If you are anything like me, you likely get distracted during Mass. As a lifelong Catholic raised in a family where one missed Mass only due to illness, I know the liturgy so well I could probably list most of the saints in the Roman Canon, and not just the apostles: “Linus, Cletus, Clement, Cyprian, Lawrence… .” You get the point.
And yet – perhaps precisely because I can quote so many prayers of the Mass – I often zone out and go on autopilot. Instead of focusing on the sacred mystery before me, my brain starts listing all the items I need from the grocery store, or recipes I want to try. My mind is restless, even at the most crucial moment of my week.
And I know I’m not alone.
At a recent get-together with some Mass-nerdy friends who love to talk liturgy, one of them opened the floor for conversation with this question: How do you pray the Mass?
Good question, right? Our conversation covered many perspectives, but I wanted to summarize and share the group’s helpful thoughts, which can be broken down into two parts:
Before Mass starts:
– Make an examination of conscience, at least once a week if not daily. This way, when the priest asks us to examine our hearts during the Mass, we can easily bring our sins to mind and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness.
– Prepare for Mass by reviewing the Sunday readings so they are familiar to you when they are read at Mass. This is especially useful for parents with children; if they need to take a kid aside for a bit, you still know the readings.
– Prepare your body by wearing clothes set aside for Sunday or special occasions. We are body and soul, and our interior can become lax in prayer if our exterior is sloppy.
– Clear your mind of anything not related to the Mass so you can better enter into the liturgy. At some point (either before arriving or when you are first praying in the pew), take time to offer your most pressing concerns to the Lord, so that you might not be distracted at worship.
– Find books and videos that help explain what is happening during the Mass to enhance understanding and appreciation. We often forget the depth of what is happening or simply have never been taught.
During the Mass
– Participate. Sing the songs, even if they are not your favorites. Say the responses. Keep your focus forward on what is happening in the sanctuary.
– Use different phrases within the Mass as touchstones should you get distracted. For example, the phrase “Lift up your hearts” usually brings me back from distraction.
– Bring an intention to Mass that you can offer to the Lord. If you have someone you are praying for within the course of the Mass it forces you to be present.
– Say mental prayers of thanksgiving after Communion. Simply search for “prayers after Communion” online and you will find at least a few options that you can print out and bring, or memorize.
– When the final hymn is over, take a few moments to kneel and once again thank Christ for the gift of himself in the Eucharist.
This is just a starting list, one that I myself need to take to heart. But with the Eucharistic revival in our midst, it’s important for Catholics to examine how we approach the altar of the Lord. Are we showing up just as a routine or with intentionality?
Thankfully, God takes our imperfect worship and is grateful for whatever we offer, but what he wants above all else is a heart focused on him. Why wouldn’t we want to try?
Ava Lalor is associate editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.