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

by Steve Ray on October 18, 2019

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.

{ 19 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?

STEVE RAY HERE: I agree!

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.

Phil January 25, 2018 at 11:28 PM

I would recommend that people participate in the songs, responses, prayers, etc. Actively participate for short

Sandi January 27, 2018 at 11:05 AM

I have friends who habitually arrive late for Mass. I can understand it once in awhile, particularly with those who have big families and small children; but those who don’t seem to have as much trouble arriving on time. Time to prepare for Mass is a must. One should go over their sins, their Mass intentions, what they want to present to the Lord during the Offertory. All of this requires some contemplation. Most importantly, I feel that habitually arriving late is an insult to our Lord. It does not honor Him.

William October 19, 2019 at 11:11 AM

At our place, we are treated to a "first Communion" hymn and a second one to which all are suppose to sing along (active participation!). This music is invariably secular in tone (glory and praise stuff) and usually inappropriate to receiving the Holy Eucharist. Fault me all you want but I quietly leave right after receiving Holy Communion and high-tail it to the car where I can properly reflect and offer Thanksgiving. I'm a Roman Catholic and for a half a century have suffered miserably through Protestantized liturgies and vulgar and in appropriate music–one day a switch was flipped and for the sake of my immortal soul, decided enough was enough.

STEVE RAY HERE: J think I’d find another parish.

Leslie October 19, 2019 at 3:52 PM

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

Better still: genuflect. And if you can, receive kneeling.

Andy mentioned applause.
“Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. Such attraction fades quickly – it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation” Cardinal Ratzinger

“It is not fitting to applaud the servant in the house of his Master.” Pope St. Pius X

And Pope St. John XXIII: “I am very happy to have arrived here, but if I had to express a desire, it would be that you don’t shout in church, don’t clap your hands, don’t even greet the Pope, because Templum Dei, Templum Dei [the Temple of God is the Temple of God]. ”

And regarding “actively participating,” there’s this from Pope St. John Paul II: “Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty.”

Father Khouri October 20, 2019 at 2:11 AM

So many issues mentioned in the comm boxes. All complaining about this or that. I see it all from the sedalia. But I am there to offer the Sacrifice not be so easily distracted, close your eyes, ask the Lord to direct your mind and heart. If your parish is so bad go to another. Quit griping about every little thing. Show some gratitude that you even have Mass.

Paul October 21, 2019 at 2:45 PM

Great Compilation of Do’s and Dont’s during Catholic Mass.
Really useful for Young and Adults at the same time.

Seth Peters October 23, 2019 at 8:28 PM

I disagree with #12. It is very important that children sit near the front in order to see. We have become an anti-child, contraceptive culture, and removing children from Mass is not the solution. While parents should remove a child who is not quieting within a reasonable length of time, everyone else needs to redefine what they consider reasonable. It is not my responsibility as a parent teaching my child how to be at Mass to also ensure that your contemplation is meaningful. If you want immersive contemplation, go to a holy hour. Mass is for families.

I would add a rule #12b. Never, ever share your disdain with a parent who made the effort to bring their child to Mass, no matter how the child behaves. A millstone will hang from your own neck!

STEVE RAY HERE: I certainly agree with 12a! I often encourage parents by smiling at them so they don’t feel alienated or ostracized.

Steve B. October 27, 2019 at 3:49 PM

I am shocked that people use the church as their conversation area before and then right after mass (OF). Have some respect for the house of God. I have made the Latin Mass my mass of choice (EF). All this feel good music and sermons are totally out of place. At least the Lain Mass is structured and solemn. Sacred silence is always observed, and respect for the Blessed Sacrament is held at high regard.

Joyce Magras October 27, 2019 at 6:12 PM

I am an ex-Religious under private vows who worked for the church all of my life. (even as a child, helping with cleaning every weekend, decorating for holy days, working with the nuns and priests in my local parish back on St. Thomas, U.S. V. I. The parish was under the Spiritual guidance of the Redemptorists Fathers and Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, NJH.

I live in Morris Cty., NJ for a long time. Whenever I go to Holy Mass I have to wear ear-plugs before Mass
starts. I try to get there 1/2hr. before Mass starts. One would think one is at a game, in a school hall but definitely not in the House of God in His REAL PRESENCE.. I have brought it to the attention of pastors (I’ve switched parishes ) and attended at others. It’s like happy hour, comedy hour or just another place to “chit-chat.” the responses from pastors etc. is “it’s gathering space – the people need to meet each other, “I know what socialization is …” …” What does one do? I am at the point where I keep thinking that I would do better to attend Mass on EWTN or CFN in NY. Even contacted the bishop.
But one gets the feeling that sacredness, respect for the house of God and for the right of those who come to pray doesn’t exist and clergy – not all but too many are DOING NOTHING – it’s hard to pray with the noice in church.
I welcome any and all suggestions. It’s not Catholic anymore.

Ken October 28, 2019 at 9:55 AM

I find that it may be politically correct to stand after returning from communion but feel it takes away from a special time of reflection and thankfullness .This NEEDS to be changed back to either being seated or kneeling.You may have also noticed a lot of grey hair or no hair which indicate an older population attending mass.Many struggle with the standing because of health problems.

STEVE RAY HERE: I for one, cannot kneel any more due to bad knees. I have to stand or sit.

TD October 28, 2019 at 1:31 PM

Overall, I very much agree. For #3 and 4, though, there can be some exceptions, depending on one’s needs, so I think “never do x” is a little too rigid. For instance, someone with a migraine that’s not quite bad enough to keep them home might still need protection against light (and let’s be honest, some churches are quite overly, painfully bright even for those who don’t have migraines). Or maybe someone’s had recent eye recent surgery and has been told to wear sunglasses. Or maybe someone simply forgot their regular glasses at home and needs to keep the prescription sunglasses on in order not to walk into things. And there are even a few cases for gum, like my 70-year-old father, who has Parkinson’s and finds that without something to stimulate his swallow response, he drools uncontrollably, which is a huge source of distraction for him that the gum removes. So he talked to his pastor and got a green-light to have gum and still receive communion (he take the gum out before receiving, of course).

Jess Espinosa October 28, 2019 at 5:21 PM

On Sundays, I like to sit on the fourth pew with a good view of the pulpit. There is a couple who sits on the front pew. The wife has a habit of reading the bulletin as she waits for Mass to begin. Last Sunday, they came late and the first pew was occupied. They sat on the third pew, the one before mine. I cannot believe when she, the moment Mass began, opened the tri-fold bulletin and started reading it. The husband obviously tolerates it, or maybe he finds it alright, but I had to stifle the urge to say something to her. Should I have?

Jess Espinosa October 28, 2019 at 6:27 PM

@Joyce Magras – See @Steve B.’s comment. One Sunday a few weeks after I started attending TLM, I took my usual seat on the front pew. There were a few people around me and I noticed that it was so quiet. I thought to myself, “Where’s everybody?” During the entrance procession, I stood up and turned around to the other direction, and to my surprise, the church was packed! Then I realized that the people were entering quietly, finding their seats soundlessly, out of respect and reverence for the One whom we were celebrating, unlike in other churches where there is a party atmosphere. Joyce, it’s the TLM for you, try it and hope you find what you are looking for.

Maryann M Srbljan October 29, 2019 at 1:44 PM

Please keep your children under control. 2 weeks ago a family with three younger ones were totally out of control. One boy crawled under the pew and was trying to look up my skirt, (long skirt) , one was kicking the back of the pew which is not good if one has back problems, one was trying to pull individual strands of my hair out that hung under my matilla, and one was coughing and trying to yell in my ears about 6″ from my ear. (I wear hearing aids so as to hear the homily.) ugh. Normally there is a family of 2 kids about the same age that is well behavied that sits there. Please keep your kids under control. Also I had did move a bit farther up and one of the kids followed me by crawling under the pews and tried to continue his behavier.

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