People at Mass and poor paticipation

Today I went to Mass out of my state and was sad to see the lack of parishioner participation. I thought the singing at my parish was bad, but this church has us beat. I bet that out of 100 people, less than 10 sang the hymns. The only saving grace were the 4 folks who comprised the “choir”. Verbal response was a bit better, maybe 30 or so people joined in the communal prayers. The saddest part was the family in front of me. Dad’s constant interaction with his older daughter and his fidding with his cell phone now and again made up the bulk of his worship experience. Mother Mary pray for us!

While parishes vary greatly, I’ve found that assembly participation often depends on what is sung. It’s also true that in some parishes the assembly has never been expected to join in with the choir.

I grew up in such a parish: no hymnals, 4 part harmony from the choir, no repetition of hymns so that folks can learn by hearing. Unless you have the voice of an angel the community doesn’t want you to sing, they want to listen to the choir. Visitors are forgiven but locals are glared at if they join in. Nobody has ever, to my knowledge, informed them that singing is supposed to be done by the assembly.

The family in front of you was a sad example, but you have no idea what it’s like in that parish from week to week.

The hyms were great, the old ones. Easily singable. I was surprised because this parish was in Kentucky and those southerners usually are on fire for the Lord. As for the choir, 4 people to me are not much of a choir. To me a choir is at least 10-20 folks. That’s why I put choir in quote marks.

I know that even in the parish where I am now, Saturday sees one 70 something woman ‘lead’ the singing. Without her, nobody sings; with her, nobody feels the need to join in.

Yesterday the Entrance Hymn was “When Jesus Came to Be Baptized”. While it’s not a hymn whose words they’re familiar with, it was sung to a tune that they all know how to sing. I could only sing the first verse, which I knew by heart, since I was carrying the Gospel Book and no hymnal. When that verse ended, Fr. sang the second verse by himself and gave up. People often don’t feel comfortable singing, it’s as simple as that.

Unlike other Churches, where singing a hymn is worship in and of itself, in the Catholic Church the hymns accompany actions and aren’t necessary to the worship. It’s sad, but understandable, that, even after 40 years, people don’t feel they have to sing to be participating fully.

Please accept what I intend to be a very gentle rebuke of the sentiments expressed in your post :slight_smile:

You are responsible for your own participation and no one else’s…

Fully participate in the liturgy according to the grace given to you…

Sing your heart out, loud and clear, no matter what anyone else is doing…

If you are distracted by someone else’s behavior, pray for that person with gentleness, mercy and love in your heart…you have no idea where they are in their own particular spiritual journey…pray that God would pour out all the grace they need for this moment in their life, and that they would be open to receive it…

And then use your personal irritation as an opportunity to humble yourself before God, and to admit to Him that even you are not able to worship Him in the way He deserves–unless He lifts you up and enables you by the power of the Holy Spirit…

“God be merciful to me, a sinner!”…

Once again, poor cathechesis rears it’s ugly head. The whole Mass and everything it contains is a prayer along with the worship. When we sing, say our responses, recite our prayers, greet our fellow church attendees - it is all the most sincere prayer to our God. I just don’t understand it. For me, to attend Mass is to participate in everything. I will pray for my brothers and sisters to someday realize this.

It’s sadder still, when you consider that 40-50 years ago, people were singing “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” or “Come Holy Ghost” at the end of Mass, just following the priest, not even concerned whether they were participating or not.

That depends where you come from. There was no assembly participation in Mass anywhere around where I grew up. It was strictly Server & Priest or choir. We never experienced dialog Masses until after Vatican II so for communities where I grew up, even opening your mouth at Mass was daunting since people had never done that.

This is a great topic. The choir at our parish has taken over the mass. The regular pew sitters are confused most of the time. It seems more like a circus.

I am looking forward to the new missal. I understand we may get back to the older hymns too. It could be a great year!

What do you mean by that? In the US and in Canada, according to the GIRM, it is a valid option to have the choir alone sing the Entrance, Offertory and Communion hymns and the Gloria. There is no rule for the Recessional since it’s not part of Mass, so there too there is nothing wrong about the choir singing alone. Only the responses must be sung by the congregation.

Full participation at Mass is not necessarily something that can be observed by others. Poor catechesis is right. Many people (maybe you) have erroneously confused participation with physical and verbal activity. These parishioners may have been most sincere in offering their prayers at Mass to God (excepting the guy fiddling with his phone :)) but it just wasn’t what you expected or what you could observe.

Except for the constant interaction with daughter and fidding with cell phone this kind of mass was the norm until the 20th Century. People were silent. Only their presence in the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is required by the law.

Imho still better than close to profane music and concentration of the participation instead of the sacrifice of Christ.

I am fortunate having a Church where Gregorian is sung and people are happy to participate singing the Ordinary (this is English mass). A series of priests worked on it for years. Jesus Christ is the same as in the mass with poor participation

You don’t know how much I miss those hymns. They were so beautiful and easy to sing.

Do you have kids? As a parent one valuable skill you acquire is dividing your attention. My kid is mobile now and doesn’t stay still during Divine Liturgy. Despite carrying him, putting him down, letting him crawl, assisting him to walk, and back over again, I continue to listen and participate in Liturgy and even sing with the responses. Sometimes I amaze myself how I continue to do this but I guess every parent just learns to do it.

Not sure if this is off-topic but the Christmas Eve mass was celebrated by our Bishop. My ‘middle’ son is only 6 and wants to be priest, so he and I were very excited about the Bishop being there. (And on a side-note, when the bishop came into the front of the church with his mitre on, my son whispered to me, ‘Is that the Pope?’…) Anyway we sat way up front and in a special pew that we like because it gives my sons a good view. A couple seats over and a pew in front of us was a family with a young child that would not stop screaming. I mean screaming. During the homily you could see that the Bishop was having trouble collecting his thoughts and delivering the homily. For anyone, even a Bishop, this would be difficult. I felt sorry for him and was embarrassed for the church. The father only took the child into the ‘cry room’ after the homily. I attend all kinds of conferences, symposiums and the like and its funny - no one tolerates a crying child anywhere, especially the movies. If there is a crying child in a movie other patrons would quickly notify management. But the Divine Liturgy? As a parent you need to be more respectful of everyone else. I want to hear the readings, the Gospel and the homily! We have three boys, including a newborn. My wife and I attend mass in shifts. The baby attends mass but only on ‘good days’. And if we have the baby we sit way in the back. If the baby should cry, (he hasn’t so far) we retreat into the vestibule immediately. Why on earth would you perpetuate the suffering of all the parishoners and allow the crying child to remain so close, the first two pews, away from the pulpit?
Also, more closely aligned with this thread, I just feel that the priests in my church do not show enough reverence for the mass. Just like anything else in life, the parishioners pick up and feed off of the priests’ enthusiasm for the mass or their lack thereof. We feed off of their devotion and reverence for the whole mass. When I see a priest saying a prayer, for instance the Creed, and near the end he is motioning the altar server for the lectionary and paging through it while still reciting the prayer - that just bugs me. Are priests that concerned with keeping the mass under 45 minutes? Are we? I am not trying to sound holier than thou, I am a sinner and not perfect, but the mass? The mass is central to our lives as Catholics and more reverence should be shown by the priests first and the congregation as a whole.

was the choir decent? some “choirs” here are so bad and so out of sync with the accompaniment that it is simply impossible for the congregation to sing along so people just give up.

also perhaps many of those attending have English as their second language or not at all, was there a missalette or any worship aid? I am usually silent at the Spanish Mass when there is no missalette because I have only memorized some of the responses, and they announce the hymn numbers in garbled Spanish so I can’t find the song

i would have grabbed they guy’s phone and told him I will give it back after Mass, but only in a parish where they don’t know me, as I am getting cranky in my old age

The person playing with his phone during Mass? Oh my, I have no words… rolls eyes

I understand not all have choir worthy voices, and I admit that I cringe when I hear my parents’ attempts at singing during Mass.

At least, at the churches I go to, they have a cantor leading the music, and most of the time some kind of choir. Most people sing, I know it takes time to learn the hymns/songs, but I still remember certain ones even if they are not sung frequently.

One of my parish priests is considering putting up a suggestion to block all telephone lines transmission in our cathedral. Telling people to off their phones during the mass has no effect. They merely put them in silent mode and couldn’t wait to check on them at any opportune moment during the mass. He noticed that every time he started the homily, the young people like clockwork would pull out their cell phones and start checking their mails and they would only stop after he finished his sermon.

That would, unfortunately, impede the ones who have a valid reason to have their cell phones on, for example, our organist is also the only anesthesiologist at the local hospital. I can’t tell you how often his pager/cell has gone off during Mass and he’s had to rush off to surgery.

We do fine at my Parish with the responses but not many usually sing. I think this is in part due to the song selection. We have an AMAZING choir, but and most of the time they pick beautiful songs, but they are songs that are more concerty and less Hymm and it is difficult to sing with them.

I know we are fortunate to have a great choir but I would almost prefer an inferior choir that choose more simple songs that everyone could sing to.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit