Etiquette at Mass: Reasonable Do’s and Don’ts for Polite and Proper Worship

by Steve Ray on March 17, 2015

20 Things TO DO And NOT DO at Mass. These are not rules that will get you banished from the Church, but things that are mostly common sense — polite conduct to enhance our worship and that of those around us.

1. Fast before Mass. It is required that one fasts for at least 1 hour before receiving Holy Communion. The only exceptions are medicine, water or unless someone is ill and needs to eat sooner.

2. No Food and Drink in Church. The only exceptions would be milk for infants, water for the priest or choir (if discreet) and water for those who are ill. You may sip water just before you enter the church.

3. Men take your hats off. It is impolite to wear a hat into any church for a man. Additionally,  ladies and men, do not use sun glasses inside the church. You are in the presence of our Lord & God.

4. Never chew gum in church! It breaks your fast, it’s rude and it’s distracting!

5. Cross yourself with Holy Water on entering and leaving the church. This is a reminder of our Baptism, which made us members of Christ’s Church.

6. Dress modestly and appropriately. As Catholics we believe that God comes down to meet us at every Mass. Won’t you dress well to meet a king? That said remember that the mass is not a fashion show. And Christmas and Easter masses are not Milan Fashion week. Dress in a way that gives witness to your faith.

7. Show up at least a few minutes early and try coming as close to the altar as possible.  If you can’t be on time, then sit in the back so you don’t disturb others.

8. Cell phones should never be used in Mass for calls or texting. The ONLY exceptions are emergencies (big ones, not everyday ones) and if you are using the phone for readings the lectionary or the said prayers/ responses.

9. Gentlemen offer their seats to any lady who is standing. Some churches get packed. 

10. When we enter and leave Church, genuflect (bow your knee) toward the Tabernacle. Christ is present for our sake. By allowing our right knee to hit the floor, we acknowledge He is our Lord and God. If someone is physically unable to genuflect, then a bow is sufficient. During Mass, if you pass in front of the altar or tabernacle, bow reverently.

11. Sit quietly while in church. If you must talk do so as quietly and briefly as possible. Remember that your conversation might be disturbing someone who is in prayer. Sssshhhhhhhh. Most churches now have gathering spaces in the back for conversation.

12. Take loud children to the back. Every parent knows that sometimes the baby is going to have a bad day. Parents with young kids should sit on the end of a pew, if you can, so that you can take the kid to the back quickly. There is no reason to be embarrassed about having to quiet your child. Take the child to the back of the church immediately. It is worse to allow them to disturb others during Mass.

13. Prepare your offering before Mass. Christ tells us not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing when you make your offering. Keeping the basket while you get your wallet out can be quite a scene. Digging the basket for change is a big no no. Come to Mass with your offering prepared.

14. It is best not to read the bulletin during the actual Mass. Imagine if you invited a guest to your house and before dinner (or during) they decided to read a magazine instead of talking to you.

15. Respect the worship. Stand during the gospel reading and other set time during worship. Kneel at the consecration. It is part of worship. The only exceptions are fir the sick, people with knee problems, aged and those with infants. If you can’t kneel occupy a pew that does not obstruct the view of the Lord from those who do kneel.

16. Bow before receiving Holy Communion. Remember that you are before your Lord, show your respect with a profound bow from the hip.

17. Do not receive from the chalice if you are sick. This is an act of charity. Try to receive communion on the tongue. If you receive on the hand, check your hands after receiving the Lord so that no crumbs may fall to the ground.

18. Do not leave early unless there is an urgent issue. We should stay to the end of the recession and the hymn that accompanies it, if there is one. Remember who left the last supper early (Judas). We should show respect for God, for the priest and our fellow worshipers. 

19. Pray after Mass, if you can. It is a good custom, though not required. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving after Mass is over.

20. Leave quietly. We encourage you to visit others especially your pastors as a part of Christian fellowship, but do so once you are outside of the main sanctuary of the church so you won’t disturb others who want to stay and pray.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Edna Smyth March 17, 2015 at 11:59 PM

Please keep your hands to yourself. It’s annoying and a distraction to sit behind people who rub one another’s neck or back. This past Sunday I sat behind a family and the mother was massaging her teenage son’s neck and rubbing his back. REALLY? I was looking for some sort of reason for this, Ie, emotional stuff, but the mother only did this while seated. There is a time and place for everything. Mass is not the time for this behavior.

susan March 29, 2015 at 2:04 PM

I am sorry–I don’t men to offend anyone, BUT: Do NOT grab someone’s hand for the Our Father! I do not want to hold anyone’s hand during it, personally. If I raise my hands, that does not mean I want you to hold it! I quit holding hands because the last time I did it, an old man, a total stranger, grabbed it with his sweaty hands & clutched mine in a weird death grip. He was hurting me and would not let go! I was insulted. It was so rude, I swore NEVER AGAIN! Some people seem to think it is required to hold hands–NOT SO. No one in our family has for 20 yrs. We just all stopped when we felt it was a distraction & getting ridiculous with people filling up the aisles so they could grab a hand.

STEVE RAY HERE: I agree wholeheartedly. We also do not hold hands at mass. Thanks for your comment.

Andy March 29, 2015 at 7:22 PM

Applause. That’s one thing that is starting to become too prevalent at Mass. After Communion, our choir may sing a song of reflection after everyone is seated…usually it is a more contemporary song, and I often find them to be quite beautiful. But it always ends in applause. I just don’t get it. I understand it is good to recognize other’s talent, but it just seems inappropriate to treat the Mass as entertainment. Am I too old-fashioned, Steve? What are your thoughts?


James Jose September 23, 2015 at 4:04 PM

Well written and precise to the point. Can I use some of your points on our church website which i am working on?

STEVE RAY HERE: I did not write these but you’re certainly free to use them according to my opinion.

Robert May 17, 2016 at 9:42 AM

I wish to thank those that have put these words on this page for all to view and learn. My family and I happen to be Muslim. We have such great respect for all faiths of God’s children. I am certain we are not the exception and I know that many share the same beliefs that wherever the spirit of God and Christ resides, we shall open our hearts and souls.

We do not attend mass, but we look for every opportunity to visit a Catholic Church to warm our faith and our hearts, whether it be in Paris, Rome or Istanbul. I pray that we are as welcome in any house of worship, as God would only expect. Thank you.

STEVE RAY HERE: We all appreciate your kind words and gentle attitude. We appreciate your acceptance of us and you are always welcome to visit our churches.

However, you say you are Muslim. How can you have this attitude when your Koran teaches that we are infidels and that eventually Islam (a political theocracy intending to impose Sharia Law from Allah on all the world) will subjugate us. We either convert, become a dimii slave paying exorbitant taxes or we die? Not sure how Muslims square that away.

Anyhow, thanks again for your kind words and I hope you don’t ever do what Islam actually teaches.

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