A priest’s #1 distraction at Mass—and how to avoid it

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 01, 2017

In the Memoriale of St. Pierre Favre (aka Peter Faber), I happened across this startling entry:

During Mass on the day of St. Clare, I felt myself somewhat distracted by my desires; one was to edify those present, the other to obtain devotion for that purpose. In the past I have often experienced the same, at first without being aware that it was a temptation.

Think about that: This Jesuit saint—one of the original companions of St. Ignatius Loyola—thought that it was a temptation for a priest, while celebrating Mass, to focus on how he might elevate the hearts and minds of the people in his congregation. He concluded that it was not actually sinful to succumb to this temptation; nevertheless it was an imperfection. In celebrating Mass, the priest should be concentrating on giving glory to God. Any other object—even a valid pastoral concern—is a distraction.

How many Catholic priests today think that it is their top priority to ensure that the faithful are fully participating in the Mass? How many would be shocked to think that another priest—a master of spirituality—would say that they were giving in to temptation when they took that approach to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice?

Follow-up questions: If the priest-celebrant is distracted from his primary duty when he tries to edify the congregation, wouldn’t it be wise to help the priest avoid such distractions? Isn’t it obvious that when the priest faces the people, in the position of a master-of-ceremonies, he is subject to greater distraction?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Dec. 04, 2017 10:58 AM ET USA

    Inspiring Saint. Distracted priest facing the faithful becomes a distraction for everyone present. On the other hand, a reverend and prayerful priest can inspire the congregation. The Tridentine Rite lightens much of that pressure for all participants. Either way, the priest has to be mindful that at the Eucharist he acts "In Persona Christi," whether he faces the people or not. His reverence at the Mass will come naturally if he prays regularly and lives according to his priestly state of life.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Dec. 03, 2017 8:51 AM ET USA

    Well said. People expect to be entertained even at Mass. I once heard a person making light of a homily because it was being partly read from prepared notes. The person thought the delivery suffered. Partly correct but I would rather have a well thought out homily presented rather than one that is scattered and ill-focused but presented with theatrical aplomb.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Dec. 02, 2017 2:17 PM ET USA

    Good point, well made.I never thought about it from this point of view.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Dec. 02, 2017 11:08 AM ET USA

    Tell me about it. Whenever I am serving as cantor for some of our lesser attended services, I usually perk up if I know we have visitors. Lord, have mercy!