It seems that most birthday parties I attended as a child had either a clown or a magician. I disliked both. Not because I had an aversion to illusionists or found greasepaint creepy, it was because there was a slight chance they might call me up to the stage. As an introvert with Social Anxiety Disorder, that was terrifying.
An orchestra once visited my elementary school to perform in the cafeteria. The teachers thought it would be fun to have a student play conductor. Because of my good grades, I was given the privilege. Needless to say that when I left the stage after standing before the entire student body for what seemed like an eternity, I asked to be excused to the bathroom where I promptly lost my lunch.
My social phobia persisted throughout most of my childhood. I liked being alone, preferred quiet environments, and enjoyed tranquil activities such as reading, drawing, and journaling. It gives me great pleasure, for example, to write these words. Reciting them publicly would have turned my stomach.
To this day my friends and family know that if we go out to a restaurant to celebrate my birthday, under no circumstances are they to ask the waitstaff to bring out a cake and sing. The thought of being the center of attention is nerve-racking.
My social phobia even manifested itself at Mass.
Keeping the Peace
The prescribed periods of silence and moments of contemplation at Mass, for the most part, catered to my phobia. For me, the Holy Sacrifice was a well spring whose waters were refreshing and vivifying…with one exception—The Rite of Peace.
How ironic that the Rite of Peace was the only part of Mass that, for many with a social anxiety, brings with it unrest.
“Is everyone looking at me? Is anyone behind me? How far should I extended peace? One row? Two rows? Three? Are my palms sweaty? Am I sweaty? Do I make eye contact? Should I say something?”
As a kid, all these thoughts and more raced through my mind on a weekly basis. It was so crippling that several times I would just hug my mom and brother then sit down leaving all those around me “peace less.” I can only imagine what they thought.
As I grew older, life circumstances forced me to nurture a more gregarious attitude. Helping lead a young adult group, facilitating a weekly Bible study, leading mission trips and more recently, giving presentations on the Mass, pushed me out of my comfort zone. The forced socialization dispelled the anxiety so that the Rite of Peace finally lives up to its name.
God the Father
Several years ago I attended a retreat with a teenage girl whose mother forced her to participate. She said she was no longer Catholic—or Christian for that matter—and hadn’t attended Mass in years. During the retreat she was very abrasive and did not take part in the activities.
Her hard shell finally crumbled and in tears confided to our small group that her father had done unspeakable things. For her, calling God “Father” didn’t conjure images of a loving, protective, paternal figure, but rather reminded her of the nights her own father would come home drunk. She couldn’t even make the Sign of the Cross without being taken back to that nightmare. She said that’s why she stopped going to Mass.
Every Knee Shall Bend
A friend injured his knee while playing football. He tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and meniscus which required surgery. He used crutches for several weeks and went through physical therapy. Eventually he was able to lose his crutches and just use a knee brace which was unnoticeable when he wore pants.
We all come to the Mass with our own life experiences, predispositions, phobias, concerns, disabilities, injuries, pains, struggles and scars that color the way we perceive it and impact our worship.
The man who refuses to kneel at the consecration may have had knee surgery. The young girl who didn’t make the Sign of the Cross may be battling demons, the lady who bolted after Communion may be rushing back to the hospital to be at her daughter’s bedside and the young man who didn’t extend his hand at the Sign of Peace may be struggling with a social disorder.
It may be easy for us to dismiss each as being disrespectful—to raise our hands and say “kids these days!” Believe me, I am chief among those who would petition for an increase in reverence during the liturgy and I know I am not alone. In fact, Adoremus Bulletin surveyed its readers about their top concerns at Mass and of the 1,086 responses, 801 cited a lack of reverence as their prime concern. We’ve all seen it. Unruly children running up and down the aisles during the readings, adults talking about what they’ll be doing after Mass during the Responsorial Psalm, cell phones going off at full volume at the moment of Consecration and people better dressed for the beach than to celebrate the Mystery of Faith.
But our desire for there to be reverence at Mass must always be tempered with charity and understanding. So the next time we see someone who, in our eyes, is being “irreverent,” remember, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
How about you? Are you an introvert? Did it present challenges? Have your own struggles influenced how you participate at Mass? Share and let’s learn together!
Thank you so much for reading my article! As a graphic designer, illustrator and dad, I made all the products and apps below to help teach my own children about the Mass. From the cards to the coloring book to the t-shirts, all were created by me to help spread the Good News about Christ and the Church he founded. Your support in visiting my shop AgnusGiftShop would be most appreciated!
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
Dan, great article. I would add just one thing to a desire for greater reverence in the Mass. If I want greater reverence in the Mass, then that should start with me. I shouldn’t be looking at others. As a Deacon, I have to be present in the present – focused on the Mass. Hence when my priest asks me to say the prayer before we start the Mass (I know, some will think it redundant), I always ask that we might be able to focus on our duties and be given the ability to worship the Lord in our service.
While I understand, and agree with, your thoughts on the topic, I’d like to posit another angle. The hunger for reverence isn’t so much about the folks you describe. It is much more about the self congratulatory way many approach the Supper of the Lamb. Anxiety and illness aside, there is a distinct aura of horizontal worship rather than the vertical – man to God – advised by Pope Benedict XVI. My quibble is with lack of respect for the rubrics of the Mass and the casual attitude it brings. I elaborate here: http://catholiclifeinourtimes.com/liturgical-abuses-moral-corruption/
Just finished reading your excellent article Birgit! Would it be OK if I added a link to it in my article?
I have been battling terrible anxiety recently, and I found this while sitting on my couch trying to gather up enough strength to get myself to Mass. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who struggles with anxiety at the sign of Peace or other times. I also struggle to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer (yes I know it’s not really part of the Mass rubric, but when everyone is doing it, it’s hard to explain that it freaks me out). So thank you for writing this!
I too long for more reverence in the Mass, but for me it needs to start with the priest and showing the reverence due Jesus during the consecration. Too many priests just rush through the words and actions and do not give us a chance to adore our Lord Jesus present in the Eucharist. It is no wonder that many of those receiving the Eucharist don’t show respect at the altar. Interviews have shown that a high percentage of Catholics do not believe that Jesus truly is present in the Eucharist.
Thank you so much for writing, Carol! Yes, I have read that many Catholics believe the Eucharist to be only a symbol of Jesus. And that errant belief does manifest itself in the behavior and attitude in the Communion line. I’ve seen people going to Communion while chewing gum and other things that make you scratch your head. I’m sure you have too! One big step would be an increase in catechesis. Learning about our core beliefs for many stops at Confirmation. I was Confirmed and did not remember hearing about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But it could have been that I was not ready to hear it at that point in my life and my mind was more interested in other topics. So a healthy dose of catechesis will go a long way!
Great article, Dan. We’ve been struggling to get the people in the pews to be more tolerant of parents with young children at Mass. There’s a great piece out on the internet called “It’s Worth It” that speaks to the challenges parents face in bringing their young children. Things are gradually changing for the good. We celebrate baptisms during weekend Masses which has gone a long way in building tolerance and community. Keep up the good work – I enjoy your blog.
Thanks so much Mary for being a faithful reader and for writing! I do remember receiving the ”stink eye” a few times that we traveled with our kids and visited a parish that did not have a cry room. We would get glances that communicated “your children are not welcome.” Matthew and Zoe are now old enough (6 and almost 5) to begin participating. But what about parents that have children with autism, ADD, ADHD, Down Syndrome? Will they be treated as lepers indefinitely? I’m glad the tide is changing in your parish and celebrating baptisms during weekend Masses is brilliant. It bolsters the sense of community where all are witnesses to a new member of the Church. By the way, I did a Google search for “It’s Worth It” and couldn’t find the article you mentioned. If you do come across the link, please forward it to me! Thanks so much Mary for reading these humble words.
Interesting article. We really don’t know what is in a person’s mind or heart or what history they are bringing with them to the current interaction or discussion. These unknown things are why they aren’t behaving the way we think they should, whether in Mass or why they won’t buy from us or go on a date with us, etc. I learned a great phrase from Michael Bernoff (www.michaelbernoff.com)that has helped me remove those judgements and assumptions. “That is one way to live”.
Hi Richard. Thanks for reading and for participating by commenting. Yeah, Our Lord did preach about pointing out other’s flaws. That whole “plank, speck, eye” thing 🙂 I am guilty of having knee-jerk judgements, but we need to battle that and see things from an eternal perspective. As St. Paul tells us, the only thing that will remain, is love.
Thank you, Dan, for reminding us that God looks on the heart. We should not be so quick to judge the external for our human understanding is limited. I too long for more reverence at Mass and often fall prey to spiritual pride.
Hey Tammy, we all do it! I know I have! When we criticize others at Mass, basically what we are saying is “why can’t you be more like me!” This IS spiritual pride—the kind our Lord chastised the Pharisees for having. But at the same time, there are instances of just pure irreverence at Mass that doesn’t come from trauma, but perhaps from a lack of catechesis. We need to see it as an opportunity to educate, not castigate.
Dan: I read all the blogs on Mass Explained and enjoy all of them, but this particular blog struck me. I have an issue with standing in one place for several minutes. My tolerance is unknown to me but my legs will cramp and my feet hurt to the point if I don’t sit down I will fall down. People who know me and know why don’t comment but I have had others comment including with negative comments indicating that is disrespectful as there are parts of the Mass where “standing is required.” Because I walk into church and up to the Eucharist they feel that I should be able to stand for songs, etc.
Hello Wanetta! I am so sorry for your pain. My mother suffers from sciatica so I have had some experience with seeing someone need relief while standing. And, like you, she is able to ambulate into the church and receive communion, so “why doesn’t she stand for the Gospel, she’s just being irreverent.” I am so happy that despite your condition, you participate as best you can. Let the nay sayers ramble and formulate their own opinions why you are so “irreverent.” The Lord sees the heart and knows you are doing your best! Thanks for writing, Wanetta, and my prayers for a recovery!
Great article Dan. I’m reminded of an Open Forum our Parish held a few months ago where one of the parishioners was appalled that people were flipping through their books as they followed along with the readings. “How dare they distract me and those around them! The readings for this weeks Mass were published in last week’s bulletin. The should have studied the readings BEFORE coming to Mass today”. Bottom line, this guy enjoys being the center of attention so I guess we should hang on his every word as he “performs” the reading. I personally learn best when I read and listen. To me the bigger issue is that on average 30% of registered parishioners attend Mass on a regular basis. Rather than judging those around us for the clothes they’re wearing or behavior we may find annoying, be thankful that they showed up at all. We don’t know what hardships people may have gone through recently. Those ill fitting or inappropriate clothes someone is wearing may be a sign they lost their job. Those kids not paying attention may have just lost a parent. Rather than focusing on the shortcomings of others (real or perceived) we’re all better served pointing the finger back at ourselves and acknowledging our own areas for improvement.
Bob, thanks for reading and for writing! If only I could add a gold star on WordPress, I would give one to your comment.
A friend of mine is on her parish council and what happened in your “Open Forum” is not an isolated event 🙂 There is a very strange belief that some people have that the more that offends them, the more pious, holy or religious they are. Weird. Glad Jesus didn’t believe that.
Your samples are excellent:
“Those ill fitting or inappropriate clothes someone is wearing may be a sign they lost their job. Those kids not paying attention may have just lost a parent.”
Or a single mom with a child who may be developmentally challenged receiving stares that scream “lady, can’t you control your kid!”
A perfect conclusion:
“Rather than focusing on the shortcomings of others (real or perceived) we’re all better served pointing the finger back at ourselves and acknowledging our own areas for improvement.”
Dan, for me the Mass is not an arena where we observe others behavior. The Mass has evolved in my mind as the bridge between earth and Heaven. It is where we meet Christ in the Eucharist and while the Mass is a communal event it is principally where the Word of God is read and if we are fortunate examined by the homily. It is where the Lamb’s Supper brings us together with God made man as he promised and it is the most powerful force for recreation off the world.
Others behavior neither detracts nor interests me. I accept it as their way of coming in contact with the great mystery.
I recommend Scott Hahn’s bood, “The Lamb’s Supper”.
Hi Jim! Thanks for reading this blog and for writing! Dr. Hahn’s book is indeed an excellent read! In fact, reading any of his many, many books will be time well spent.
Your conclusions regarding the Mass is what we all strive for. Nonetheless, sometimes I do get distracted at Mass. Either my mind wanders on things that need to get done, worries vie for my attention or something catches my eye. When that happens, I try to catch myself and refocus on the Mystery of Faith. I hope that one day I could be totally oblivious to what’s going on around me at Mass and 100% focused on God’s love and presence in the liturgy. Thanks Jim!
Some years back my nephew was visiting my older sisters for Easter. After much discussion we were able to convince him to join us for Easter Sunday Mass. He put on his best clothes he had with him albeit a beautiful laced up hockey jersey and clean jeans. As the family entered the church one behind each other my older sister and I heard the head usher say to another usher, “Get a load of this guy.” He, referring to my nephew in the hockey jersey. My sister turned to me and said, “If he only new what it took to get him here.” I was very happy my nephew joined us that Sunday.
Thanks for writing! What a blessing that your nephew attended Mass! Not in my parish, but I’ve heard some ushers engage in “idle chatter,” almost as if it were a “boys club.” Their comments at times more appropriate for the local bar than the House of God. In the case of your nephew, the comment is not appropriate anywhere.
An old WWII saying goes “Loose Lips Sink Ships” which meant to be careful what you say, you never know who might be listening. We should never have a judgmental attitude in our hearts. But even if that evil creeps in, professing it may lead others to sin and hurt the object of those negative comments.
I am thankful that you brushed it off and enjoyed your nephew taking part in the celebration of Mass—on Easter Sunday no less!
Thank you for this article. I think it applies directly to an experience I had at Mass TODAY!
Hi Angel! Thanks for taking the time to write and for reading this blog! Isn’t God’s timing amazing!!
Dan, I can well understand the feelings of those few individuals outlined in the post who have genuine reasons for so-called irreverence at Mass – I hope that most people would be making allowances for odd irreverent acts at Mass anyway, even if they are unaware of a person’s struggles.
What is very apparent, though, is the somewhat large scale and ongoing occurrence of irreverent acts during almost every Mass: many people sitting during the Consecration; flippant receiving of Holy Communion – with not many receiving on the tongue, for example. A general lack of belief in the Real Presence, from my perspective. The Church needs to address this apparent crisis.
Thank you so much for reading the post and for writing. I could not agree with you more. The article in no way is an excuse for actual irreverence. I’ve seen some things (and I’m sure you have too) that are cringeworthy. People going to Communion while chewing gum, attire that is more appropriate for the beach than for Mass and loud conversations and carrying on throughout the liturgy.
However, I have heard critiques of people who I know were enduring hardships that curtailed their participation and that was the impetus for the post.
Thanks again, Bob and have a blessed Sunday!
There are many others that can be added to your example,
– the man with sleep apnea – who falls asleep as he sits still during the homily,
-the child with ADHD (or the adult ) who hears it all – even while coloring or doodling,
– the people who want to raise their hands in praise, those who find the same thing awkward….
– the visitor who doesn’t know what is going on, and feels embarrassed – but so longs for the hope of the gospel!
Thanks for writing this – it is excellent!
I have been unable to stand, kneel and go to the alter for a long time, many parts of the service are uncomfortable for me. The Rite of Peace is one of the most uncomfortable. There I sit in the pew during the service, not standing or kneeling, with the pastor coming to me to serve communion. Since my disability is not obvious unless I am walking with my walker, I may seem irreverent to many. I don’t know. What I am aware of is that almost no one comes to me to greet me, shake my hand or talk to me. Even people sitting immediately in of and behind ignore that I am there. There is one teenage girl who seems to seek me out no matter where she is sitting, but with that exception I feel very alone during services. I am not complaining only sharing to make people more aware. Maybe it’s different with your congregants.
Eileen, we have several people in our Church that for a variety of reasons do not have mobility similar to you. Many of our parishioners greet them, kiss them and acknowledge they are there. I feel for you. When I bring either the bread or the cup to these people, I smile extra big so they know they are not a bother. It is my privilege to serve them.
Thank you so much Rev. Parker for reading this blog and for writing. Those are excellent examples! It is so tempting for us to pass knee-jerk judgements. Everyone has a story and for some, approaching the Mass is fraught with challenges. Thank you!