How Long is a Mass?

How Long is a Mass?
I have heard about priests who boast of being able to say Sunday Mass in 30minutes. I believe these celebrations are often referred to as ‘fast-food’ or ‘take-away’ Masses. Getting one’s Sunday obligation over and done with in the shortest possible time does not seem to me to be in the true spirit of worship.
At the other end of the scale, can a Mass be too long and how do we assess this? Some people will say that we should always make time for God and never complain about the length of a Mass.
The reality is, however, that people today are generally ‘time poor’ and many will avoid a parish where Mass regularly lasts for well over an hour.
It is the variable elements in the Mass – especially the homily - that influence the length of the celebration. So how long should the homily take?
My answer would be, sufficiently long to break open some key aspects of the scriptures or the liturgy being celebrated and to give the assembly some nourishment and/or challenge for the week ahead. The homily should never be so long that people become bored, switch off, and even get annoyed, in which case any good that might have come out of the homily will be undone. Some preachers need to keep in mind that church pews are not the most conducive to undistracted absorption of numerous words of wisdom!
The chief culprit when Mass exceeds what is an appropriate and acceptable length is often the ‘add-ons’, the extras that really have no place in the celebration of liturgy but are tacked on to take advantage of the captive audience. This really is as bad as telemarketers whom we all find so annoying. I wonder how many Sunday Mass goers have been turned off a good cause because of being harangued during a Sunday Mass.
I hasten to add here that by ‘add-ons’ I am not referring to the celebration of rituals such as infant baptism or blessings (of departing parishioners, for example) during Sunday Mass. These are acts of worship which are easily incorporated into Mass without adding unduly to the length of the celebration.
I am also not referring to the Easter Vigil Mass which is ‘the mother of all Vigils’ and not just another normal Sunday Vigil Mass. That is why it never begins at the normal Sunday Vigil Mass time!
What I am referring to are the appeals, presentations, speeches and so on that we have all been subjected to at Sunday Mass some stage. As important as some of these are, they are not worship and do not belong in the Sunday Mass. Especially if they will take more than a minute or two, such items should be scheduled for after Mass is over, with an invitation for people to stay on for the talk or presentation if they so wish.
The worst possible combination is an overly-long homily, an additional collection, a report from a parish committee, and a musical presentation by the choir all taking up separate segments at the one Mass. And we wonder why people leave early and don’t come back!


Elizabeth Harrington