One of the most frequently asked questions Catholics get from non-Catholics is how long our masses go for and why they take that long. As someone who has attended mass my whole life, let me answer such questions in this article.
Catholic masses can last up to 30 minutes to 1 hour but some priests can stretch this up to 90 minutes. The time varies, depending on the number of attendees, the priest, and the day it is held. That said, masses on Sundays are longer than weekday masses, and holy day masses can even be longer.
So what goes on in a Catholic mass, and why don’t they last at the same time? Continue reading to know more.
What to Expect at Mass?
A mass usually lasts for an hour. However, this could be longer or shorter, depending on what day it is. For instance, daily masses or those held during weekdays are shorter. This is because there’s no music and there are fewer readings from scripture. They can last only between 20 to 30 minutes.
Now, masses on Sundays and holy days can be longer as they consist of hymns, prayers, and particularly lengthy announcements. For the Liturgy of the Word, there are 3 readings while weekday masses would usually only have 2. There’s also the homily, which has various lengths, depending on the priest delivering it.
Moreover, there are more people during Sunday and holy day masses. So you can expect more people to receive communion, which could make masses a little longer. The priest also plays a huge part in determining how long masses can go for. During weekdays, for example, some priests can cut the usual 30-minute mass to only 20 minutes. Some can also stretch their masses for up to 90 minutes.
That said, there is no specific law on how long a mass should take. However, several classical moral theologians agree that masses should take at least 30 minutes. In their opinion, a mass that is less than 15 minutes is also equivalent to a sin.
Furthermore, there are no rules as to the length of a priest’s homily. On many occasions, however, Pope Francis has mentioned reducing the length of homilies. According to an article, he has repeatedly called on priests to limit their sermons to 10 minutes. More recently, he changed the standard to 8-10 minutes and reminded priests to deliver the homily clearly, briefly, and “not be boring.”
Now, while there are no laws on the length of a mass, there’s one thing that’s certain – that all masses follow a certain order. It has some sort of universal formula, so wherever you are in the world, the Catholic mass is the same. You’ll find the same prayers, readings, and familiarity. You’ll also find the same parts or rites, which we’ll discuss more below.
What are the 4 Parts of Mass?
There are generally 4 parts of a mass, which are also called “rites”. They are the following:
All masses start with the Introductory Rite where the priests and altar servers walk towards the altar. This is a processional and is usually accompanied by a hymn. Once the priest reaches the altar table, he begins the mass through the sign of the cross and greets the congregation (all the people present).
From there, the priest proceeds to the Penitential Rite, giving all the people present a brief moment to reflect upon their actions and offer a prayer to God to ask for His mercy. During Sundays, especially at Easter, the priest may sometimes bless and sprinkle water to recall baptism in place of the Penitential Rite.
Masses on Sundays, feasts, and holy days are also longer because, after the Penitential, the Gloria follows. This is a hymn where we echo the proclamation of the angels when Jesus Christ was born, by saying: “Glory to God in the highest”.
The priest will then conclude the Introductory Rite with the opening prayer.
Liturgy of the Word
This part is mostly made up of readings from scripture. As mentioned above, there are 3 readings on Sundays and holy days. The first usually comes from the Old Testament, the second is from one of the letters of Paul or another apostolic writing, and the third is taken from the four Gospels (Matthew, Luke, Mark, or John).
For most days during the year, however, there can be at least 2 readings from scripture. The first reading is always from the Old Testament and the second one is from the New Testament letters.
Now, the readings are an integral part of the mass as it is when “God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering them spiritual nourishment”. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #55)
After every reading, we sing or state the Responsorial Psalm, helping us meditate on the word of God. Once the scripture readings are done, the priest delivers his homily. Using the same texts that were read, he relates them to the present and draws from them the lessons that can help us live better and become closer to Jesus Christ.
In most masses, the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed will follow the homily. The Liturgy of the Word will then be concluded through the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, where the congregation entrusts their needs to God and offers prayers to Him for the salvation of everyone.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
This is the part where we remember what the Lord did at the Last Supper. Accordingly, the Church arranged the Liturgy of the Eucharist as follows:
- Preparation and presentation of the gifts: The bread and wine with water, which are the same things that Jesus Christ had during the Last Supper, are brought to the altar. The priest will then invite everyone to pray over the offerings.
- Eucharistic prayer: During this part, God is thanked for offering us salvation. It is also when the offerings become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
- Communion: All the Catholic faithful are invited to receive Christ through communion. But before that, we must first say or sing the Lord’s prayer. The Rite of Peace then comes after, where the priest asks us to extend a sign of peace to those around us, showing that we are one with Christ.
During the holy communion, the congregation sings a chant or song. This further signifies the unity that the liturgy of the Eucharist brings us. While waiting, some can also stay in silent and offer a prayer of thanksgiving. After everyone has received communion, the priest ends the rite and unites all the prayers offered during this part through the Prayer After Communion.
Finally, the priest ends the mass through the concluding rites. As mentioned in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, this part consists of the following:
- Brief announcements, if necessary
- Greetings and blessings of the priest
- Dismissal of the people, encouraging them to “go out to do good works, praising and blessing God”
- Kissing of the altar by the priest and the deacon