By Judith Costello
An online discussion has generated hundreds of comments about “distractions at Mass.” Apparently, lots of people have difficulty focusing on the Blessed Sacrament because of things happening in the congregation. The distractions cited range from inappropriate/immodest dress to behavior that seems disrespectful or irreverent.
The discussion also ranged from condemning those who can’t set distractions aside, to pleas for greater charity. When I wrote about this topic on a parenting website I even got a call from EWTN! It seems as if we need more opportunities to talk about proper Mass behavior.
As a result of these conversations, I came up with four things. These are ways that I have learned to deal with distractions during Mass:
We can use the distractions as a mini cross. We accept that the distractions are the hardship we will endure gracefully, in order to grow closer to Jesus.
We can use the distractions as an opportunity to pray for one another. The person who comes dressed in shabby clothes may indeed have nothing better to wear. We don’t know the circumstances for others, but we do know that everyone is in need of prayer!
We can intervene at times in order to help others. When several teenagers were talking and texting during Mass, the man standing next to me whispered to them, “At Mass it’s important to put cell phones away and pray quietly out of respect for our Lord.” That was the best anyone could do to encourage these teens to participate in a different way. But they continued talking and texting. So, the man next to me became a role model of how to participate in Mass by singing, praying and participating fully.
We can offer a “spiritual hug” to parents who feel self-conscious about disruptions caused by their children. Parents are especially fearful that they are being judged because their children cry or squirm during Mass. When we reassure mothers and fathers with a smile or a gesture, then the parents can relax and that helps the kids relax as well.
I remember when my kids were little. I tried to be creative. I have gathered ideas about how parents can deal with their squirmy kids. One mother said she sat with her kids in the front pew and told them, “Father is watching you.” That seemed to help keep them in line! Another mother said she dressed her kids in their best clothes because, “People tolerate well-dressed squirmers better than poorly-dressed squirmers.” And I used to give my daughter little “angel cards” to pass out during Mass. Her little gifts turned frowns into smiles.
Here are some reminders so we can be good role models for each other and for our young ones:
When we come to Mass, we should dress in our “Sunday best” because that is the proper response to the sacredness of this event. That is how we honor the King of Kings!
We can teach kids to appreciate the importance of the Mass, when we are reverent and respectful during Mass.
Chewing gum is not fasting! No one should have gum in his or her mouth when receiving Communion!
Arriving late and leaving early sets a bad example for young people. St. John Vianney is said to have sent altar servers with candles after parishioners who left Mass early. He wanted them to know they were carrying Jesus in their bodies and should be prayerful after receiving the host.
If a person puts the host in a pocket or in the pew, or feeds it to a baby, that is a potentially sacrilegious act. The priest should be notified. One usher said he has told people who do this, “Either consume the precious Body of Christ or give it to me.”
Our churches are different than Protestant churches. Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in the tabernacle. So talking and socializing should be done in the hall or outside. People are praying before and after Mass and they appreciate silence.
Concerns about distractions at Mass made me think about this —Why are we at Mass? God didn’t give us this sacrament so we could go and pray in absolute quiet. We are there to join together in praising God. Apparently God wants us to “rub shoulders” and figure out what it means to love those who “rub us the wrong way!”
(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her website is www.thedailychristian.com.)