Please Don’t Pray at Mass!

Oh boy. No matter how many times I find one of these stories I am still a little surprised and saddened. This comes from Fr. Vin of Our Lady of Grace Parish in West Babylon NY. Fr. Vin wishes to exhort his parishioners to "Pray the Mass." Fine. However, Fr. Vin reveals just how little he really understands. Emphases and [Comments] mine. Ht to A Long Island Catholic.
Please Don’t Pray at Mass!

This might sound a little weird, but I mean it: Please don’t pray at Mass!

Or, to make my meaning more clear, let me emphasize: Please don’t “pray at Mass”; instead, Pray the Mass. Praying at Mass is a mistake – understandable because of our history[uh oh!], but a mistake nonetheless. Praying the Mass is what brings us closer to God.

People who grew up with the Mass in Latin couldn’t “pray the Mass”: It was incomprehensible. [Incomprehensible? The way that golf is incomprehensible before you play a few rounds?] So instead, we were encouraged to “pray at Mass.” The priest “did his thing” with his back to the people, murmuring (as instructed – people weren’t supposed to hear some of the prayers) in a foreign language. Rather than be bored silly [As apparently Fr. Vin was in seminary], lay people brought things to do – rosary beads to pray with, booklets of devotions, English-language “missals” that had translations to follow. And well-meaning instructors told people to conduct their own private devotions in the context of the time they spent at Mass – not a good solution, but the best that the times allowed.

Unfortunately we all, with great good will and sincerity, learned too well. When Vatican Council II restored Jesus’ intent that we “do this in memory of [Him]” by celebrating the memorial of His Last Supper together, people had to un-learn habits of a lifetime. [So we were all lost in the incomprehensible wilderness for 1500 years ignoring Jesus' intent.]The Mass was restored to being something that the entire gathered assembly prayed together – which meant that “private” prayer had to be moved out of it to another time. To compound matters, the education that was done for Catholics in the 1960s and early 1970s about these changes was almost always inadequate. So Mass was, for some decades, a sloppy (if well-meaning) assemblage of new routines, experiments (often with bad music), and competing agendas. We are still picking up the pieces from that train wreck. [Because of poorly educated catholics in the pews or from poorly educated priests and liturgists who allowed for no competing agendas?]

But the point is a simple one: All the prayers, hymns, readings, gestures, and silences of the Mass are meant to be prayed by all the people. Some may have different roles (for example, the reader reads the scriptures while the assembly listens), but it’s a shared work – not people on parallel but separate tracks. The “changes” that some like and some don’t are simply meant to reflect this shared work more fully. For example: the Responsorial Psalm was, originally, a song; thus it’s to be sung whenever possible. (Can you imagine a baseball game beginning with a shared recitation of the Star Spangled Banner?) And it’s designed to be sung “antiphonally,” back-and-forth between the leader (cantor) and assembly. Doing that is our prayer – it’s not something that’s a background to our personal, private prayer. [I see what Fr. Vin is trying to say. I won't debate the relative merits of any of the 'changes' to which he refers. What I don't understand is this reflexive need to tear down all that came before the council. Why do all arguments for 'change' have to be predicated on the hermeneutic of discontinuity?]

Similarly the singing during the procession to receive the Holy Communion: our singing together and processing together is our prayer – not merely practical stage-management to “get the host” so that we can (as individuals) then “pray.” [Maybe the music is the problem? Remember, you cannot possibly be actively participating unless you are saying or doing something.]

Even the prescribed times of silence – after the scripture readings, after the homily, and after all have received the Holy Communion – aren’t times to “go private”: they are shared moments of silence in which we take to heart as a communion of faith the presence and guidance of God-among-us in Word and Sacrament. (Unfortunately, since these times mimic the “old style” of praying at Mass, the temptation is to see them as remnants of what used to be. But they’re not: they’re communal silences, something we’re not well-prepared for in either church or culture.)

None of this is to minimize the importance of times of private prayer. Private prayer is vital – it’s just not to be done at Mass. Private prayer in the presence of the Mass is a contradiction: It makes the sacrifice of Jesus Christ a “background” for – me. And what we do when we pray the Mass is to surrender ourselves, as Jesus did on the cross; we surrender to our shared life of prayer. For that, we believe, is the way that Jesus saves us: by weaving us into the fabric of the communion of saints joined in common prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. So please: Do as Christ asks through His church: don’t pray at Mass – pray the prayer He left us, together. Until next week, peace. [Reminding people to pray the mass is all well and good, but Father's dismissive and condescending attitude coupled with the bunk about all that came before the council just misses the mark. Further, is this really a problem. I would venture to guess that there are a lot more parishioners using dressing inappropriately, having pre-marital sex, or using birth control than are praying their rosaries during mass. I guess the little old ladies praying their rosaries are easier targets.]


  1. I shall remember to pray for the dear misguided Father...when I assist at Mass this morning!

  2. The exhortation to "Pray the mass" instead of "praying at mass"--that was said by Pope St. Pius X.

  3. Anon,
    I have no problem with the exhortation to "Pray the mass" instead of "praying at mass." I think that is clear from my comments.

    What I have a problem with is the suggestion that it is virtually impossible with the "incomprehensible" old mass.

    I suspect that Pope St. Pius X would take issue with that as well.

  4. Well, this sounds reasonable, as a whole. The author of this text points to some real problems of the classical mass, I think.

    But he forgets to say that the new mass has got its problems, too: e.g., the total lack of sublime, or the tendency to use a very banal language (a kind of journalese, or [Catholic] bureaucratese). We must respect tradition and history, because we are men! To yield to the savagery of mass society (no pun intended!) would be, for the Church, the worst betrayal of man and his dignity.

    So, the classical mass has got its problems, and the new one has got a lot of problems, too. But both are very good in themselves, of course.

    The best thing would be to make each of the two forms affect the other. That would mean a "reform of the reform": and, I think, this is what the Holy Father, in his great wisdom, has in mind.

  5. (This is a very delicate issue, indeed, and the whole matter should be handled with great prudence. Thank God, we have an exceptionally clever pope!)

  6. I am a Tridentine Catholic, and articles like this constantly show me that the faction opposed to tradition is also the most ignorant thereof.

    "Praying the mass" in the Latin is not difficult. He even mentions the way: Missals! (Which translates the Latin to English.) There are also responses, and you are supposed to pray along with the priest, so I honestly don't know what his objections are.

    Beyond even that, though, the "participation" in the New Mass is trite and sentimental. I would join with the priest who is facing the alter in his prayers than have them spat at me by some half-protestant priest, who makes it up as he goes along.

    In any case, this article just goes to show the weak and slanted thinking that modern seminaries are teaching our religious, and the 'innovation for its own sake' attitude which is cancerous throughout the magisterium.

    It used to be that we were joined with two-thousand years of history when we went to mass, with beautiful music, a prayerful environment and a powerful heritage. Now mass is like a bazaar that even Martin Luther would be ashamed of.

  7. I am also a Traditional Tridentine Catholic. I find the comments by this so called Priest, trite and ignorant, at best. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to be celebrated with only one Priest, as Christ himself did. The whole Church, b-4 Vatican II, prayed the Mass as Christ had taught as he himself is the lamb of God to be sacrificed. The Priest are to follow in the footsteps of Christ Persona Christi) and pray the Mass the same way. The congregants are to follow along in their missals and pray the Mass in silence. Why is it that today’s, so called Catholics feel that Christ is supposed to descend down to us, rather that us ascend or rise upwards to him.

    What ever happened to Sacred Tradition? Did not St. Paul warn us through Sacred Scripture to hold fast to “Sacred Tradition’, one of the three pillars of the Church, and I might add the first pillar. For 20 centuries we have had the purity and the sacredness of the true Ordo Missal. Now, because this modernistic approach (all past heresies combined do not even approach the damage done by this one heresy of ‘modernism’), the Vatican has abrogated its responsibilities and made a mockery with the institution of this New Mass (Novus Ordo) . St. Pius the X was absolutely correct in 1908, he stated that Satan has entered the Sanctuary through the Vatican and at the upper levels as well. Now its at the very top. Remember, the “Law of Belief” and the “Law of Prayer” - “How we believe is how we Pray” - Lex Orandi, Lex Cresendi.

    This new, ever changing what ever you want to call it is nothing short of a clown masquerading as a Priest. Blasphemous scrap with a sacrilegious Priest or Bishop, acting in Persona Christi? Is this even valid? Not for me.

  8. If you check the website the church's street number is 666. How can you trust a church with a big 666 on it?

  9. Yes. And it's in (West) Babylon: the city of Hell!

    We're joking. of course!

  10. Hmmm. That's weird. Father Vin says that nobody could pray the Old Mass because it was like all hard and stuff. Yet it says right here in my Daily Missal (copyright 1960) on the second page (right after the dedication) the quote from Pope Pius X about praying the Mass. What's up with that?

  11. So we were all lost in the incomprehensible wilderness for 1500 years ignoring Jesus' intent.

    Didn't you mean 1,960 years?

  12. I grew up with the Latin Mass, and it was quite common for most of us to use one dual Latin-English language missal or another. Among the favorites were the St. Joseph and St. Andrew Missal. The latter missal I received for my 8th grade graduation in 1955. Even if I had not been an altar boy and known the Latin responses by heart, it was a simple act to follow the English text just as easily as it is today with botched its English. So Father Vin is revising the real situation--not an uncommon act among stubborn progressives for whom history only began in 1960.

    Today the overwhelming majority of people do not sing while in line to receive Our Lord mainly because the music is worthy of a McDonald's or Coca Cola commercial--and people just can't in the mood to "want to buy the world a Coke" when Christ is waiting for them in a couple of minutes.

    If pastors want to change this situation and have the congregation sing, they need to both rid themselves of most music directors and most of the crappy ditty hymnals forced upon their parishioners.

  13. I'm a bit late, but I'm about to have a book published on this very idea of "praying the Mass" (with the new English translation).

    Suffice to say, I don't take the same discontinuous or ruptured approach as Fr. Vin.


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