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The Eight Secrets of a Good Mass

And four ways the faithful can help

By on Thursday, 24 January 2013


The Vatican is preparing a manual that will help priests celebrate Mass more correctly. This is surely to be welcomed by all priests and all laity. After all, we all want to get the most out of the great gift that is the Mass, don’t we?

I have recently been on holiday and during my time off I went to Church “disguised” as a layman and observed a few things. I am sure lots of people would like to put in their bit as to what goes into the new manual, but here are my thoughts, for what they are worth. Not all of them are of equal importance.

• Start the Mass on time. If it says six o’clock, then let it be six o’clock, not five past or seven past.
• The priest should turn up in good time. Seeing a flustered looking chap rush in at one minute to does not help. After all, Mass is important, and for important events we always turn up in good time, don’t we? Besides, ones needs to prepare.
• Wear a chasuble, and make sure it is the correct colour.
• When you preach, it really is not a good idea to go on too long. And to help you keep within a reasonable time frame it is a good idea to plan the sermon. Less really is more when it comes to saying things: say it concisely and people may get what you are saying; say it in a prolix manner and your meaning may well get lost in the verbiage.
• The same goes for bidding prayers. Short and sharp. And do we need them in the week? I doubt it.
• Do not leave bits of the Mass out. The Opening Prayer, the Creed, the second reading – why do these sometimes fall by the wayside? There can be no good reason for this.
• Do not ad lib, and especially do not as lib during the Eucharistic Prayer. The people surely want to hear the words of the Church not the words of Father Joe (or whatever he is called).
• When celebrating Mass, look at God, not at the people, especially not at the strangers in Church (you never know, one of them might be a spy from the Catholic Herald.)

All of the above applies to the celebrant, but there are some points that ought to be recognised by the faithful.

• Don’t answer your mobile in Church. And when you do, which you should not, do not converse in a loud voice on the said phone, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer. In fact, just switch the thing off.
• Arrive on time.
• Yes, you have lots of important things to discuss with your neighbour, but surely they can wait twenty minutes? After Mass, you can talk to your heart’s content. During Mass, talk to God. Silently.
• Leave your shopping alone. No need to rustle through the contents of that bag at all.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I am sure that many readers can add further points, based on their own experience!

  • Mikethelionheart

    Give a decent homily would be the first thing on my list.  

  • Richard Collins

    You could add ‘Learn to celebrate the Latin Mass’ to that list Father.

  • AnneMarieTherese

    Off the top of my head: Encourage people to genuflect, most people don’t even bob their head, don’t turn the sign of Peace into a walkabout hug fest, make available a space during Communion for people to receive kneeling safely (someone has tripped over me in the scrum before now). No clapping. Ever. Latin. I think I’ll stop there.

  • Chris

    Whereas I apprediate a well celebrated Mass in Latin, I believe that the venacular is the best language. We must, I believe, avoid a euro-centric notion of liturgy. As for creating a space for those who wish to kneel; absolutely because those of the Latin rite have that option. Those of us who belong to one of the Eastern rites will always stand - and of course, we don’t genuflect:

  • awkwardcustomer

    What on earth is ‘a euro-centric notion of liturgy’?

  • teigitur

    It really says it all about formation these days that the Vatican feels it has to prepare this manual. Why not form the seminarians correctly?

  • Muffin

    The Roman Rite shouldn’t be in Latin because that makes it Euro-centric? 
    I thought Rome was in Europe? I am confused. No one speaks Latin in Europe. If Mass is in French, English, German etc. then is that less Eurocentric than it being in Latin? Or should we have compulsory Mandarin and Swahili Masses here in Great Britain for everyone? How does having a Maronite Mass in English (if that’s possible) make it any less middle-eastern than if it were in Syriac (think that’s the language they use)?
    The Liturgy is euro-centric, if it’s a European liturgy. And most liturgies aren’t. The fact that most Catholics are members of the Latin Rite is unavoidable.

  • P Stewarty

    why would one kneel to receive communion? serious question.

  • Muffin

    Most liturgies aren’t western European I meant to say. I assume that’s what you meant by ‘euro-centric’

  • Jacob Suggs

    That would be a notion of liturgy centered on Europe, bro.

  • Muffin

    In not failing to say a bad Mass does it make it a ‘good’ Mass. Priests must always follow the rubrics. They shouldn’t be praised for this. There is so much more to a good Mass than saying the black and doing the red. What’s a Mass without even this?

  • AnnieB

    It would be nice to have some reverence and silence. And EMHCs going up after the priest has consumed. An unhurried celebration is what I seek with time to think and pray.

  • Inquisator

    Very patronising.  Smacks of the emergence of a ‘Nanny Church’.  Has the Reverend Doctor of Theology so little to do that this article is the best he can come up with?

  • JabbaPapa

    The manual is to be for both clergy and non-clergy, apparently.

  • Guest

    There would be no omissions or ad libs or multi-embracings if the old traditional Mass was still said everywhere.   There would also be a more general show of devotion and respect, with none of the constant commotion which prevails in the pedestrianised vernacular service.

  • Parasum

    “The Vatican is preparing a manual that will help priests celebrate Mass more correctly. This is surely to be welcomed by all priests and all laity. After all, we all want to get the most out of the great gift that is the Mass, don’t we?”

    ## So why was that not done when the old Roman Missal went out of use ? It is insulting for the   authorities to scrap something useful that helped the Mass to be offered, because their ideas had made such old-fashioned things obsolete, only for the same authorities almost fifty years later to act in a way which implies that their ideas were mistaken, but without anything like any apology to the laity. Like all innovators, they are intolerant of the old; and like all bureaucrats, they never apologise for the harm their new-fangled schemes inflict. This is the Lefty attitude all over.

    This is merely more of the  boundless arrogance which allows a secularised Vatican now secular to treat us a lab rats – as though, forsooth, the faithful & the Liturgy they offer were to be subjected to experiments without end & without their consent. To experiment on the faithful & the Liturgy is a scandal beyond description.

    There is no reason to welcome this. Anyone who is thankful for receiving from thieves a fraction of what was his by right of inheritance, is a fool; and so it is here. The taking away of a good thing, and the replacing of it many years afterwards with something mediocre, is no cause for gratitude.

  • Andy Milam

    I’m reminded of a conversation that I had a while back with a very dear friend of mine.  He was saying the same thing too…”Why have Mass in Latin?”

    I responded to him thusly,  “Mass in Latin does several things which are often times overlooked.

    1.  What is the diversity of language?  It is a punishment.  God split the languages because of the fiasco at Babel.  So, Mass in the vernacular isn’t sacred, by it’s very invention.
    2.  It is divisive.  How many English speakers do you know who assist at a Spanish Mass?  How many Spanish speakers do you know who assist at a French Mass?  How many Vietnamese speakers do you see assist at a Japanese Mass, and it goes on ad nauseam.  Latin is unifying, because no matter where I go in the world, I will know what is going on.

    3.  Latin is unchanging.  Latin means essentially the same thing today as it did 1000 years ago.  The same cannot be said of English or French or even Spanish.  What was cool 75 years ago was an ice cube, not a pair of jeans.  See my point.  However, filioque has meant the same thing for at least 2000 years.4.  Latin IS the official language of the Church.5.  It is intelligible.  While most may not understand every word, most will grasp the basics, through emersion, which is still the best way to learn, no?So, the reasons for Latin seem to outweigh the reasons against.”He didn’t have much of a comeback.  Although I’m sure a goodly number of you will.

  • Parasum

    The kind of thing cobbled together by the  European Bishops’ Conferences ?

    ## See also the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community:

    “The objectives of COMECE are:

    To monitor and analyse the political process of the European Union
    To inform and raise awareness within the Church of the development of EU policy and legislation
    To maintain a regular Dialogue with the EU Institutions (European Commission, Council of Ministers and European Parliament) through annual Summit meetings of religious leaders, Dialogue Seminars, various Conferences and by taking part in Consultations launched by the European Commission.
    To promote reflection, based on the Church’s social teaching, on the challenges facing a united Europe”

    ## This is like something from “Private Eye” – it’s beyond parody. This aspect of the EU receives almost no attention, & Christians in this country need to know about it.

  • Anthony

    I once a
    few years ago asked God to give me proof that the bread and the wine were
    transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He did just that.


    Sunday morning during mass I was transfixed on the crucifix behind the priest.
    It was life size. Just as the priest held the Eucharist over his head and said
    “Behold the
    Lamb of God who takes
    away the sin of the world”, the stone
    wall behind the crucifix began to glow with a bright light and the body of
    Christ became even brighter than the wall. The body of Christ moved forward and
    downward, arms still outstretched. Christ began to move His arms upward to join
    the hands together and the entire body of Christ was absorbed into the priest.
    Shafts of radiant light cane from the wall behind the now vacated crucifix.
    This light pierced the cross where the nail holes were and were directed at the
    priest who was now one with Christ. Shafts of light radiated through his body
    (and that of Christ in him) up though his upraised arms and “exploded in a
    thousand shafts of light outward from the upraised Eucharist. For me these last
    few years, every mass is a good mass, a great mass.


     I now know.


     Today I believe that this happens now at every
    mass whether I can see it or not. I try to attend mass each morning. I don’t
    think it makes any difference what color the priest is wearing, what the priest
    has to say or not say, who comes in late or who comes in early, whether a phone
    rings or a disruptive toddler is in front of me. God knows the heart of each
    person that he has invited and brought to the feast. If they are there, sooner or
    latter He will speak to them and they will change their ways. As for disruptive
    toddlers, I had a mother apologize to me for her two year old one morning this
    week. I told her that my mind was elsewhere and I was not distracted by her
    child. I told her that God calls us all to be as children and that if a toddler
    could not be a toddler and feel at home in God’s house that the rest of us were
    in BIG trouble. I told her that it was good to see her there and that she
    should never “not come” simply because others might not want her child there.


    God will
    keep His promise and glorify His son and no human can stop Him. God brings this
    about through the priest and He will even use a bad priest or a rogue priest or
    a priest in blue jeans if need be. It is God and no one and nothing stands
    between Him and us if we believe and trust in Him and His beloved Son.


    I love
    tradition and all that but the Holy Mass is so very much more than tradition.
    It is so much more than the precepts of men. It is life itself. It is a great
    gift to receive an invitation but we maybe could use a few less rules,
    regulations and laws. It shouldn’t feel as though the owners at Downton Abby
    have invited a poor beggar to a formal dinner party and then expected him to be
    perfected in all social graces and attire before he arrived.


    It’s a
    feast in our home with our family, Our Father.

  • Judithk

    Do you infer that we should be “Amero-centric” in our liturgical language?  English is always changing and one can hear various vernacular forms dependidng upon a particular area of the U.S.  If you use Chicago-vernacular many sentences would begin with the word “Like”, i.e. Jesus said, like this is my body, etc. -or- as Jacob Suggs referenced in his reply below, should we refer to “brother” as “bro” .  So ….. to which common language of the people do you refer?  What is slang to one group is vernacular to another.  That is why Latin is crucial to proper liturgical language. 

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    A good list, Fr Lucie-Smith.

    But surely the things you leave to the end are the most important?

    I have, thank goodness only once seen a telephone being used in church–it was during a Mass said by the Pope [not in the UK] when a woman tried to phone a commentary to a friend. But I would regard that as absolutely unacceptable.Indeed I think the telephoner ought to be asked to leave the building.

    Talking in Church is actually encouraged by some modernist priests, particularly Jesuits in my experience who have actively defended it to me. (Of course the exiling of the tabernacle from the central part of the church had a great and presumably deliberate effect in secularising the nave and making it a suitable place for chatting.) Talking  is now regarded almost as a right and some people even make bogus appeals to Medieval Chritianity as a predecent. I don’t suppose people in those days stood together in church discussing what they had seen on television the previous night — and I don’t see why they should do so now. The idea that this is a manifestation of a more loving ‘New Church’ seems to me balderdash. It is just a symptom of a less sacred and less Christ-centred congregation who don’t want to get down on their knees and turn their minds and hearts to God.,

    By the way you don’t mention drinking water, chewing gum, or feeding small children in Church.

    Or allowing small children to run screaming amok. At one notable Mass I remember, a child stood in front of the altar, mimicking the movement of the arms of the priest as he raised the host and chalice.

    I told him afterwards I had found it  distracting and inappropriate. He responded by quoting Matthew 19:14 to me and I was left feeling like a fool.

  • Petertheroman

    No disrespect to anyone, but I always kneel before the lord. Coming before my lord makes me just want to kneel in respect at his amazing gift and humility in the eucharist. And at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend. Sorry but people wonder why there is no reverence at mass…. Its because many do not know or believe in the true presence any more. I pray that the lord grants many this understanding… Ahmen….

  • AnnieB

    Why wouldn’t you? You are receiving our Lord and through love and awe show true reverence. I see the m

  • Kinkysox

    Latin Mass would be great in a place like Lourdes. The last time I went, I ended up attending mostly French and Italian language masses – with fewer English language ones!

    The Extraordinary Form is brilliant… and it brings a whole lot more people together than the vernacular!

  • Tonia Marshall

    I’m glad you put starting on time first. I know which of our priests is about to process into church by looking at my watch!

  • kinkysox

    Spot on, Father!

    At last.

    Surely, God’s house should also issue house rules? You wouldn’t visit a stately home and start touching or messing with stuff when you are expressly told not to? Would you go to someone’s house and start ignoring the host by talking to someone else entirely?

    So, don’t do it when you attend Mass!

    And might I suggest our good bishops make sure all priests in their diocese ensure they follow the guidelines to the letter and not toss them into the back of an obscure drawer along with an old football pools coupon and ciggie cards?

    On a positive note, I know a few priests (a FEW) who actually celebrate Holy Mass using the KISS method (Keep It Simple Silly). To use broadcasting terms, they stick to the ‘script’ (i.e.Roman Missal); they do not ad-lib any part of it; they don’t whizz through prayers like a horse racing commentator; the hymns don’t make you cringe – I think you know the ones I’m talking about. These priests I do have bags of time for! The rest of you, I pray to Our Lord, should watch and learn!

    Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is a benchmark in this respect. Cofton Park was a wonderful experience that didn’t last long enough for me…

    I detest a noisy church full of people talking amongst themselves about rubbish (yeah – RUBBISH! I know who you are!) instead of to God before Holy Mass - AAAAARRGGHHH!!!! – it makes you want to stand up and yell at people to just simply ‘button it!’

    When I’m saying my prayers, it’s difficult to hear yourself think. There are times I find their incessant chummering distressing. Yes, distressing!

    The Sign of Peace is like playing Twister standing up. Why wasn’t this ritual shifted to an earlier part of the Mass when the necessary tweaking in the liturgy was done?

    I also can’t stand applause in church. It’s cringe worthy. It’s random. It’s – it’s – I mean, where do you think you are? In the audience of some TV situation comedy, the Oscars or the O2 Arena?

    I even can’t stand the impatience of people who zip up to the altar for Holy Communion before the priest has even picked up his ciborium.

    One could say ‘rant over!’ but it won’t be until people start respecting the Liturgy and Whose house it is!

  • South Saxon

    Agreed. And members of the congregation not receiving from the chalice should not walk straight past it: the Sacred Blood should receive as much reverence as the Sacred Body of Our Lord.

  • Craig

    Say eight times: Traditional Latin Mass.

  • Craig

    It is God. Be humble and receive Him worthily (without capital sin) on the tongue. We do not have consecrated hands, like a priest. Once things changed, all reverence was lost.

  • Charles Martel

    No more handshakes. No more ‘Good morning, everybody’…’Good morning, Father’. No more rubbish bidding prayers. No more Extraordinary Ministers cluttering up the sanctuary. No more altar girls. I could go on, but of course there is one obvious solution to this whole mess: BRING BACK THE TRADITIONAL LATIN MASS and BAN THE NOVUS ORDO FOR ALL TIME.

  • Glowsquirrel31


  • Nat_ons

    The various Eastern Rites in communion with Rome restored the older traditions in modern vernacular versions before and after the Second Vatican Council; hence, once again the Greek could not share with the Syriac nor the Syriac with the Armenian nor any of these with the US English, South American Spanish or Portugese speakers etc in their diaspora.

    So knowing certain parts of their liturgy in Greek (e.g. Kourie Eleison) – or Syriac/ Armenian – would not go amiss wherever the liturgy is celebrated .. and that is the problem still gapping with the total obliteration of Latin, Greek and Aramaic from the Western Rites.

    Knowing how to sing Kyrie Eleison in the Missa De Angelis would not only add significantly to the beauty of the service, but reclaim something of the non-nation character of the Roma Rite.

    N.B. The Fathers at the Second Vatican Council required that priests should ensure their flock could join in the celebration of the Latin/ Greek/ Hebrew parts of the Roman Rite appropriate to the People (plus the Pater Noster and Salve Regina etc) – it was aggressively anti-traditional elements who managed to suppress all but vernacular options.

  • Ronk

    I know priests need a good holiday more than anyone, but why go to Mass disguised as a layman?

    For one thing, the Church commands priests to wear distinctive clerical garb at all times when in public unless it is impracticable (e.g. when going to the gym etc.) Yes even when on holiday. People should wear their “Sunday best” to attend Mass and for a priest that means clerical dress (which obviously would identify to everyone that you are a priest.).

    Secondly  you should make yourself known to the celebrant before Mass, in case he could do with your help with anything. Even if you are in a diocese where you don’t have faculties to celebrate Mass, e.g. canon law requires the priest to call on any priest present to help with distribution of communion in preference to using lay EMHCs.

  • Axilleus

    Latin is not ‘euro-centric’.  It is no longer the language of any particular ethnic group, nor has it been for many, many, many centuries now.  Neither is it a dead language, but a living language whose sole purpose would be to express the sacred.

  • Dbarchard

     You are quite right—there is no instruction these days about the reverence due to the Real Presence. How can the faithful know what to do unless they are taught and reminded? The idea of moving the tabernacle to a side altar for greater reverence simply means that it is largely ignored in most churches.

  • Euan Marley

     The international mass at 9 a.m. is said in Latin because there are so many priests concelebrating.

  • Clementius

    With due respect, I must disagree.  Even with the most strict celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the Novus Ordo Missae is still inconsistent and disparate with the Catholic faith and the purity of doctrine.  The OF, with its babel of languages, who knows what is being said in Japanese is what a Spanish speaking person thinks as equal and the same in his own language.  There is no deviation in Latin. 

    Now, we see that we have more reform of the “Reform of the Reform.”

    There was a good discussion of how completely different context and purpose of the Novus Ordo Mass has from the traditional Latin Mass.  See Chapter XXXVIII in the the book entitled: “Iota Unum, of Study of Changes in the Church in the XXth Century” by Romano Amerio.  As an example, on page 640 he writes:

        “The reform has actually torn out of the psalms, the so-called “imprecatory” or cursing verses that were deemed to be at odds with the Second  Vatican Council’s irenical views, thus mutilating the sacred text and, as it were, surreptitiously removing knowledge of it from the minds of both clergy and laity alike.  The reform has also, in twenty-two places, expunged whole verses from the Gospels used at Mass in order to remove references to the Last Judgment, the condemnation of the world and sin.”

    But what is one to do if there is no traditional Latin Mass where he lives?  He must fulfill his Sunday and holy day of obligation.  So for him, he must tolerate the OF and the abuses (these will never disappear), and attend the Mass.

  • JabbaPapa

    Even with the most strict celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass,
    the Novus Ordo Missae is still inconsistent and disparate with the
    Catholic faith and the purity of doctrine.  The OF, with its babel of

    Its “most strict celebration” is, of course, when (very, very rarely) it is given in Latin.

    Otherwise, you are of course completely wrong when you say that the Order of the Mass is “inconsistent and disparate with the Catholic faith and the purity of doctrine” — it is, in fact, a heresy to do so.

  • frference

    It’s true that during the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest ought not look at the people, as the prayer is directed to the Father.  However, when he says the dialogue parts like “The Lord be with you,” “Lift up your hearts,” and “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” he better look at the people, as those lines are directed toward the people.

  • Alban

    And not before time! Not only are there priests who adopt an a-la-carte approach, but servers too even though there’s a medal suspended from their necks. They are clueless! And also keep the number of servers to an essential minimum.

  • Chris_Topher

    I would like mention that there is no holding hands during the ‘The Our Father’…

  • John McCarthy

    Very Good! Keep up the good work.

  • J.R.G.Edwards

    NO talking in church.
    NO Sign of Peace
    NO hymns composed any later than 1900.

  • Arden Forester

    My goodness, does all this need saying? Father Ted and all that, I suppose. I looked at the link and saw this -

    “The cardinal criticized the effort to make the Mass “entertaining” with
    certain songs — instead of focusing on the mystery — in an attempt to
    overcome “boredom” by transforming the Mass into a show.” He’s dead right there. Now that does need saying.

  • kinkysox

    I’m up for it!

  • kinkysox

    It would be helpful if ALL Masses were in Latin, not just one.

  • Jeannine

    Your post is most inspiring for me especially your last large paragraph! I hope you don’t mind if I make a copy & keep it in my files for inspiration.

  • Gildaswiseman

    Otherwise, you are of course completely wrong when you say that the Order of the Mass is “inconsistent and disparate with the Catholic faith and the purity of doctrine” — it is, in fact, a heresy to do so.Otherwise, you are of course completely wrong when you say that the Order of the Mass is “inconsistent and disparate with the Catholic faith and the purity of doctrine” — it is, in fact, a heresy to do so.
    Jabba, are you suggesting that eminent theologians, a former head of the Holy Office, many Cardinals and prelates are in a state of heresy because they criticise the purity and doctrinal content of the New Mass?

    1. The accompanying critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae, the work of a group of theologians, liturgists and pastors of souls, shows quite clearly in spite of its brevity that if we consider the innovations implied or taken for granted which may of course be evaluated in different ways, the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent. The “canons” of the rite definitively fixed at that time provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery.

  • Mark


    1. Have a church building that truly communicates the sacred and inspires.
    2. Music that truly communicates the sacred and inspires.
    3. When possible, the priest should speak from a traditional high pulpit.
    4. Traditional vestments that communicate seriousness.
    5. Sermons should be arguments based on scripture and tradition, not platitudes.

  • JabbaPapa

    There is a GREAT difference between expressing some discontent with a certain liturgical laxity that the new Order of Mass can sometimes allow, and the loss of certain theological specifics that were explicitly provided in the text of the Old Mass — and claiming the New Mass to be “inconsistent and disparate with the Catholic faith and the purity of doctrine”, as you have done.

    1) The doctrine of the Mass has NOT changed (saying otherwise is not directly heretical per se, though this does depend somewhat on the manner of it — it is OK provided that the argument remains theological and theoretical, but actively teaching such a doctrine to people as if it were the truth would lead directly to heresies)

    2) The Mass is NOT inconsistent with the Catholic Faith (saying otherwise IS heretical)