It seems that many people find themselves distracted during Mass. According to online discussions, hundreds of people say they are kept from a prayerful focus by everything from flip-flops pattering down the aisle, to seeing a person stick the Eucharist in a pocket.
Is it being “judgmental” to have reactions to these things? Should we simply focus on our interior experience and block out everything else?
First, it seems important to clarify: The events listed here range from a minor display of disrespect to something sacrilegious. To “judge” means to differentiate between right and wrong and degrees of sin. Putting the Eucharist in a pocket or giving it to an infant is wrong and potentially a grave sin. Wearing flip-flops is a distraction that doesn’t show an appreciation for the importance of the sacrament. So, in that sense, it is “wrong” to a lesser degree. Women who wear low-cut outfits are buying into secular culture and may need to be educated about how that kind of dress can lead to sin for others.
Evaluating right and wrong is necessary for four reasons: So we can commit ourselves to better behavior; in order to train our children properly; to recognize people who need our prayers; and, to intervene so that others keep from committing a grave sin.
Times to intervene: Someone who leaves Mass, with the host in a pocket should be challenged. “Please consume the host or give it to me,” said one Eucharistic minister when he saw this happen.
Another time to intervene might be when people are talking and using cell phones during the Mass. Recently, I stood next to a man who intervened. The people in front of us were talking and texting. They remained sitting and did not participate in the Mass. The man next to me whispered to them, “At a Mass, it is important to be quiet and put cellphones away out of respect for our Lord.” After he said this, he dropped the matter. They continued in the same manner but he did what he could.
Others who complained of distractions said that squirming kids topped the list. For them, any intervention should be to turn their irritation into charity. Parents are usually their own worst critics. They feel self conscious and sure that everyone around them feels irritation over kid behavior. It would be so much better if parents of young children felt that others were giving them a “spiritual hug of support.” That’s the kind of intervention parents need!
Modeling the Best:
Perhaps the best answer to Mass distractions is to SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. When we are doing the right thing by how we dress, how we show reverence, how we receive communion and how we act in charity, then we encourage others—not just our children—but all of those around us.
I remember one day when this struck me. I had gone to Mass on Sat. and was planning to do some errands on Sunday morning after teaching a catechism class. But I stopped in church to say a quick prayer. The choir began singing. I looked up thinking I would duck out quickly since Mass was starting. But one of my students was looking at me. I couldn’t leave then!
For the next several minutes I debated about leaving. I knew that even if I left while the congregation was standing, a few people would see me and wonder. It would give a bad example. It was wrong to leave once the sacred sacrament was unfolding.
The message became clear that we are responsible for setting an example for each other. What if almost everyone who came to Mass, consciously practiced being a role model? We aren’t at Mass simply for our own benefit. It is a collective experience. We are there together. Praising God together.
If we were aware of that it would mean being appropriately dressed, participating actively in communal prayers and songs, showing reverence and respect for the importance of the sacrament. Wouldn’t that make a difference for those who were there out of a sense of duty, and for teens who were forced to go the church by their parents, for visitors and for children?
We can help each other best by being role models and praying for one another as we gather together.