Ask a Priest

Distracted during Sunday Mass

Jan 15, 2015

If someone is heavily distracted during Sunday Mass, will they still fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending, even if they have not taken in anything?

Asked at 01:14 am on January 15th 2015

Dear Sammy:

Distraction during prayer or attending mass is something all have to deal with and is a common problem.

The Church, as we can see in the Vatican II document on the liturgy, encourages all to be active participants in the liturgy.

“14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.”

If someone is distracted during Sunday Mass they have still fulfilled the Sunday obligation, but they have missed on some of the spiritual benefits they could have received. Listening with attention to the readings, the homily, the prayers, and following the various parts of the Mass with attention provides substantial spiritual nourishment.

For a person who was distracted the challenge is to make a better effort the next time so as not to miss out on what God is offering them.

Replied at 02:04 am on January 15th 2015

Dear Sammy

Agreed, that a concious decision to participate is vital, but I have never heard every word. Sometimes I’ve come away thinking, well, that was a waste of time. But we are ‘practising’ Catholics, and what we practise, we get better at (like learning a musical instrument, or throwing a ball).

Distraction can lead to the mind getting even more busy worrying about being distracted! Even getting to Mass is sometimes Grace combined with monumental effort. The mind can be like a flywheel, spinning with the momentum of getting there, worries of the week, etc. which takes time to slow down and settle. So, allow arrival time before Mass starts to sit and settle in. Even if you’ve slipped in late, breathless and ashamed, just sit, take in the sights and sounds, then acknowledge all those worries and thoughts, imagine popping them all into a basket and give them to Mary to look after. You might want to collect them from Her before you go….

And during Mass, if distractions come, acknowledge, oops, I’ve doped off, then simply return to whatever is happening now. Often, it will be just the right moment. Even if only one word has shone, that is the morsel which can nourish the life. Then, all thanks and glory to God!

Much love, as Fr John said, it is a common problem, you are not alone! I’m sure God understands.


PS: (But, in saying this, I don’t think He would condone deliberate inattention, which I’m sure is not what you are talking about….)

Replied at 10:34 pm on January 26th 2015