Mass etiquette

When people think of Mass etiquette, probably what comes to mind most are the obvious: having cell phones turned off, no chewing gum, keeping quiet etc. While these are valid points to remember, Mass etiquette is not only a listing of “do’s and dont’s” but an invitation to all who come to church to remember where they are and to act accordingly.

St. Peter’s Church interiorAt this page, you will find the Mass etiquette broken down into the various categories of: Before Mass, During Mass, After Mass and Common Practices.

Before mass

Important Things To Remember

Welcoming Others

Every effort should be made so that all who come to Mass feel welcome. We can begin this by not judging others who do not know or understand the proper attire and etiquette. Properly done, our behavior and disposition toward others should be respectful. It can be tempting to give others improper looks, appear uncomfortable in their presence and in general, display a lack of charity in attitude and action. Our approach when dealing with those who are new to the faith, visiting our parish or lacking in understanding should be one of providing an example for others. If we must speak in a corrective way, let it be loving and gentle.

Promptness For Mass

Arriving to Church on time is important! Certainly, some things can not be helped or foreseen, that results in a late arrival. Every effort should be made to plan ahead for coming to Mass and to allow for some personal time, for prayer and adoration, to prepare for Mass.


Although children can be a little noisy at Mass, it is understandable that some level of noise will exist. If children become out of control, enough so to be disruptive and distractive to parishioners, then it would be appropriate for the child or children to be taken to another part of the church (chapel) or quiet room. An effort should be made by parents, in the home, to teach children the importance of the Mass and how best behavior and proper manners are expected. Parents should endeavor to discuss the “do’s and dont’s” in Church. For example, standing on the pews, chewing gum, eating, bringing toys, looking at parishioners in the other pews, screaming, running etc. Of course, infants and very young toddlers are exceptions to the rule!

What To Wear and Not To Wear

As a sign of respect for our Savior and Redeemer, it is important that special consideration be made to attire. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.” CCC, 1387

Specifically, we should endeavor to be modest in dress, clean and decent. Immodest dress, especially for women, distracts others and could cause them to sin in thought. Cloths that draw attention to ourselves due to color, style or quality are not appropriate to wear at Mass. Wearing one’s best is always encouraged and certainly reflects the importance of the Mass and our respect for Christ.

Any clothing that is revealing is never acceptable. Specific to each gender:


Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation is necessary for all of us, especially so for those who are in the state of mortal sin and desiring to receive Communion at Mass.

Typically, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is made available before the Saturday Vigil Mass or any time during the week by appointment. If you are desirous of confessing your sins before a Mass, be conscious of others who wish to do likewise, especially if time is running out and there remains quite a few individuals who want to confess their sins. In such a scenario, simply state your sins, without explanation or added discussion as a courtesy to fellow parishioners. Then at some later point in time, you can schedule a confession appointment whereby time and other individual confessions are not restricting your need for an extended confession.

When in line to confess, keep a distance from the confessional that ensures privacy. After completing your confession, if there happens to be many people waiting to confess and time is limited, inform the priest as to how many people are waiting.

For further information on Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance, please see the following resources:

Non-Catholic Guests/Visitors

Non-Catholics that have been invited to attend the Mass should be provided with an explanation of the “do’s and don’ts” specifically with respect to their not being eligible to receive the Eucharist and what aspects of the Mass they can participate in.

During mass

Sacred Silence

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that “sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times…Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” (45)

Sacred silence as a part of the celebration is to be observed at the designated times. The avoidance of unnecessary conversation should be maintained coupled with an attitude that the Church is a holy place. Every effort should be made to keep the atmosphere of the Church a quiet one. Keeping quiet is a must in a library, how much more so is it in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

Bowing and Genuflecting

A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bows: one, a bow of the head and two, a bow of the body. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal section on Genuflection and Bows, provides guidelines for when a bow is to be made:

Genuflecting is the bending of the right knee all the way to the ground. This signifies adoration and is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

The General Instructions of the Roman Missal states that genuflecting is made by the clergy, deacons and other ministers and the laity:


Be seated at Mass in such a manner that it signifies attentive listening and readiness to be instructed. Sitting up straight, quietly and reverently is proper. Remember, that being in Church is not the same as sitting in one’s couch or living room lounge chair. One’s posture while sitting should be indicative of one’s intention to listen to scripture. This posture should reflect attentiveness and alertness.

State Of Mortal Sin

There is a moral obligation by each Catholic to examine one’s conscience prior to arriving at Mass for the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. Special attention is drawn to those who are in a state of mortal sin, which does not permit them to receive Communion until after having received Confession. To learn more about mortal sin, please review the following resources:

Receiving Holy Communion

All Catholics who are properly suited (those who have received their First Sacraments, who are not in a state of mortal sin and have fasted one hour prior to Mass) to receive Holy Communion may do so on their hand or tongue. The obligation to do so is once a year during the Easter Season.

When walking up to receive Communion, be conscious of what is happening and who you are about to receive. You are about to receive the Lord Himself. Be on guard for any lack of reverence.

After Receiving Communion

After receiving Communion, keep a “custody of the eyes,” that is be conscious to not let your eyes wander around. Instead, it is proper to keep your focus in front of you, with you head toward the floor.

The traditional posture of walking with your hands together, either in prayer position with palms facing each other at chest level is certainly acceptable. Common is to simply keep hands held together at the waist level, with one hand overlapping the other.

A “custody of the eyes” is also important for those who are in the pews who have yet to join the Communion line. It is not proper to stare at those who have received Communion. The time of Communion is a very intimate, personal and for many an intense time. Respect and courtesy should be forthcoming.

Upon returning to the pews, kneeling in prayer is considered appropriate. If you have been standing at Mass, standing and prayer is acceptable under such circumstances. If for some reason you can not kneel, sitting in silent will suffice.

It is important to remember that when receiving Communion, we are receiving Christ, therefore, be on guard against any lack of reverence.

Common practices

The Sign Of The Cross

Mass ends only when the celebrant states, “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” and the congregation replies, “Thanks be to God.” If there is a recessional hymn, it is most polite to stay in the pew until the hymn is completed. If there is no hymn, the proper order of departure from the Mass first allows for the celebrant, concelebrant and assistances to descend from the Altar and proceed down the middle of the nave. It is only then, does the congregation begin to leave, starting with those in the front pews and followed by others in the successive pews. This order is important because upon leaving the pew, we are required to genuflect in the direction of the location of the tabernacle, where Christ’s true presence remains always. When one leaves the pew, one should not be confronted with people walking toward one as one genuflects!

For reasons which are not related to the historically rooted purpose of blessing oneself upon entering the Church, some parishioners sign themselves with Holy Water upon exiting the Church. It is fine to do this in terms of one’s piety, but it is not required that one do so. The blessing with Holy Water is for upon the entering of the Church, not the exiting.

Christ’s true presence remains in the tabernacle always and as a sign of fidelity and respect to our Savior and Redeemer, after Mass has ended, we should endeavor to leave the church in a quiet and reverent manner. This should also been done as a courtesy to those who have remained after Mass to pray!

After mass

When To Leave

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of Saint John, stated “The sign of the cross is a trophy raised against the power of the prince of this world; when he sees it, he is afraid; when he even hears of it, he is filled with terror.” The sign of the cross is our hope, our salvation therefore, let us make the sign of the cross in a purposeful and meaningful way.

When making the sign of the cross, ensure that you are attentive to the act. Do it carefully, deliberately and with reverence. When we cross ourselves, instead of a small embarrassed, cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, make a large measured sign, one that extends from the forehead to the naval, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it envelopes you.

Sign of Peace

Making the sign of peace should be done without any undo noise or commotion. The celebrant, as the guardian of the Eucharist, does not leave the altar and he does not shake hands as shaking hands may contaminate the Eucharist species. 

Under normal circumstances, the congregation is permitted shake hands, make a sign of peace or simply say, “peace be with you.” There may be special circumstances when physical contact of hands is discouraged, as was the case with the recent H1N1 Influenza virus.