Arriving late for mass

A source of concern for pastors and parishioners alike are those people who persistently arrive late for Mass or leave before Mass is finished. Some readers may say that we should just be happy that people come at all and not criticise this behaviour, but the practice needs to be challenged because it indicates lack of understanding about who ‘does’ the liturgy and the significance of the gathering of God’s people.

The liturgy documents state quite clearly that it is the people who celebrate liturgy: ‘In the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members’. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #7)

Arriving after Mass has begun is not like being late for a concert. Even there, ushers make latecomers wait for a break in the performance before seating them. It is more like one of the musicians wandering in after the rest of the orchestra has started playing or Glenn McGrath turning up to a match only when he was due to bowl. And surely worship is more important than a concert or a cricket match!

The assembly is often distracted and the sacred atmosphere of worship disrupted by late arrivals as they find places and get organised. The documents tell us that Christ is present amongst the people gathered for worship and that, when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people. I cannot help but wonder if people would arrive at around homily time if they were aware that Christ was a fellow worshipper or that God was doing the first reading!

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the purpose of the Introductory Rites is to gather the people together as a worshipping community and prepare them to listen properly to God’s word and celebrate the Eucharist worthily (#46). Joining in the singing of the entrance song is our first act of participation in the Mass proper. By making the sign of the cross after the entrance song, we renew the covenant that began with our baptism and proclaim that we gather for worship as participants, not spectators. So how can we just skip this part of the Mass?

Unfortunately, some people seem to consider the Liturgy of the Word at Mass as akin to the preliminary event before the main game, so it doesn’t really matter if you arrive after the start, but theConstitution on the Sacred Liturgy says: ‘The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship.’ (# 56)

St Paul described Christians as being ‘the body of Christ’. We are all members of that body and each of us has his or her or own unique part to play in the functioning of the body as Christ in the world. We can only be an effective part of this body if we connect with the rest of the members before and after Mass and at other times of the week.

Most people will have had the experience of a mishap of some sort causing one to arrive late for Mass. That is not what I am referring to. It is to those who do it on a regular basis.

The habit of regularly arriving late for Mass is bad mannered, disrupts the prayer of others and needs to be challenged.


Elizabeth Harrington