Etiquette for Holy Mass and Holy Communion
Please remember the two fundamental principles upon which our behavior and attitudes in church rest: The church is a sacred space! It is the “Lord’s house” where we come to worship God together.
Mass is a holy and sacred act! It is during the Mass when all the graces and merits of our Lord’s sacrifice are applied to our souls in a sacramental fashion.
If you keep these two principles in mind, all the following points of Mass etiquette will make perfect sense...
Please dress appropriately. We should dress for Mass as if a King had invited us to a wedding feast, for that is what Mass truly is. Jesus, our King, is the groom and we are his bride. Who would show up to a wedding improperly dressed? Therefore, we should wear our best for the Lord.
Please arrive to Mass punctually. It is a good idea to arrive at Mass on time in order to participate in the entire liturgy. After finding your seat, take the opportunity to review the Bible readings, prepare yourself in prayer, or reflect on what you wish to bring to Jesus during the Mass. Arriving on time is also respectful to other parishioners because it prevents distractions once Mass has begun.
Please turn off your devices. This includes cell phones, pagers, or anything else that rings, beeps, or buzzes.
Please do not bring any food, drink, or gum into the church.
Please reverently genuflect towards the tabernacle before sitting down. We do this to show respect to Jesus, our crucified King, who is present body, blood, soul and divinity in the hosts that are preserved in the tabernacle.
Please stay until the end of Mass. Mass ends when Father gives the final blessing then says, “The Mass is ended, go in peace” and we say: “Thanks be to God.” The final blessing is very powerful and will aid and protect you throughout the week. You are encouraged to stay and sing the final recessional hymn as well. Attending Mass in its entirety from beginning to end will give you a fuller, richer experience than leaving right away.
Please exit the church reverently and respectfully. Again, this is to show respect to other parishioners and our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. There is a custom where some people stay several minutes after Mass in thanksgiving for the Eucharist they have just received. You are encouraged to do the same.
The manner in which we approach the altar for Holy Communion is founded on the truth that the Eucharist is really and truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not just a symbol or representation! Because of this, we should approach communion with devotion, reverence, and respect.
Please keep in mind the following guidelines when receiving communion:
Fast for at least one hour before Mass: It is customary to pray and fast before Mass in order to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion and to offer ourselves as a pure sacrifice to our Lord. (Water and medicine do not break a fast.)
You must not be conscious of any grave sin: It is seriously wrong to receive our Lord while in a state of grave (mortal) sin. Saint Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 11:27 – 29 that, “whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” If someone is conscious of grave sin, they are asked to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving communion. In the meantime, one is encouraged to come up with their arms crossed over their chest for a blessing.
Non-Catholics are kindly asked to abstain from receiving communion: Holy Communion is a theologically powerful act in which we become intimately and profoundly united to God. It is the sign and cause of the complete unity of faith, life, and worship among Catholics. In order to receive Holy Communion, therefore, one would necessarily accept, believe and live according to the tenets of the Catholic faith. Non-Catholics naturally do not. It is for this reason that they are asked to abstain. However, if someone wishes to become Catholic, he/she is warmly invited to participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) to be formally and publicly received into the Church at Easter. Communion would be, therefore, the culmination and goal of this journey of conversion. In the meantime, non-Catholics are greatly encouraged to come up with their arms crossed over their chest for a blessing. (Please refer to the inside cover of the missal for the United States Bishops’ statement on Holy Communion.)
Receive communion with reverence and devotion
Before approaching the priest or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, make a reverential bow in respect to our Eucharistic Lord. When they say either “the body of Christ” or “the blood of Christ,” your response should only be “Amen.” This word means “So be it,” “It is so,” or “I believe.” Please say it clearly and distinctly.
You can receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hands. If you choose to receive in the hands, place your right hand over your left (in the shape of a little throne to receive the King of kings). You must consume the host immediately. It is forbidden to give the host to children who have not made their first communion or to take the host out of the church.
If you require more information on why it is essential to be in a state of grace in order to receive communion, please do not hesitate to speak to a member of the clergy (priest or deacon).
Thank you for respecting and honoring these guidelines as set forth by the Congregation of Divine Worship in Rome, as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. By doing so, you will help to protect and promote the sanctity of the Holy Mass whenever it is celebrated. More importantly, you will cultivate a greater spirit of devotion and reverence for the Eucharistic Lord within your own soul. God bless you!
Content written by Nicholas Lebish, former Director of Evangelization and Faith Formation, St. Catherine of Siena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Reprinted with permission.
Mass Etiquette Worksheet
Q1. When we enter and leave Church we should do it reverently and respectfully.
- True. When we enter and leave Church, we cross ourselves with Holy Water, reminding us of our Baptism.
Q2. When we enter and leave Church, genuflect toward the Tabernacle.
- True. When we enter and leave Church, we genuflect toward the Tabernacle out of respect for the Eucharist.
Q3. You can chew gum at church and still receive Holy Communion.
- False. Chewing gum does not break the fast, but it is distracting and disrespectful of the Sacred Liturgy and once the juice is swallowed the fast is broken. (Source)
Q4. Those who are non-Catholic may come up to receive Holy Communion.
Q5. Only those Catholics who are not in mortal (serious) sin and who have fasted for one hour are welcome to receive Holy Communion.
- True. All Catholics not in mortal (serious) sin and who have fasted for one hour are welcome to receive Holy Communion.
Q6. Those who are non-Catholic or who cannot receive Holy Communion may come up with their arms crossed on their chests in order to receive a blessing.
Q7. You should make a reverential bow as you step up to receive both the Body and Blood of Christ.
- True. Make a reverential bow as you step up to receive both the Body and Blood of Christ. Hold your clean hands chest-high and outstretched to receive the Eucharist or receive on your tongue. “Receive” Communion in an out-stretched hand. Do not “take” or “grab” it from the minister. When receiving from the chalice, make sure you have a firm grip on it and make sure the Communion Minister has firmly re-grasped it when you are done.
Q8. A profound bow will suffice if one is physically incapable of genuflecting.
Q9. If you are ill, you should not receive from the chalice.
- True. If you are ill, do not receive from the chalice.
Q.10. When the minister says, “Body of Christ” or “Blood of Christ,” the response is a clear “Amen!” (Which means “I believe!” or “So be it!”).
Q11. You do not have to consume the Body of Christ immediately.
- False. Consume the host immediately. If you walk away with the host in your hand, a Communion Minister may come after you to make sure you consume the host.
Q 12. Candies, breath mints, lozenges does not break the fast.
- False. Please do not bring food or drink inside the church. The Eucharistic fast is before Holy Communion, not the Mass. It is a fast from food and drink; water is alright, as is medicine. The moral theology tradition teaches that for it to be food, it must be a) edible, b) taken by mouth, and c) swallowed. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, candies, breath mints, lozenges and anything that is put into the mouth to be dissolved or chewed meets these conditions once the dissolved contents are swallowed. (Source)
Q13. For no important reason, you may leave Mass any time after receiving Holy Communion.
Q14. Cell phones should be turned off during Mass.
- True. Please leave cell phones and beepers in your car. Our place of worship is no place to have a phone conversation.
Q15. Dress modestly and appropriately to Mass.
- True. Dress modestly for Mass. How would you dress if you were having dinner with the Pope?
Q16. For no important reason, you can deliberately arrive late for Mass because it is not considered a sin.
Q17. Leaving church before the last hymn ends is inappropriate.
Q18. Respect for the Eucharist demands that we kneel on our knees without leaning back on the pew.
Q19. If you are ill or disabled, it is acceptable to sit instead of kneeling.
Q20. You do not have to shake hands during the Sign of Peace. It is permissible to politely say, “Peace be with you,” without shaking hands.
No one should be moving around during the following times:
- When the lector is reading the First and Second Readings from Scripture, the Psalm or the Gospel acclamation;
- When the priest or deacon is reading the Gospel;
- When the priest is saying the words of Consecration, changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (during the Eucharistic prayer between the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Great Amen).
The exception to the above would be if someone is ill or has a crying baby who is distracting others.
If you or your child leave the church and re-enter during one of these times, you should remain standing at the back until these parts are over. The ushers have been instructed to ask people who are entering at these times to stand and wait at the back to be seated.
Please remain in your pew until the final song ends. Exiting beforehand is like being asked to dinner and leaving before the dessert is served.