Having a Protestant friend visit Mass may seem like a big deal, or not, depending on you and your friend. But I know, as a Protestant, there was a lot that confused me during Mass, and I often didn’t feel super comfortable. The following things all would have been helpful to me as a visitor, and I hope they are able to help others as well. Because Mass can be a rich faith-building experience for Catholics and other visiting Christians alike.
1- Explain what the Holy Water/Baptism font is and why we stick our fingers in there and cross ourselves.
Hint: It is not a bird bath. But seriously, just a simple explanation that we utilize the font to remember our own baptism, and cross ourselves, which I write more about here, as a recognition of the Trinity, will go a long way in making that particular practice less odd to a visitor.
2- Show them how to use the Missalette (and find one for them).
What we do when during Mass becomes second nature for a practicing Catholic. But, as a former Protestant, speaking from experience, I was lost for a long time when attending Mass with JP’s family. Finding a Missalette for your friend, and showing them how to use it is one of the greatest kindnesses you can do for someone visiting Mass. They can then follow along with the readings, find the songs, follow along with the prayers, and the whole order of service. They will have something to guide them so they know what is coming next, and what words they should be saying during the Creed, for example, or at other times, like the Penetential Rite.
3- Prep them on when we will be standing/kneeling ahead of time.
Just as a general rule of thumb, explain that we will be kneeling in front of the Eucharist (which you might need to explain is Holy Communion. Also see #5 of this article.) Explain we will be standing when we pray and out of respect when we hear the Gospel. And explain we sit when we are listening. My article here goes into a bit more detail about what we do when and why, but a brief overview will help a Protestant friend at least be aware of the general purpose and timing of our bodily postures during Mass.
4- Encourage them to participate!
There are so many ways a Protestant can participate in Mass. Things just might look a bit different, so might be worth going over.
Here are a few ways Protestants can comfortably participate in a Catholic Mass:
- The Penetential Rite. Most Protestant churches I have been to have some sort of brief moment to acknowledge our sins. The Catholic version is more extensive, but is basically the same concept.
- Listening to the readings
- Listening to the homily
- The Lord’s Prayer (we all have that one!)
- The Creed (Protestants can totally recite the Nicene or Apostles Creed. It’s all stuff we agree on. Even the part at the end that says “One holy, catholic and apostolic church.” The word ‘catholic’ there is lowercase, and is referring to all of Christianity, the Universal Church, not only Catholicism.)
- The petitions
- Most of the songs. There are times when we sing a song to Mary, or sing about the Eucharist in a very Transubstation-oriented way, and they may prefer to stay quiet during those times. But so many of our hymns are theologically in agreement with all of Christianity. They may find they even recognize one or two from their own faith tradition!
5- Explain the Eucharist.
Briefly share why we kneel in front of The Blessed Sacrament. Share that it is because we believe it is truly Jesus in the form of bread and wine, and kneeling is an appropriate response to being in His presence. Give your Protestant friend grace, though, if they choose not to kneel. Obviously it is the True Presence whether they acknowledge it to be or not. But they don’t know it/understand it. It may even be an entirely new concept to them, as Protestant churches view Communion as symbolic.
I remember sitting in Mass with JP’s family as a Protestant, scooting forward in the pew so I could give the person behind me room to kneel, but myself not kneeling because I just didn’t get it yet. I wasn’t trying to be irreverant to Jesus. I just honestly didn’t know He was there.
Also, explain to them about who is able to receive Communion. That it is appropriate for those who believe in the True Presence, and are in a state of grace. Invite them to come up during Communion time, and to cross their arms over the body and receive a blessing. Encourage them that no one will think they are weird for staying back, or crossing their arms. In fact, they are showing respect for our faith by not receiving irreverantly, or feigning agreement in an area where they disagree.
If we have Protestant friends/relatives visiting us in Mass, these 5 things will go a long way from them feeling like outsiders, to being able to follow along and participate as they are comfortable. I know they would have been helpful to me as a Protestant. They were things I learned over time, but I spent many an awkward Mass as I tried to put the pieces together. Protestant services, especially contemporary ones, can be quite different than Catholic Masses, and helping bridge that unfamiliarity is a great step in helping our Protestant brothers and sisters to better understand all that is mysterious to them about the Catholic faith.