is a big drawback with many Latin Masses as I feel the readings are there for us to listen and learn from. So I prefer the reading to be a translation into the vernacular.

I’m very glad you had such a positive experience. Make sure you also visit an Ordinary Form Mass as well. You don’t have to ‘tie yourself’ to one form of the Mass. Both are beautiful when celebrated reverently.


You don’t state whether the Latin Mass is in the new or old form; also whether it’s a Low Mass if it’s the old form.

In the new form, most of the readings will be in vernacular. In the old form, the readings will be in Latin, generally followed by the same reading in vernacular. In the old form Low Mass, the readings can be in vernacular only but I have not heard this yet. Personally the less English I hear, the better. Can’t learn Latin if things are done in vernacular.

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