Holy Ground:

Church and Mass Etiquette

by Victor R. Claveau, MJ

The Evangelization Station, P.O. Box 267, Angels Camp, CA 95222.


Dear friends and colleagues,

Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette was written out of my love of the Mass and concern that it should be consistently celebrated in a worthy manner, and without innovation. It seems to me that over the years, we have lost a sense of the sacred. Catholic churches are not always recognized as “Holy Ground”; a place where God dwells and lovingly reaches out to us from the tabernacle. It is my sincere desire that the publication of Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette will help develop a new awareness of the sacredness of the space and the wonder and grandeur of the Mass.

$5,000 is urgently needed for the publication of Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette. If you would like to help, please send your contribution to, The Evangelization Station, P.O. Box 267, Angels Camp, CA 95222. Anyone who donates $100.00 or more will receive a signed copy as soon as it made available. You may also contribute through Paypal by sending your donation to claveau@earthlink.net.

Thank you, for your love of the Mass.

In Corde Jesu,


From the Introduction:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Mass as the “source and summit of Christian life” (§ 1324). As such, each and every part of the Mass has been specifically outlined by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is my opinion that we, as laity, should be able to go anywhere in the country and find the Mass celebrated precisely in accordance with these directives. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

We are living in a time when the majesty of the Mass is not always properly understood, much less appreciated by the laity, and sometimes even by our priests. It is not uncommon to find a lack of respect for the sanctity of God’s house and most importantly for His Eucharistic Presence. I do not say that this is done deliberately; most often, it is done out of ignorance. There is much confusion among us as to how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to be celebrated. We as Catholics have an obligation to learn our part in the Eucharistic celebration, in order to heighten our own participation, but even more importantly, to show proper respect and worship to Our Father in heaven.

Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, expressed his concern for these matters during his entire pontificate. In his encyclical Inaestimabile Donum, his Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, issued on April 17, 1980, he wrote in the foreword:

 “This Sacred Congregation notes with great joy the many positive results of the liturgical reform: a more active and conscious participation by the faithful in the liturgical mysteries, doctrinal and catechetical enrichment through the use of the vernacular, and the wealth of readings from the Bible, a growth in the community sense of liturgical life, and successful efforts to close the gap between life and worship, between Liturgical piety and personal piety, and between Liturgy and popular piety.”

He then went on to say:

“But these encouraging and positive aspects cannot suppress concern at the varied and frequent abuses being reported from different parts of the Catholic world: the confusion of roles, especially regarding the priestly ministry and the role of the laity (indiscriminate shared recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer, homilies given by lay people, lay people distributing Communion while the priests refrain from doing so); an increasing loss of the sense of the sacred (abandonment of liturgical vestments, the Eucharist celebrated outside church without real need, lack of reverence and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, etc.); misunderstanding of the ecclesial character of the Liturgy (the use of private texts, the proliferation of unapproved Eucharistic Prayers, the manipulation of the liturgical texts for social and political ends). In these cases we are face to face with a real falsification of the Catholic Liturgy:  ‘One who offers worship to God on the Church’s behalf in a way contrary to that which is laid down by the Church with God-given authority and which is customary in the Church is guilty of falsification.’”[1][1] 
“None of these things can bring good results. The consequences are—and cannot fail to be—the impairing of the unity of Faith and worship in the Church, doctrinal uncertainty, scandal and bewilderment among the People of God, and the near inevitability of violent reactions. 
“The faithful have a right to a true Liturgy, which means the Liturgy desired and lay down by the Church, which has in fact indicated where adaptations may be made as, called for by pastoral requirements in different places or by different groups of people. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful. 
“The use of unauthorized texts means a loss of the necessary connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi (“What is prayed indicates what may and must be believed”). The Second Vatican Council’s admonition in this regard must be remembered: “No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.’ And Paul VI of venerable memory stated that: ‘Anyone who takes advantage of the reform to indulge in arbitrary experiments is wasting energy and offending the ecclesial sense.’”

These innovative practices have continued to plague the Church worldwide since Vatican Council II. More recently, in a December 1998 statement to the Australian bishops, the Holy Father, referring to this section in Sacrosanctum Concilium stated:

“A weakness in parish liturgical celebrations…is the tendency on the part of some priests and parishes to make their own changes to liturgical texts and structures, whether by omissions, by additions or by substitutions, occasionally even in central texts such as the Eucharistic Prayer. Practices foreign to the tradition of the Roman Rite are not to be introduced on the private initiative of priests, who are ministers and servants, rather than masters of the sacred Rites”.

Noted moral theologian, Germain Grisez in his three-volume work entitled Living a Christian Life, comments on this issue of falsification raised by St. Thomas Aquinas:

“To falsify Catholic worship can be a grave matter. Liturgical worship is the Church’s act; Jesus and his members share in it. Since they act not simply as private individuals, but share in the Church’s act, all who play a role in the liturgy act in an official capacity. Thus, anyone who makes unauthorized changes in the liturgy or encourages others to make them falsely offers as the Church’s what in reality is only personal. Insofar as such falsification modifies authentic Catholic worship, it is a sort of superstition, for even if the unauthorized change is meant to contribute to genuine worship, the choice of falsification as a means is incompatible with the reverence essential to true worship”.

In other words, no person has the right to change any part of the liturgy for any reason, regardless of intent. Failure of a priest to conduct the liturgy according to the rubrics violates the rights of the faithful to one of the goods of the Church.


Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette by Mary Ann Kreitzer, President, Les Femmes - The Women of Truth.

Human nature is such that activities we repeat tend to become routine. The one who does something the first time with attention and diligence, is apt to do it casually and carelessly after dozens of repetitions. If the activity is trivial, casual performance doesn’t much matter; but when it has cosmic significance like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, indifference and carelessness toward the sacred mysteries are tragic.  Such slovenly participation at Mass is, unfortunately, common. And so I began Victor Claveau’s book Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette, with eager anticipation hoping to find a tool to encourage more respectful attention at Mass. I wasn’t disappointed.

Claveau  has written a little gem to call the Catholic heart to a renewed understanding and appreciation of the Mass, particularly the Sunday communal celebration. The book provides a wealth of historical information including the shift in days from the Jewish Saturday Sabbath to Sunday, the development of the liturgy from the first century, and the importance of keeping the Lord’s Day holy. He also focuses on the elements of the Mass and the etiquette of properly preparing and celebrating. He does it all in an engaging way interspersing quotations from Scripture, the apostles, the early fathers of the Church, and Church documents. Sound dry? It’s not. No one who reads this book can ever again take for granted the central mystery of our faith, the Holy Eucharist.

From the first page of the book I was fascinated by the description of the historical development of the Mass. Unlike Protestants, Catholics are not merely “people of the book.” We have a rich tradition that predates the Bible and it is clearly evident here.  Claveau begins by explaining how different Jesus’ approach was to keeping the third commandment given to Moses, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” He gives examples of the draconian rules and regulations for Sabbath observance imposed by the Scribes and Pharisees and describes Jesus’ radical departure emphasizing that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Claveau writes:

 Like everything else He touched, Jesus put this law into its true position and light. He rescued it from the hands of the Scribes and Pharisees and showed it as God would have us esteem it…. He exercised his Lordship, not only by reclaiming it from Jewish traditions under which it lay smothered and distorted, but by showing us in his life how we should regard the day—with what works of love and mercy we should occupy its sacred hours. 

The first third of the book is a walk through the early Church, learning how the Mass developed following Pentecost. The last two thirds could be described as “everything you ever wanted to know about properly participating at Mass.” Claveau examines the terms we use such as transubstantiation  explaining that, “In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council consecrated the word ‘transubstantiation’ as expressing correctly the Christian doctrine of Christ’s real presence by conversion of the substance of bread into the substance of Christ’s body…. Transubstantiation means the substance part of the bread and wine elements changes; but the accidental parts—sight, taste, smell, touch—do not.”

Claveau describes the etiquette of proper celebration of the Mass from how to prepare, to appropriate attire, to why Catholics genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, to the use of sacramentals like holy water, incense, the sign of peace, and the sign of the cross. He also explains the different elements of the liturgy: the profession of faith, the preparation of the gifts, the Eucharistic prayer, etc. If you’ve ever had a question about the Mass, you are likely to find the answer here clearly and succinctly explained.

Interspersed in the book are short and fascinating vignettes. For example, Claveau describes the persecution under Diocletian (4th century) of a group of 49 Christians who illegally participated at the Mass. The account taken from the Acts of the Martyrs of Abitene gives the testimony of the Christians including that of a young boy named Hilarian. When asked if he was at the Mass and why he attended the child replied, “Because I am a Christian, that is reason enough. No one made me go. I went freely with my father and brothers, and I took my part as a Christian.” He died along with all the adults none of whom recanted his faith even in the face of a grim death. In this age that is so bereft of true heroes, what a wonderful example of courage to present to young people!

Another intriguing story is one told by a priest, Fr. Llorente, S.J.  He repeats an experience shared by a fellow priest. After closing and locking the church on Christmas Eve after the midnight Mass, the priest returned the next morning to find many people poorly dressed filling the pews praying in total silence. When he asked how they got in, a woman replied, “Strange things happen on the night of Christmas.” The priest checked the doors which were locked and when he returned, the church was empty. He asked Fr. Llorente for his opinion about what he had experienced. This is what the priest writes:

‘My explanation was and still is as follows: Those were dead people who were doing their purgatory, or part of it, in the church. It is safe to assume that we atone for our sins where we committed them. Those people were immersed in total silence. Why? Consider the irreverence committed before the Blessed Sacrament; how many people act out in church: chatting, giggling, and looking around. After Mass some people gather in small groups around the pews and turn the church into a market place with no regard for Christ’s Real Presence in the tabernacle. Why did they vanish? They did not, they simply became invisible; but they remained tied to their pews unable to utter one single word to atone for their disrespectful chatter while living.’ 

This story addresses one of my pet peeves, i.e., treating the church like a social hall before and after Mass. Claveau explains the reason for silence during parts of the liturgy, but what he says could equally apply to an attitude of reverent silence before and after Mass:  

‘Let there be silence in your soul. Do your best not to be distracted, or allow yourself to daydream. We must forget about ourselves and think only of Jesus in the Mass. He will take care of us as He is active in us. We just have to let Him act; to let Him change us into the person He desires us to be. If we want to become one with Him, we must join our heart with His, so that they will beat in unison, one for the other, and One in the other. He will love us and we will love Him; He will look at us and we will look at Him. In Him we will find are heart’s desires; in Him we will find a life of intimate union if only we remember to be still and know that He is God.’ 

Silence before Mass offers a time of preparation to participate well in the Eucharist. Silence after Mass offers a time for thanksgiving.

There are several particularly useful elements of Claveau’s book. The table of contents is divided in such a way to make it easy to quickly search for a particular issue. Do you want to read about proper reception of the Eucharist, how to make a good thanksgiving, or the rules for fast and abstinence? Have you wondered about tithing or perpetual adoration? You can find answers easily by referring to the contents. A glossary in the back offers a list of common terms that is also helpful.

At a little over 225 pages the book offers a useful guide and handbook that would be appropriate for RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), candidates, middle and high school religious education, or for anyone interested in understanding the Mass better but looking for a simple and easy-to-read guide. Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette fills a real need in an age where Catholic ignorance about the Mass is epidemic. I plan to give it as a gift to my children, godchildren, and friends. Our greatest gift from God is His Real Presence in the Eucharist. We have a duty to prepare ourselves to hear Mass well. This treasure of a book offers a true guide to a closer walk with the Lord through properly celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

Other recommendations:

James Likoudis - Author and President emeritus, Catholics United for the Faith (CUF)  

“Victor R. Claveau, MJ has written an impressive and important work that will assist Catholics to restore the sense of reverence for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice that is lacking in too many parishes. It constitutes a complete vade mecum (ready reference) for understanding the meaning of the Mass in all its parts, and does so with the aid of the writings of the great theologian/liturgist Romano Guardini, the Fathers of the Church, and directives of the Magisterium. It presents with great clarity the proper Catholic etiquette of the laity at Mass involving the proper inner disposition required and their posture and gestures as prescribed in liturgical regulations and rubrics. This book will h elp eliminate liturgical confusion in parishes and is highly recommended not only for lay men and women but also for priests who will be encouraged to celebrate Holy Mass without innovation or questionable creativity.”

Rod Pead, Editor, Christian Order, London

“After long years of decrying “the disintegration of the liturgy” as a major contributing factor to the crisis in the Church, Pope Benedict XVI wasted no time in putting a liturgical restoration at the centre of his papacy. Moreover, he insists that Western civilisation itself depends on this revival. For not only is the precise form and conduct of divine worship essential to a healthy, robust Catholicism, Benedict rightly states that law and ethics do not hold together when they are not anchored in the liturgical centre and inspired by it.  

“The stakes, in other words, could not be higher! Hence the zeal and attention to detail which imbues Holy Ground: Church and Mass Etiquette. Clearly a labour of love, Victor Claveau applies himself to assisting the Benedictine liturgical restoration with all the urgency and passion of a first century apostle who, like the Pope, understands the pivotal role of the liturgy in God’s salvific plan. ‘There is a thought that needs to be brought home to Americans today,’ he states at the outset, ‘- God governs the affairs of men.  ... But - to have God's help we must pay some attention to Him. ... Worship, or paying attention to God, is one of the things that belong to God. ‘Render… to God the things that are God’s’ (Lk 20:25).’ So begins the wholesale re-education of his target audience: the post-conciliar faithful abandoned to liturgical anarchy in our sanctuaries and pews. The early chapters, a summary of the biblical roots of Christian worship and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, will surely open these corrupted hearts and minds to the selfless liturgical precision demanded by our loving God over and against the self-serving ‘do-it-yourself liturgies’ (DIY) of the day. Worth the price of the book al one, this concise and illuminating biblical history is the crucial foundation of Claveau’s systematic explanation of the Mass, its conduct and associated ‘etiquette.’ The gravity of the Third Commandment, doctrines, words, gestures, symbols, dress, comportment, preparation, rubrics, customs, disciplines, sacramentals, and much more are all explained with admirable simplicity and brevity - and no punches pulled!  

“Correcting the myriad distortions in liturgical practice, understanding and attitude accrued over four decades of Modernistic hubris and sacrilege - errors entrenched in countless parishes worldwide - is a holy and vital task. To that end, Holy Ground is not only a superb tool for evangelising the liturgically ignorant and misled, but also a liberating journey home to the  Faith of our Fathers: to a Church of obedience, beauty, unity and peace.

Jerry J. Usher, President, Third Millennium Media, LLC

Victor Claveau has produced a work whose usefulness cannot be overstated. As one who travels extensively, I have the blessing – and, at times, the discomfort – of participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated in so many disparate forms that what is experienced is sometimes hard to identify as a “Catholic Mass.” The variances touch upon virtually every issue raised in Holy Ground. While the author correctly points out that we are not a people of rigidity in our expressions of worship toward God, he also rightly brings our attention back to the importance of the essential elements of authentic worship and why Almighty God is worthy of our worship. Scripture reveals that when God’s people worship Him from their hearts, He acts powerfully on their behalf. Given the direction of our culture and the world around us, now would seem to be a very apt time for us to rediscover what it means to worship God from our hearts. Hopefully, Holy Ground will be the necessary catalyst for an informed and responsible return to proper liturgical devotion. I most strongly recommend that it be read by all.

In Corde Jesu,  Victor R. Claveau, MJ


"The first law of history is not to dare to utter falsehood; the second, not to fear to speak the truth." Pope Leo XIII



[1][1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part 2 of the 2nd part, Q. 93, A. 1.