Mass preparation

Checking out Mother Kimberly’s blog this morning and interested in her comments about preparation before Mass. So I’m pinching her question and asking you, what do you like to do before the Holy Mysteries by way of preparation?

The very first time I went to church I was aware that when you stepped through the door from the narthex into the church, you were stepping on holy ground and silence reigned. Yes, there were little whispers here and there but mainly people knelt and … did what? I wasn’t sure but I assumed they were praying. But what on earth did they have to pray about for such a long time? I mean, some folk came half an hour early!  Who’d voluntarily keep quiet for that length of time? So I found that 5 mins was really my limit and allowed me to say the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary and then bring to mind any folk who I knew needed prayers. Then I’d sit back up and gaze around the glorious church – at statues and candles, and stained glass colours and dust motes in sunlight, and the smell of beeswax, and charcoal being stoked behind the scenes, and the still face of the Risen Christ on the rood cross, and whether all 6 altar candles would stay alight or incur father’s wrath if they didn’t.  Lots to see and adore.

As a Curate in a cathedral the tradition was for clergy and altar servers to mostly stay in the Sacristy in preparation.  Chatting to the folk was kept for after.  So there was a bit of giggling and high spirits (mostly due to me) but agonising silence for long periods. And it never made me feel any more prepared.  Just impatient with anticipation. Agony!

My first Charge was linked so I had 2 churches to look after.  Greeting the people had to be done before the service in my first church because I wouldn’t have a chance after, having to dash off over a hill to the next church in time. So any preparation, my Spiritual Director told me, was to be done at home before I left.  So it was noisy and chaotic and chatty because you came in the door and you were right in the middle of it all, there being no narthex, vestibule or porch.  Some folk vainly tried to kneel and pray but you really had to be pretty dedicated to make it. So I introduced the 5 minute bell – the last 5 minutes before the service have to be in silence.  That allowed me to slip through into the Sacristy/Kitchen/Toilet/Office and get robed and wrestle with the urn-fillers and cup-putter-outers. Not really prayer time then.  Then after that service I left in my car and hot-tailed it over the hill like a rally driver and ran through the doors (usually leaving The Archers at a cliffhanger) and threw on my robes and the service began.

Prep at St Mark’s is the 5 minute rule again and as I’ve said before I really wish I could be one of those holy clergy who sit in our Crypt Chapel praying in silence for ages. I can only look with envy at their stillness.  Instead I am upstairs finding out who needs praying for and how Mrs so and so is now and telling everyone how gorgeous they are. Then the bell goes and its downstairs to robe and although we did try sitting in silence in the chapel about 3 times, I’m afraid its back to checking for my specs, my sermon and now the anti-bacterial handwash. I just can’t do it and that’s that. And if I did keep silence my mind would just be whirring with all those last minute thoughts anyway but I wouldn’t be able to voice them and check which would be ten times worse.

So how do you like to prepare? What rituals do you go through? Are you noisy or silent?


9 thoughts on “Mass preparation

  1. Brilliant. Thank you for taking the question up with such detail.

    What fascinates me is that — even given your general impatience with silence — you did introduce a five minute rule. That will make me braver.

    I think it is a very different game when you are presiding. Like you, I greet people before hand and then often get caught up with an unexpected glitch with the microphone/ notices/ etc. So my preparation time comes long before that — trying to get to church for 7.15 before the 8.30 service. Try, mind. It doesn’t always work.

  2. During my time as churchwarden I always tried to keep out of the way to give the priest proper time for preparation, but they were always in such a rush between churches (7 in the group) and needed to have the correct hymn list, banns and names of people to be mentioned in the intercessions that it was difficult to give them any time alone. The best one could do was protect them from needless chat beforehand, but only really by foregoing ones own time for private preparation in order to intercept people on their way to the vestry.

    My predecessor’s need for conversation and the then rector’s for silent preparation was one of the main bones of contention between them – each finding the other intolerably rude and wholly unable to comprehend the other’s need or explain their own – very, very sad, particularly as the feud spread to the entire group of parishes and lead to many ridiculous allegations.

  3. Lissa, why are your clergy doing the intercessions? If lay people did them then there would be no need to prepare that part.

    I had a Rector’s Warden who tried to protect me from people wanting to ask me to give a notice before the service which was to be read out at the end of the service. They couldn’t get that they could either wait and give it me then, or read it out themselves!

  4. Quite simply, we have never been asked. We do the readings other than the Gospel reading, but that’s all, although we are aware that some clergy in neighbouring groups delegate more.

  5. Well today I’m baking bread as preparation – for my sermon illustration! Not my usual habit. As a DYO I travel round a lot of churches where I’m invited to preach and before the service is often the first time I get to MEET some of the congregation so my time is spent hungrily observing the community and getting the feel of the group so that my sermon speaks to them as much as possible. I do now find it hard settling to normal church when I don’t have to do anything at all. Yet in Taize I can do LOADS of silence without effort – strange huh?

  6. Gosh Lissa, I find that really surprising. With those amount of charges I would be offloading as much as I could to laity. Maybe its different in Scotland.

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