In order to help our non-Catholic family, friends, and acquaintances feel more welcome and comfortable in our churches, here are a few “need to know” tips you can share with them as you drive to the church. First of all, the most likely occasions for non-Catholics to be in our churches are for sacraments and funerals. But with each of these, we still celebrate the Mass (unless the family does not want a wedding or funeral Mass, which is not quite as mind-boggling as the fact that the Church gives such an option).

  1. The sign of the Cross. As Catholics, we make the sign of the cross a lot when we pray. You don’t have to be Catholic to make the sign of the Cross and if you do it, you will fool most people into thinking you are Catholic and then you will be invisible for the rest of the Mass. Nobody has ever been struck by lightning for making the sign of the Cross. Catholics don’t mind if you do it and your non-Catholic friends are not there to see you do it. Here is how you do it: You do it all with your right hand. Holding your thumb to your pointy finger and your middle finger, you raise your hand to your forehead and say, “In the name of the Father”. Then you lower your hand below your sternum and touch your abdomen with your three digits and say, “and of the Son”. Then you move your hand to your left shoulder and say, “and of the Holy”. Then you bring your hand to your right shoulder and say, “Spirit. Amen”. During Mass, we do this when we enter the Church and at various times during the Mass, especially when the priest does it.
  2. Holy Water. Holy water is water which has been blessed by a priest. As we enter the church, there are holy water fonts near every entrance. This is your first chance to practice the sign of the Cross for real! You briefly dip your right hand into the water in the font. This is usually just the finger tip of your pointy finger so you don’t splash water all over yourself as you make the sign of the Cross with the holy water.
  3. After the holy water experience, you look for a pew. When you get to your desired pew, you don’t just step in and sit down. First, you genuflect toward the tabernacle. The tabernacle should be prominently visible directly in the center of the apse (on the high altar or behind the main altar). Oh my, I’m using a lot of churchy words here, aren’t I? Bear with me. Genuflection is the placing of your right knee, lightly and briefly on the ground as you face the tabernacle. It takes 2 seconds. Then you can enter the pew.
  4. After entering the pew, you can sit until your companions are all in place, then you put the kneeler down in front of you and kneel. This is your opportunity to pray for a few minutes before Mass starts. If you were running late and showed up after Mass has already started, you only pray for a few seconds, saying something like, “God, forgive me for being late.” It is best to show up at least fifteen minutes early for Mass so you can pray and prepare for Mass, but most Catholics do not even do that.
  5. First, the entire Mass is prayer, but when you first walk in, the congregation may be reciting the rosary. These are the die-hard Catholics who we all depend on because not only are they getting to Mass at least 20 minutes early, they are praying for us, so we can wise up and start praying more often too. The rosary is an ancient Christian prayer which comes from the early Church as well as from our Jewish roots. It is a meditative prayer in which we think about the life of Jesus through the eyes of his mother as we verbalize the memorized prayers. You do not have to pray it with us since you are new here, but you are welcome and encouraged to learn more about it. Some Catholics don’t even join in the rosary if their parish prays it before Mass, but Satan hates it when we are all praying together, so it is a good thing to do if you can.
  6. Drinks & Snacks. We don’t nosh during Mass. We don’t even have a coffee shop in the back of the Church and we certainly don’t bring a drink into Mass. I know it seems strange to get together with people without a coffee mug or a bottle of water, but Mass is probably not going to last more than an hour, so everyone makes it through. Additionally, Catholics must fast for at least one hour before receiving the Eucharist, so we certainly cannot have anything during Mass, not even chewing gum. We could have water with us, but again, most of us can go hours without a sip of water and there is usually a bathroom and drinking fountain nearby, so bringing our own water is unnecessary.
  7. We have to apologize here. As Catholics, we generally do not look around, make eye contact or smile very much while we are in the church. This is both good and bad. We truly are supposed to be focusing on God while we are in the church, but some of us take it to an extreme and can come across a little cold. Don’t take that personal. Most of us are normal people, it is just that in the church we can seem a little standoffish if you are not used to it. We do not talk, and we do not do much more than nod, half-smile, or give little waves from around our midsection. We save all of our normal social skills for the sign of peace shortly after the Our Father which is about 75% through the Mass. The sign of peace is a handshake with those sitting near you. You just shake hands and say, “peace be with you”. If you have just had a disagreement with your spouse, this can be an interesting moment in the Mass.
  8. During the Mass. Once Mass begins, all you need to do is imitate the Catholics around you. When we stand, you stand. When we sit you sit. When we kneel, you kneel. You are doing nothing to violate any non-Catholic faith by doing all these things. One thing some Catholics do that you should not do is to hold your hands up in the air or hold your hands out like the priest does at times. Most of us don’t do that though. Folding your hands in prayer is always right and acceptable.
  9. A special note about communion: You can even line up for communion when we do, but you cannot receive communion. If you want a personal blessing, you can approach the priest with your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder (in the form of an X which means you are a really bad person and are forbidden from communion. Actually, it just tells the priest that you are not receiving communion). The priest will likely bless you, then you turn and follow the rest of the people back to your pew. I think it is actually better that you do not approach for a personal blessing because the priest blesses you at the end of Mass anyway. You can remain in the pew the whole time while the rest of the people go up for communion. The time during communion is a great time to pray.
  10. Most of the Mass is set out in the missal. These are the books in the pew with you. It is not easy to follow all of it, but someone near you (especially the person who is giving you this list of tips) can show you which page we are on. There may also be a separate book for the songs. Feel free to sing along. We need all the help we can get! Most missals even have a prayer you can say called a spiritual communion. This prayer gives you an opportunity for special grace during the Mass because it is as if you are actually receiving the Eucharist, which is the peak and pinnacle of the Christian faith.
  11. After the Mass is over, you can kneel once again for a few moments and thank God for the good things in your life, including the Mass if it was a good experience for you. As you leave your pew, you genuflect toward the tabernacle again, then you leave. Most of us dip our finger in the holy water font on our way out as well and make the sign of the Cross once again.
  12. After Mass, ask a bunch of questions. The priest is commonly waiting for you at the main doors of the church. He usually takes the opportunity to greet people, chat a little bit and answer any questions people have. Most of the time, nobody has any questions. You can also ask questions of the person who invited you to Mass. This is the best time to ask questions because everything is fresh in your mind and in the minds of the people you were with.
  • Phil Alcoceli

    Good article! Not just for Mass First Timers, but for “regular” Catholics as well. In all areas, it’s an excellent idea to “go back to basics”. I won’t bore you with a rehash of the large variety of irreverence of some “regular” Catholics including those that can beat Usain Bolt in a mad dash (woosh!!) to get out of church before the priest even inhales to give the final blessing. Another good one for those “newbies”: Catholic Mass is real, authentic, true worship and connection to God and that explains the reverent seriousness of it in contrast with Protestant “worship” which is focused mostly on entertainment, loud music, a music band as the center of attention, while sipping StarCrooks coffee, burping and feeling entitled to ocassionally letting your internal gaseous prisoners experience freedom. Catholics find freedom where freedom is: Jesus Christ and his true freedom has a very high cost.

    • Sheila Grant

      …Protestant “worship” which is focused mostly on entertainment, loud music, a music band as the center of attention, while sipping StarCrooks coffee, burping and feeling entitled to ocassionally letting your internal compass go to experience “freedom in the Spirit”.
      …….reveals your bias and complete misunderstanding of the Protestant worship and is actually mildly offensive…. what utter claptrap ….. I can assure you that as a practicing Catholic, OUR God is much bigger than your opinion of our fellow Protestant service and I fully respect their beliefs and adore their open, welcoming informal and inclusive service…… any Christian service brings people to God ask any child what they prefer.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        Sheila Grant, Sherga or whatever your name is, your words would merit some consideration if they made some sense and had some seriousness, consistency, integrity and truth in them but they don’t have any of that at all. First, I was a Protestant myself long time ago, which is WHY I did just recommend Pastors Billy Graham and D. James Kennedy (I recommend him especially) who are some of the few quality ones who were never Catholic-phobic (Graham was friends with late Pope John Paul II), but you didn’t notice that at all, drunk with your pontificating blind rage.

        On top of that, in your total dishonesty, you are not a Catholic at all, unless you are a C.I.N.O. (Catholic In Name Only), an undercover Protestant, an “inclusive”, infiltrating, sabotaging New Ager, which are all about the same. No Catholic, no matter how mediocre, would ever say that: “…to suggest that the Catholic Mass is “”real”” compared with another Christian faith is an alarming, provocative and ignorant opinion…” You are only deceiving yourself in your self righteous hatred. A Catholic Hater is what you are and you totally envy God’s True Church and would love for it to turn into just another generic mediocre circus like most Protestant denominations. Pontificating God haters like you thrive on mediocrity, cowardice, irrelevance and compromise.

        Indeed, I still have Protestants friends, including several Pastors, and it is those Pastors, which have the integrity and self-respect you don’t have, that made me aware of the fact that today there are 25,000 different Protestant denominations with 10 new ones every week (as reported by the very reputable The Barna Group). The True Catholic Church will never be one of those Claptrap Self-Serving Supermarket Denominations, and we will be attacked from all sides like Truth always is, especially by those who refuse to grow up and worship the True God because they are too consecrated to their self-serving delusions, power trips and hate. The True Jesus Christ was, is and will ever be Very Provocative against lies, deception and evil and so are we. “Whoever is a friend of the world is an enemy of God”, (James 4:4). Let Satan and his children be pissed and Praise Be To God forever!!!

      • Sherga

        My goodness – you have revealed such bile I am struggling to consider you as a Christian never mind a devout Catholic. ., I hope the readers see who is the wolf in lambs clothing here!!! peace be with you my friend. Be in no doubt that I love the Lord God with my heart and soul. I do not need to defend my earlier statement as your deep rooted hateful spirit has been revealed. I shall pray for you.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!! Still holding on to that False Catholic Mask? First you act like a vicious wolf and now you play the poor victim and you are so ridiculous that you still want to be believed? How pathetic!! That Church of Shameless Brazen Lies you belong to has given you the psychotic delusion that you have cheap instant “authority”, cheap instant “respectability” and cheap instant “sanctity” just because you are a Very Poorly Disguised Catholic Hater. Your very own words here are all evil and “Out of the abundance of your heart your mouth speaks”, (Luke 6:45).

        You’re so dumb you can’t even realize that saying that you are “… a practicing Catholic” and then right away turning around and viciously attacking the True Church makes you a fake, a fraud, a poser, a parasite on what’s Real, Holy and True. Hiding your cowardly self behind all those Bible verses only condemns yourself for your total disrespect for God and the Bible, and clearly shows your pathetic, passive-agressive, bipolar, clownish, badly rehearsed hypocrisy.

        God wants all to be saved but Judas The Traitor and all traitors like him, including you, are proof that Heaven indeed has high walls and Angelic Bodyguards because it is not a cheap entitlement to any and all human invented religions and stupid delusions: “The city had a great and high wall with twelve gates inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and twelve angels at the gates”, (Revelation 21:12). When the Next-Time-Will-Be-Better-Eternal-Loser-Satan and his obedient children speak Bible verses they speak the very words by which they will be damned forever. Only Hell has an open-door-to-all policy.

      • Sherga

        Phil, I haven’t even bothered to read your post as it’s honestly just verbal diarrhoea. I see you have created yourself quite an occupation of slandering others on this site in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. You condemn yourself by judging others so quickly and virulently. It truly doesn’t bother me what you say about me on the internet – God will be my judge….And yours.Your posts are not persuasive of anything. They don’t demonstrate your love, compassion, faith nor Catholic wisdom. Rarely have I seen such a poor advocate of our Blessed Faith. Your posts are just hateful words thickly dressed up in a fake Biblical shroud. You are aggressive and random in your ranting on and on. Who actually GAF about your self centred human opinion? Shame on you Phil if you deter any one person from seeking the love Christ Jesus or the Catholic and Christian faith. Our Lord sees your every thought, and word, and you are accountable for the impact of your tongue. I am quite sure (one hopes!!) that you are a respectable gentleman and committed Catholic in real life – but you have created quite a bullish monstrous mouth version of yourself on here. If I were you I’d get yourself off the internet and go try save a few lost souls in real life rather than trying to destroy folks who are simply expressing their opinions on here. Go try out the speck and plank equation for real.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        Trying to play the victim AGAIN? Still trying to put me on a cheap guilt trip? What a waste! Of course you don’t read what I write, you are a pre-programmed Anti-Catholic clone. Clones don’t read and don’t think. You’re no Catholic at all! Catholics follow the True God-Man Jesus not some caricature of a kiss-my-rear-and-I’ll-kiss-yours-cheap-guru. You talk about the Catholic Faith as if it were a clownish hybrid of pacifist, blind Buddhism, denying evil and sin and by doing that, making a total mockery of Jesus Saving Death on the Cross for your sins, mine and all humanity.

        The TRUE JESUS called the highest authorities in the Israel of His time a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34) and “sons of Satan” (John 8:44-45). He called a pagan woman who demanded his help a female dog (Matthew 15:21-18) and called Peter the leader of his Disciples “Satan” as he tried to stop His Passion (Matthew 16:23). He who IS God Himself in the flesh did not ever mince words and did not ever kiss rears.

        If, as you and so many wish, He had been another generic, soft, cheap, pacifist guru, He would have been laughed out of town forever. You Anti-Catholic leeches feed on soft, anemic, compromising, worried-about-looking-good, feminized Catholicism. Like my Lord Jesus, I am not worried ever about looking good but about being good, which Satan The Sentimentalist and his sentimentalist children totally hate. The evil ones only care about looking good but never ever BEING good, which of course would take character, integrity and willing to face up to the evil corrupt world come what may, like Jesus did!! Like Jesus!!!

      • Sherga

        Phil you are either 1.quite sad, 2.very bad or 3.raving mad. (Jury is out atm)
        Firstly I don’t condemn your profession of Faith in our Lord Jesus or your support and defence of our Catholic Church. But you really need to get yourself a big reality check here. You are not speaking from the mouth of the Lord Jesus – you are using the mouth of the human Phil Alcoceli – and it doesn’t read good to anyone in or out of the Church, believe me. Spouting more vile words and damnations or quoting the Bible randomly doesn’t make you out to be clever, wise, faithful, or a warrior for Christ. Your just engaging in slanderous personal attacks. That is an attempt to destroy people not love and counsel them. We are not in the dark ages still stoning people for holding other opinions you know!! What nonsense you write. Utter jibberish!
        Jury’s back in. At the moment I’m thinking you are mostly #3.
        Anyways I can see you enjoy this kind of exchange with everyone on here. However you may be disappointed to read that this is my last post to you. I think I have exposed part of your true self. And I hope it reassures other readers who my fall victim to your barrage that Christ’s Church and the love of our Lord Jesus is open, is loving, is forgiving and is here for everyone. I am not a Catholic hater or a Catholic in name only or whatever other slander you want to throw my way (although I do see you slag everyone off in the same way!). I stand firm in the love of Christ, the Catholic Church, His teachings, His Church Community’s, and our Fellowship.
        However you do come across some people that have no insight into themselves whatsoever, and will just rant on about their ill intended opinion forever – so I will follow the advice of Matthew 10:14 “if anyone does not listen to your words …. shake the dust off your feet and move on”.
        Phil, you have been truly shovelled a tonne of sand from my shoes ….. you can now relish in your own verbose and in the words of
        2 Peter 2:22 … let dogs return to their own vomit.
        Adios & Amen
        Go in peace Phil and whatever is inside of your psyche that creates such verbal vile – I emplore you to go seek help to redress it.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        What a hypocrite’s LONG RANT OF PROJECTION of your own dirty self, like monkeys flinging their very own poo at others. You hate what you see in the mirror of Truth I presented to you. Time for repentance, conversion and surrender to the Real Jesus in the Real Catholic Faith, not that repulsive garbage that made you say: “… to suggest that the Catholic Mass is “”real”” compared with another Christian faith is an alarming, provocative and ignorant opinion…” How despicable!!!

        You can keep your hatred infested version of Catholicism dressed as satanic sentimentalism and satanic compassion. I surrender to the True Lord in the True Faith!! The more I’m hated for telling thTruth the more I rejoice and the more blessed I am as Jesus declared: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Glory be to the True God!!

      • Sherga

        Phil this is my final final final post. I write one more as I have prayed for you and see that you still have much to learn about Gods love. I write to counsel your Christian approach. Your writings are verging on evil. This continuous devaluing of another person and dressing your words up as your God given right is at the heart of what makes slander so evil. The Bible tells us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Your posts far too quickly attack another person’s character, which is the most valuable thing about their identity. Our names are known by God and as such are sacred. So whenever you refer to a person’s character or name to support your case for Christ — you are attempting to defile who they are in the minds of others — and are destroying a treasure that belongs to them from God. You do not know who is of God or evil. Nobody does. You are no better in Gods eyes than Joe Bloggs from down the fish and chop shop. If you continue this path of trying yo damage another person’s reputation (Christian or not) and so ferociously and unjustly, you are trying to steal their good name and vandalising their character. This could cause very real, sometimes long-lasting damage to people. Who knows what love, joy, counsel, comfort, and opportunities you are stesling from the love of Christ if you carelessly attack them via social media. God knows what you are doing. And he hates it. I know this because God hates it when we speak evil of his name (Exodus 20:7) and when we speak evil of others (Titus 3:2). He will hold you personally accountable for every careless word you speak Phil so beware. (Matthew 12:36). In this age of social media, where the worldwide open forum lacks the functional information-spreading restraints of past eras, we all need to be very slow to post (“slow to speak” — James 1:19) about another person or group. However if the body of Christ the Church and any part of it is being undermined we should by gentle but firm standing correct it. You do not use that approach. You do not bear good fruit. That is why YOU have exposed yourself as not speaking from Christ. I can say this because I know Him and love Him. His word is the truth and you are not speaking from truth. If someone was attacking you for speaking of the love and mercy of Christ Jesus your statement about being blessed would be true. But you are only speaking as Phil, with your own distorted opinions and bias. To say you speak in the name of God or the Catholic Church could be a mortal sin. And I counsel you to repent. All the serious biblical warnings about slander apply. You are using the internet as a “platform for abuse of others,” and you should tremble in the eyes of God. I do not know why I came across your posts today. I can only think that God wants you to stop slandering others and damaging the reputation of the Catholic Church. Take heed Phil.

  • Martin Culpepper

    Way to go, Bob! Kept me smiling the whole time.