How do you know exactly what to say during Mass?

I am not Catholic, but I have visited Masses a couple of times. Every time I attend one, I am bewildered that everyone has his or her lines perfectly memorized, and everyone can recite the prayers and do back-and-forth synchronized recitations with the priest. I think it’s more of a general Christian thing, learned at an early age, and stuck in the brain for life.

By the way, how many prayers do you Catholics have to know and recite anyway?

The Liturgy is an act of public work - that is what Liturgy means … it is the work of the people - thus a communal action … here is a link to the Order of the Mass.

Without getting into high theology -

There are optional prayers and responses - there are seasonal variations -

There is a different cycle of biblical readings [2 year cycle for daily Mass and a 3 year cycle for Sundays]

The Mass has the foundation of its structure in the worship of our Jewish ancestors/predecessors …

And as an action of the Church - it must have structure for many reasons … mainly these two

To keep the proper focus - which is on Christ
It belongs to all the faithful - not to any individual -

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is just one Liturgy … there are many Liturgies with in the Church Tradition including the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office

Think about it this way:

How do you know the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem? How do you communicate with certain family members where there’s always a pattern to the greetings and goodbyes? How do you know what to do in a restaurant (order first, eat, pay the check)?

I’m not trying to be rude. I just took your post as having a tone of surprise or amazement; it’s actually a very simple, easy thing to do once you’ve done it a few times.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people use missals, which basically has the various masses of the year written down in them. I’m lucky enough to go to a parish that provides missalettes in the pews, so on my first day to mass in about forever I was able to follow along and respond.

But I mean, when you attend mass literally every week and it’s always roughly the same form, you start to memorize it. I’ve been back for about 6 months and I’ve pretty much got the responses down. People who grew up (inside the modern Catholic church) probably never even needed a missal. You get a hang of it.

What prayers do Catholics have to know? I’m pretty sure we have to know the Act of Contrition for going to confession, but not necessarily, you COULD write it down and bring it with you. I don’t think we technically have to know any prayers by heart, although you would have a tough time getting through life if you didn’t know the basic Our Father, Apostles Creed, Act of Contrition, Hail Mary, those sorts of things. Even if you weren’t trying you’d probably just end up with those prayers memorized via mass, rosary, stuff like that.

Some parishes do show the responses on a screen, some on a card. Some people choose to use a Mass book …but as we come together at least every Sunday for Mass, we do learn the responses quite naturally.
Knowing them, or reading them, we say them from the heart.

We don’t actually ‘have to know’ a great number of prayers, foremost of which is The Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) but there are a few that we know with long familiarity. Once again we endeavor to say these from the heart. True, occasionally there are people who might rust prayers, but there is a basic intention there.]

We also do pray from the heart in our own words, but there is a universality in sharing the same liturgy all over the world. Any American coming to my parish in Australia will know the responses and feel at home, just as when visiting America, I felt at home in Catholic Churches there.

Best wishes,


Until one learns it, a missal would be helpful. After one does it long enough, one won’t necessarily even need that.

I moved to Mexico, learned pretty much the mass in Spanish, as well. The hardest part for me is the Nicean Creed (in English or Spanish).

If one goes to daily mass, it’d probably be even faster to memorize.

How many prayers? I have no idea. From an early age, they teach us the "Hail Mary, “Glory Be”, and “Our Father” which we learn for First Communion, I think.

There is the “Act of Contrition”, I think we learn for confession.

There’s the Creed, which we learn for confirmation.

We learn more than that, by attending mass, weekly. One may first start reading it, but after a time, we know it “by heart”.

I like that we speak in unison, like a single person, as one and that we also move as one, for the most part. I just think it helps give a feeling of solidarity and unity.

Then normally, as we go along, we pick up additional prayers. The rosary is a combination of some prayers above with some more added. Then, there are chaplets, which are optional, but many of us learn those by heart, as well. For a time, I had the Divine Mercy Chaplet memorized. Some people have that memorized, some don’t. If one doesn’t, one just uses a reference book.

If one practices the prayers, it’s easier to remember. If one were to go a very long time without praying them, I think it’d be possible to forget parts of certain prayers in mass, like the Creed, because it’s very long and complex. Further, there are 2 creeds, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicean Creed.

I admit I can confuse the 2 creeds because they are so similar, yet different.

In Mexico, for a time, I used a missal to try to learn the prayers in Spanish.

Oh, and religious all across the world pray the “Divine Office”, memorize many of those prayers, as well.

As to how many prayers do we have to know? Well, they really would like us to know the “Hail Mary”, “Glory Be”, “Our Father”, “Act of Contrition”, and the 2 Creeds…in addition to the mass responses.

Never bothered to memorize the English Creed, Gloria, Suscipiat, Sanctus, Agnus Dei as I figured they’d be changing them all the time. Learned the Latin prayers as a kid and haven’t forgotten them, still good to go. At Spanish Masses, I follow using the missalette.

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