I grew up in a town of less than a thousand people, and I went to college in a conservative little town of twelve thousand secluded in the woods of Upper Michigan. I never once in my life experienced protesters at Mass, until I moved to St. Paul and started attending the Cathedral here.
Protesters Before Mass
This past weekend as we entered Mass there were four or five protesters outside of the entrance to the Cathedral (and an even greater number of TV cameras, of course). I couldn’t even tell what exactly they were protesting because one of their signs was about traditional families and one was about child abuse. I sat in the pew fuming about protesters disrupting people entering into the prayer of Mass until I realized we were halfway through the homily and I had no idea what had happened for the past fifteen minutes. I let the protesters ruin my prayer and my focus on the Mass. I allowed myself to be overcome with anger and frustration that took me out of the prayer. The protesters won.
Protesters During Mass
Last year there was a ballot issue concerning gay marriage in the state. One of the weekends leading up to the election in a group of activists showed up at Mass wearing rainbow sashes. They went up to communion knowing full-well that the Church refuses communion to those using the Mass to make a political statement, and then after being denied communion and instead given a blessing they went back to their pew and remained standing while the rest of the congregation kneeled. Following the source and summit of the Catholic faith a group of brightly-dressed people begging for attention and intentionally positioning themselves to distract others from the prayer of the Mass took the moment of reflection and prayer and turned it into a political demonstration.
What Do We Do In These Situations?
Every time that I have witnessed protesters at Mass at the Cathedral in St. Paul it has been handled very well by the staff of the Cathedral. They make a short, matter-of-fact statement about the Church’s stance on whatever the controversial issue is and announce that those using the Mass as a political protest will not be given communion, and then they move on with Mass as normal.
Even when the protesters are handled well, though, it is really tough to keep my focus on the Mass. When I’ve just received the body of Christ I want to pray, reflect, and maybe join in singing the communion antiphon when I’ve returned to my pew. They guy standing defiantly in front of me wearing rainbows is not lending to a prayerful, reflective atmosphere (and he certainly isn’t swaying me toward his cause with this behavior).
What should we do when we are having a difficult time focusing in Mass? The cause of distraction might be protesters, but it also might be somebody playing show tunes on the piano in the church basement during the Eucharistic prayer (yes, that has actually happened to me), or the guy in the next pew using his iPad during Mass. We have to find a way to focus and pray through any distraction that comes up during the Mass.
Here are a few tips that I have found helpful:
-The obvious first recommendation is to pray for the ability to focus. Sometimes I have found it most helpful to vent my frustration to God and let it all out to Him so that I can re-focus on the Mass with a clear mind.
-If it is still before Mass or during a time of reflection, such as after Communion, commit all of your focus to a structured prayer like the Rosary or the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. I like to be able to hold a rosary in my hand, close my eyes, and have a set of familiar, comfortable prayers to go through so that I can completely take my mind off of any distractions.
–Immerse yourself in the Mass. Read along during the readings. Use a missalette to read and follow the prayers of the priest and the congregation throughout Mass.
What do you think? How do you focus when there is a major distraction, such as protesters, during Mass?