Preparations should be made before entering Mass

    What should I do to prepare myself for Mass?
    One of the most important things to do in order to prepare for Mass is to plan your schedule around Mass – not Mass around your schedule. By planning your day around spending time worshipping God, you automatically put God in the place of highest priority. Instead of trying to find a Mass time that fits your schedule or jumping from parish to parish, you are able to worship with your local parish community weekly. Being rooted in one parish helps build a regular community of believers, a family of faith. If we do not plan our day around receiving the Eucharist, however, our day can easily become so filled that we do not have time to “keep holy the Sabbath” (Exodus 20:8). When traveling, this takes on an even greater significance. Times and locations of Masses around the world are available online at www.masstimes.org.
    A second way to prepare is to look at the Scripture readings ahead of time. If you read the readings before you go to church, when you hear them proclaimed, the Word of God will be fresh in your memory, and God will be able to use the scriptures to speak to you more easily. Spending quality time in prayer with the readings before Mass, whether 10 minutes or a half hour, depending on your schedule, will significantly improve your receptivity to God’s Word as it is proclaimed. Daily Mass and Sunday Mass readings are available online at www.usccb.org. Click on the tab at the top that says “Bible” and then “Today’s Readings.” There are also a number of apps available for download so that you can access the readings on your smart phone.
    Receiving the sacrament of penance, if necessary, is another form of preparation. It is important to be in a state of grace before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Many churches conveniently offer reconciliation before at least one of the weekend Masses. If the sacrament is not offered before Mass, the parish priest is available by calling the parish office.
    Another form of preparation is fasting. Refraining from food and drink, except for water and medicine, for at least one hour before Communion helps remind us about what we are preparing to do. It is essential to unite our preparation spiritually. This can be done by saying a simple prayer such as, “Lord, may my physical desire for food increase in me the spiritual desire to receive the Eucharist.”
    Finally, it is important to arrive at church a few minutes early to pray. Aside from avoiding the hassle of trying to search for a last-minute parking space, it allows a few minutes to quiet ourselves both externally and internally.
    When it comes to fasting before Mass, which is it: one hour before Mass or one hour before receiving Communion?
    Even though many people have debated over this issue, the answer is pretty clear.  According to Canon Law, “Whoever is to receive the blessed Eucharist is to abstain for at least one before Holy Communion from all food and drink, with the sole exception of water and medicine” (Canon 919 §1).  
    It is important to note that there are exceptions for the elderly or the sick who need to take medications. Canon Law says, “The elderly and those who are suffering from some illness, as well as those who care for them, may receive the blessed Eucharist even if within the preceding hour they have consumed something” (Canon 919 §3).
    While it might seem tough to fast for an hour before Communion, the original tradition was to fast from midnight the night before until after Mass on Sunday morning. With the addition of Masses in the afternoon and evening, Pope Pius XII changed this to a three-hour fast. After Vatican II, Pope Paul VI further reduced it to the current practice of the one-hour fast.
    As with all practices such as fasting, the church prescribes the minimum. If you feel called to go above and beyond by fasting more, you are welcomed to do so as long as it is prudent. It is important to keep in mind, however, that we are fasting in order to remind ourselves that we are about to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
    How should I dress for Mass?
    Because worshipping God is the most significant thing that you will do each week, it is important to dress appropriately. While God is pleased that we are there spending time in prayer and worship independent of how we are dressed, the external manifestation of how we dress often reflects our internal disposition toward the Mass.
    While it is difficult to give criteria that apply to everyone in every situation, most people would understand what is meant by saying we should wear our “Sunday best” to church. Instead of trying to compile a list of what that might entail, it might be easier to cover a few things in general that it would not include: shorts, T-shirts, tennis shoes, flip-flops, low-cut shirts, short skirts, extremely tight clothes, etc. A good rule of thumb would be to ask yourself if you would wear what you are wearing to Mass to go on a job interview.
    Obviously, there might be times when it is not possible to wear our “Sunday best” to church. For example, if a child’s baseball game goes into extra innings and there is not time to make it home to change, it would permissible to go to Mass as you are if there are no other later Masses available. This type of situation should be the exception in special circumstances and not the norm.
    Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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