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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

"Praying the Mass", distraction in prayer, and receiving communion when late for Mass

Jan 29, 2018

What is “praying the Mass?”

      As the Holy Mass is our greatest act of worship, filled with ritual, symbols, gestures, and the like, it certainly is different from other types of prayer that may contain only one or a few of these elements. Within the Mass, the reality of prayer is understood as “giving ourselves” to the Lord, allowing His work to draw us into closer union. Thus, when we think of praying the Mass, we are to practice entering into it with our whole being, in our interior opening of self to God’s love for us in the sacrifice of Christ, and through all of our external senses that lead us to perceive and partake of His gift of salvation.

If one gets distracted in prayer should you go back and “re-pray?”

     An important truth about the mystery of God that we can also apply to our understanding of how to pray is that He sees beyond appearances into our hearts. Accordingly, when it comes to battling distractions in prayer, what is most important is that we are doing our best to not allow the distraction to frustrate us; rather, we can give God the distraction, that is, we do our best to gently refocus on the Lord, consciously giving our distractedness to Him as part of our prayer.

     Similarly, because God sees our hearts, part of humility in prayer is to acknowledge that in our sincere effort to pray, God does infinitely more in us than we even know. While the most focused and personally moving prayers from within our own perception certainly have great power, God can work simply in our sincere act of attempting prayer (though we may be distracted or feel as though it is pointless). Therefore, I would say it is far better to persevere than to start over.

If you are late to Mass should you refrain from receiving Communion?

     In early autumn 2017, I recall answering this question in length when asked regarding “weekday” Mass. However, there is no distinction between weekdays or Sundays for this type of question. Accordingly, the core paragraphs of the longer column that I wrote in the recent past are given here to restate what is expected and acceptable: 

     As all the sacraments require both a right disposition to receive and the proper participation in the fullness of the rite, so too in receiving Holy Communion we must be of proper disposition to receive and are to fully participate in the rite – which simply put is to participate in the whole Mass. Nowhere will you see any official Church
teaching speak of exceptions for late arrival at Mass or for any allowance of an “if” you arrive by “_____”, then you can receive. Please understand that were the Church to formally assign such a threshold, the Mass itself as a complete act of worship would no longer matter (because it would be only the receiving of communion itself and not the whole Mass, inclusive of communion, that would take precedence). Remember, too, that the Church’s precepts assign us to participate in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, even if we cannot or choose not to receive Holy Communion.  Finally, know that participation in the whole Mass is essential to be of right disposition for communion if for no other reason that the Mass itself contains its own moments that aid us preparing us to receive the Eucharist (such as in the Penitential Act at the  very beginning of Mass, wherein we acknowledge our sins and ask for mercy). 

     So should all who arrive late automatically exclude themselves from Holy Communion? No – as some may have been late accidentally of no fault of their own.  On the other hand, any who know that their late arrival could have been prevented with better planning and attentiveness to the time are invited to be honest with God and themselves and not come forward to receive due to their non-accidental reason for lateness. In all cases of tardiness, please consider any such an occurrence as an invitation to examine your routine and to work at making changes to prevent such lateness from repeating itself.

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