6 Tips to Help You Understand and Participate More Actively at Mass

Preface: This article was posted on my personal blog on May 20, 2016. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I noticed a spike in the number of reads in this article. During this time, as many Catholics around the world are facing unprecedented times of cancelled public Masses in their dioceses, it seems to me that people are thirsting for the celebration of Mass and finding ways to partake in it in most cases, virtually. Therefore, as part of The Liturgy Series this month, I will not be reviewing any new book or product, but presenting a revised version of this article with the hope that as we participate in live-streamed Masses, and anticipate the hope of the restoration of publicly celebrated Masses soon, we will find a sense of renewal in the way we understand and participate in the Sacred Liturgy.

It is the truth that Sunday Mass is boring to many Catholics, right? Often, since it is boring, many Catholics do not even go to Mass any more. Sometimes, excuses are made, “Oh, the Father A’s homily was too long”, or “Father B keeps asking for money at every Mass!”. To some Catholics, Mass attendance is an hour wasted or even an hour of dread. However, Mass attendance should be something all Catholics should look forward to at the fresh start of each week and active participation in the Mass is encouraged by the Church. This is evident after Vatican II, especially in its Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.” (SC, 14). Throughout my years and service at Parish Masses, I have found the following 6 tips helpful before and during the celebration of the Mass.

1. Come to the church 10-20 minutes early 

Many people come to church just minutes before the Opening Hymn. Personally, I feel uncomfortable when I come to church right before the start of Mass or late. I feel that preparation is important in order to attentively celebrate Mass. I often like to arrive 10-20 minutes before Mass to pray and familiarize with the readings and hymns of the Mass. Coming early just gives me a much more calm and prayerful feeling. Therefore, I strongly recommend an early arrival to the Church!

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2. Familiarize yourself with the church hymns

I know, some will say “I cannot sing! Why bother?”. Monsignor Guido Marini, the Papal Master of Ceremonies said, “Although Mass is held in a large place, it’s never a show.” The choir and cantors at Mass are not singing to show off their talent or to entertain the congregation. Their main purpose is to help assist the congregation in bringing up their voice to God. Musicam Sacram, the Vatican II Instruction on Music in the Liturgy strongly encourages the participation of the faithful in song, not only the choir (see paragraphs 16-19).Consider coming early to the Church, look at the Hymn Board and preview the hymns to be used during that Mass. If possible, look at the songs before hand and find the songs meaning. No worries if you are not a good singer! No one will judge you as you are singing to praise God, not to please anyone.

 3. Purchase a missal or subscribe to a Missalette

A missal is a great instrument for use during Mass. It contains all the prayers and readings for Mass. Many missals even provide extra prayers for daily and/or weekly use. There are many types of missals out there. However, you should do some research on a missal’s content. Many missals are made only for Canadians as Canadians use the NRSV Bible Lectionary while Americans use the NABRE Bible Lectionary. The readings should be the same but the wording may be different. Each bishops’ conference may have their own Lectionary translation. However, the prayers used during the Mass (such as the Collect and Prayer Over the Offerings) should be the same as all English-speaking countries use the same Mass texts from the Roman Missal. There are annual missals (a new missal is published at the start of each new Liturgical Cycle). There are missal subscriptions (monthly missals, like a magazine subscription. Sometimes referred to as a “missalette”). However, there are, what I call, “fixed missals” that often comes in a set of a Sunday and a 2-volume Weekday Mass set or all three in one volume called the Daily Roman Missal (contains NABRE Lectionary texts). These missals can be easily brought to Church so you can follow the prayers and readings. Sometimes, parishes purchase missals or missalettes to aid the faithful. Missals are great to help you prepare for the Mass, celebrate the Mass and live the Mass.

4. Read the Lectionary Readings of the Mass you are attending before hand

Reading the Lectionary Readings may help you understand the readings more deeply when they are read at Mass. Perhaps reading them beforehand may help you understand the priest’s homily better. “But where can I get a Lectionary?” you may ask. No fear! As mentioned in tip #6, Missals provide the Lectionary readings. Or now, with the advanced technology, there are even apps that contain the readings! Consider downloading the Living with Christ app (Canadian Readings) or Laudate (a Catholic app with USA Readings) which are both available for Apple and Android systems. The Living with Christ webpage also provides the Canadian Readings online. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also provide Daily Readings to serve American Catholics. As you can see, the Mass Lectionary readings are easily accessible now than it was many years ago, making Mass preparations a little bit easier!

5. Understand the Priest’s gestures and the Order of Mass

Many complain that they do not understand what is happening at Mass. I totally understand that. There are so many books and online resources that can help. CatholicCulture.org also has a simple article about the gestures at Mass. There are also so many articles online that can help you understand the symbols of the Mass better.
There are also more advanced resources for those who would like to go deeper into the Mass. Lift Up Your Hearts: A Pastoral, Theological, and Historical Survey of The Roman Missal
edited by Robert L. Tuzik is a very good book for deeper understanding about the Mass. Another great read I would recommend for those who would like to learn more about the rites of Holy Week is Glory in the Cross by Fr. Paul Turner.

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6. Consider joining a Parish ministry

Have you ever looked at the choir, Altar Servers or Eucharistic Ministers and wanted to do their job? Feel free to ask! Find the ministry’s leader and ask them for details. Some Parishes also have Altar Guilds or Mass preparation teams. They often help set the Altar and bring the Altar linens home to carefully wash them (many of the Altar linens must be washed in a specific manner). Contributing something of yourself to any Parish ministry is something very valuable! Do not be afraid to try. After some time, you may find yourself closer to our Lord in some way; through prayer, through singing or through preparation of the Mass. You may not know but joining a Parish ministry may be fun too! You do not know until you try it!

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What if I cannot attend Mass or public Masses have been cancelled in my diocese (especially during this COVID-19 Pandemic)?

There are Masses live-streamed and/or broadcasted all over the internet and on Catholic media networks! Here are a few links to get you started:

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