Non Solum: The Duration of Mass

Recently, a few people have had questions concerning the duration of Mass. One reader notes that their liturgies usually go past an hour due to singing, preaching, etc. This has led to a number of complaints from parishioners.

Here in Leuven, I sometimes attend the 5:00 PM Sunday Mass at the church in the center of town. The priest often cuts out parts of the Mass (such as the second reading) presumably in order to get the Mass down to 35 minutes. In college I remember being assigned to help at the 5:00 PM spoken Mass on Sunday. That Mass lasted a bit longer, usually 40 minutes.

I have always been of the opinion that the typical Sunday Mass should be long enough to allow for a dignified and aesthetically pleasing celebration of every part of the liturgy. It should also not be excessively long due to unnecessary additions, some of which obscure the central symbols of the liturgy, or an overly extravagant style of celebration.

I can imagine a few reasons why a community would be sensitive to the duration of Mass. First, if you have multiple Masses a day you have to leave enough time for each Mass to be celebrated before the next one starts. Second, if you have a family Mass or a children’s Mass I assume one would have to be careful of the duration of the Mass since the attention span of children can be rather short.

I am curious, how long does Mass usually last in your communities? Has your community demanded that Mass be celebrated within a certain period of time? What pastoral concerns motivate your community’s decisions concerning the duration of Mass?

Please comment below.

35 comments

  1. In my suburban parish, people start to fidget at the 1 hr. mark. That said, we have a priest who occasionally fills in on Sundays at the 6 p.m. who can say Mass (with nothing omitted) in 35 minutes. The whole thing seems obscenely rushed, and people look uncomfortable throughout.

    In terms of keeping Mass to a reasonable length, I always appreciate it when announcements are limited (or nonexistent – bulletins are printed for a reason). If an announcement is necessary, it seems greatly preferable for the priest to handle it himself. This allows everyone to learn about the pancake breakfast without waiting for someone to walk up to the altar, find notes, and fumble with the microphone.

    1. @George Jones – comment #1:
      On the other hand, some priests use the announcements as an opportunity to preach another sermon. I don’t like that I like it, but I prefer the announcements at the homily.

      I could write a long rant about the state of parish bulletins alone. Do we really need to know the names of the EMHCs? Does anyone actually read the Pastor’s message? Is 20 postage stamp sized ads the best use of the back page?

  2. Ours tend to run 50-60 minutes, depending on the homily. We might hit 1:15 if there’s a baptism or RCIA ritual, though we make a conscious effort to keep those flowing.

    When people complain about the length of Mass or the length of the homily, it is sometimes an unspoken complaint about the quality of the celebration. If an experience is powerful, engaging, and holds your full attention, you are not likely to complain about the length. If your favorite baseball team is tied into the 12th or 14th inning with a fierce pitching battle going on, few fans are going to be staring at their watches, rolling their eyes, and wishing they would just get it over with.

    It’s sad that Mass in so many parishes feels boring, drowsy, and pointless, so people’s only recourse is to get it over with as soon as possible. If you look around the room and people are literally falling asleep, then maybe you have run out of Easter joy.

    Yet why is it that people can spend hours and hours, perhaps every day, watching sports, movies, and television, but anything past 60 minutes at church is an outrageous intrusion on their time?

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #2:
      Back in my Anglican days morning prayer, communion celebrated with a fully dressed choir, and a 25 to 30 minute sermon were nothing. You just accepted it.

      Most protestants I’ve known don’t seen to think a thing about a service lasting an hour and a half. This doesn’t include the time they may spend at sunday school, or adult bible classes. Added to that they might go back to an evening service.

      Do Catholics have an attention deficit disorder? Maybe cutting out the sermon and having someone read from the patristic fathers might be more effective, not to mention take up less time ,than having to listen to some priest droning on with little to say.

      I can’t see sacrificing a part of a well planned liturgy with good music just to make room for announcements and a poor sermon. The offertory rite could be greatly simplified by having congregants place their money offerings in a basket as they enter the church. Later to be brought up along with the bread and wine. A fixedand shorter prayer of the faithful without the wordy petitions would be another possibility.

  3. I have several thoughts about this topic. I think most of the weekend masses should be kept to an hour. But I do think that each parish should have one “high” mass a weekend where the priest can chant a lot of the mass, there could be a nice choral anthem, all the verses of the hymns, incense, etc.. I think that it is ok to explain to the parish that certain masses will be shorter and less elaborate and that others might take a bit longer (1:10-1:15 at the most) and be more elaborate. Therefore, I think it might be a good idea to not go to a longer Mass if you have kids, or whatever reason you might just want to get in and out.

    However, I think some Catholic parishioners are entirely too impatient and get overly worked up with mass taking too long (after all, they might have to go mow the grass, work out, or run a ton of errands on Sunday). At a certain parish I know of, a lady complained that the celebrant did “too much singing” and “it made Mass take too long”, so she started to go to a different parish in another city because Mass lasted a bit longer. A tad ridiculous if you ask me.

    I also find the length of Mass to be a particularly Catholic issue. I work at an Episcopalian Church and sonetimes our services are 1:15-1:20. I don’t hear the same level of grumbling at Episcopal Churches in general about the length of the service.

  4. Remember, a lot of people go to mass simply to get their “Keep Out of Hell Card” punched for another week. They want to get it over as quickly as possible and get back to doing things that they actually enjoy doing, rather than things that they’re made to do.

  5. Two comments. Number one – I think that the most often remembered quote from the Bible is where Jesus ask the disciples to spend one hour with him in the garden of Gethsemane. And I think that people feel that’s his instruction for mass length.

    Comment number two, in a more serious note, is that it’s important to remember that we have multiple masses because we can’t fit the entire congregation in there in one time. So rather than saying we have five masses, it would probably and should be probably more accurate to say we do one mass five times. People come to mass when their schedules allow. They shouldn’t have to wonder what’s going to be different at a certain mass in their own parish. My choir is not there to impress people with our anthems. My choir is there to support the congregational singing. The most difficult thing to except is that mass takes as long as mass takes.

    In my current parish, masses range from 55 to 80 minutes.

  6. @comment #4

    The reality is that most parish Masses are different. An early morning spoken Mass with a small congregation is going to be shorter than a big mass with a large congregation (long communion time) and possibly more elaborate music. I think communication is the key here. I don’t think it is unreasonable to tell parishioners that certain masses will be longer, and if they want to be in and out, don’t go to the longer Mass and then complain about how long it was!

  7. There is a good case to be made for keeping things moving during Mass. Not rushing things, but eliminating unnecessary pauses. For example:

    • Mass starts 5 minutes late for no particular reason
    • Every time the priest reaches for the missal, he takes 10 seconds to find the page
    • Singing every verse to the opening and closing hymns (sometimes a good reason for this, sometimes not)
    • The “pious procession of one” whereby the lector and cantor take turns approaching the ambo by some slow and circuitous route
    • Unnecessarily extending the music at Prep and after Communion, including “Communion meditation” pieces sung by the choir
    • Keeping 500 people waiting for 3 minutes (that’s collectively 1500 minutes) while the priest purifies the vessels after Communion

    The pacing may depend on the physical space, the level of solemnity, the character of the parish, and other factors. Intentional silence is one thing, but being disorganized and inefficient doesn’t add reverence.

  8. Scott Pluff :Unnecessarily extending the music at Prep and after Communion, including “Communion meditation” pieces sung by the choir

    As a father of 5 (8 and under), I consider the “Communion meditation”/”hymn of thanksgiving”/or any other name we call it to be a rank and malicious act of aggression against parents of young children. When I’m trying to corral a child who has passed his breaking point and KNOWS that Mass is almost over when we get back from Communion, my stomach churns at hearing a cantor announce that next, gratuitous song.

    1. @Aaron Sanders – comment #9:
      Yes! And when a congregation hears those dreaded words after the post-Communion blessing, “Please be seated…” their fury has the intensity of a thousand suns. Whatever you have to say had better be very important and very brief, but know that most people hate you before you’ve even stepped up to the mic.

      1. @Scott Pluff – comment #12:
        Agreed. There is a strange paradox that while most worshippers quite obviously and – with heads down – visibly follow the newsletter during the reading of the Word of God, many PPs seem to assume the same parishioners will not grasp the newsletter announcements unless they are stated verbally before the Dismissal.

  9. Scott Pluff :Unnecessarily extending the music at Prep and after Communion, including “Communion meditation” pieces sung by the choir

    As a father of 5 (8 and under), I consider the “Communion meditation”/”hymn of thanksgiving”/or any other name we call it to be a rank and malicious act of aggression against parents of young children. When I’m trying to corral a child who has passed his breaking point and KNOWS that Mass is almost over when we get back from Communion, my stomach churns at hearing a cantor announce that next, gratuitous song.

  10. I agree that “meditation” hymns after communion is over are unnecessary. Once communion is completed and the priest is ready to move on, the music should end.

  11. I am in Rome. My parish of four years has a CL priest, and the daily liturgy would be usually about 20 minutes (ad orientem, too). I think the record was 17 minutes.

    On the other hand, under Pope Benedict, i sat through a 4-hour Easter Vigil and nearly as long for Sts. Peter and Paul, at St. Peter’s. The Sanctus alone lasted longer than the local parish mass. (Pope Francis, thankfully, tends to keep everything under 2 hours. Christmas Eve was little more than 90 minutes).

    Last time i was in the States though, our parish regularly went for about 75-90 minutes on sunday. Nothing really drawn out, but what could be sung was sung and everything given proper dignity and reverent attention.

  12. Masses at most parishes where I play (I am a regular sub organist at several) run from one hour to one hour fifteen. But the days of 45 minutes Masses (especially Saturday vigil Masses) seem to have gone by the wayside. I’ve not heard grumblings that running over an hour was too long….so long as the homily was worth listening to. During the purification of vessels at one parish, we have taken to having the choir sing an anthem (at the weekend “choir” Mass – which rotates around the weekend Masses) but rarely does the anthem out last the purification (and as such the length of Mass is not extended) but many would complain that purification takes too long. But the parish also alternates with silence at other Masses after the cantor/congregation has sung the communion antiphon and a communion hymn – and the silence during purification can seem a bit lengthy (even if not really actually that long).

    I do think all (or at least most all ) of the verses should be sung – at least for the opening hymn – as otherwise it is reduced to little more than travelling music if the idea is that the last chord coincides with Father reaching his chair. It is much better for Father to stand at his chair, hymnal open, singing….if we are trying to encourage the congregation to sing….the recessional hymn I am less concerned about but if Father bolts for the exit, such that you just sing one verse…and everyone else starts to leave if Father leaves…it seems a little pointless …so just let the instruments play a postlude (or nothing at all say, during Lent). Nonetheless, the time spent singing an extra verse or two (with a typical 16 – 24 measure hymn) certainly doesn’t contribute to an overly long Mass. I often find it amusing with brides planning a wedding they are so very concerned about the length of time of the service ….and will want to speak what should ordinarily be sung (Psalm, Sanctus, etc., ) “to save time” (a very few seconds in reality) but don’t hesitate to have a lengthy procession of…

  13. I attended a Mass in honor of the Ugandan martyrs, celebrated by a Ugandan priest, Ugandan choir, people in native costume, etc. Their various cultural influences, e.g., procession of Gospel book, presentation of the gifts to the priest, with their rythmic movements and tremendous smiles, was a moving experience… lastint 2.5 hours. After Mass one of our Anglo parishioners who attended (dragged, I presume by his wife) was heading right for me and I was sure that this fellow who can barely tolerate a 45 minute Mass was really going to “give it to me”. I braced myself. He came up to me, and with misty eyes said to me, “Father, that was the most beautiful Mass I ever attended. I could have stayed another 2 hours.”
    AFter I revived, I reflected for a long while on why this Mass so moved this man, and why, for him, time was completely irrelevent.

  14. Really appreciate a lot of the comments on this thread. I think people will stay for almost any amount of time if (a) there is no time-wasting of the sort that Scott describes so well and (b) they are really engaged in what is going on. But celebrations that are not nourishing and even boring are what turn people off.

  15. To piggyback off Scott’s list:
    • Silent reflections. At the end of the Universal Prayer? Okay. After each reading (see LA’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels)? No!
    • Perpetual adoration at the elevation.
    • The “Great Amen.”
    • The Round of Peace.
    • The single Communion line. Double lines are faster.

  16. What makes the mass go too long… or seem too long… has much to do with how well certain elements are executed. We do not need to pray every intention that anyone can possibly think of in excruciating detail during the Prayer of the Faithful. We do not need the homily to include a full exegesis on all three readings before it gets around to how the Word affects our daily lives, or that of others. The Communion procession should be orderly, smooth, and inviting… not messy. Purification should not take as long as Communion, and please make sure there are enough hosts! A couple brief announcements before mass or after Communion are fine, but no more. Sing whatever is there to be sung, as this engages people, and kids behave better when there is music and not talking. Do not sing a Communion Meditation! I program a Song of Praise after Communion twice a year: Silent Night on Christmas Eve (congregational), and a short choral piece with congregational refrain at the Easter Vigil (a long Mass anyway!). When a Processional hymn text necessitates more than a couple verses in order to make sense, or to live up to the solemnity of the occasion, our priest will often time his processing accordingly, which keeps the hymn from seeming overly long. If the procession itself is rushed, the hymn will seem to go on unnecessarily. And, if you are a lector or cantor, know when to approach the ambo without needing someone to nod to you officially to do so!

    Also, Baptisms at Mass are nice in theory, but can often confuse ministers, make Mass longer and more wordy, and PIPs are wondering if they will see that child again before their First Communion!

  17. “First shalt thou take out the Holy Microphone. Then shalt thou count to 60, no more, no less. Sixty shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be 60. Seventy shalt thou not count, neither count thou 50, excepting that thou then proceed to 60. Eighty is right out. Once the number 60, being the 60th number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Microphone towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall take it in the temple.”

    In the United States, the postwar baby boom – combined with the fact that Masses could not start before 6AM or after noon until Tridentine limitations were tinkered with – meant that Masses had to be rapid-fire. The spread of suburban parishes for which the automobile was the overwhelming form of parishioner transportation meant the exigencies of parking lot ballet became a fierce rudder. Those habits were formed at a liminal cultural moment, and have a long half-life.

    That said, I can agree with much that has been said here. Some random
    thoughts:

    1. I know it will be critiqued as hopelessly inhospitably “North American” but, I don’t care: Promptness is a form of politeness and respect. *Chronic* lateness by a celebrant is perceived as a form of disrespect by many congregants, rationalizations of the celebrant notwithstanding.

    2. Similarly, only improvise your homilies if you are gifted with improvisation. The gift is much rarer than some appear to realize. Homilies are a not really about sharing, and the “I” of the preacher is generally beside the point. Memorization can be wonderful – rather than inauthenic. Practice.

    3. If you feel a sung Gloria weighs down the opening rights, retire settings that employ a refrain.

    4. Proportionate silence is not an enemy; if anything, it’s better to overcome unease with silence, because that unease seems to tempt people to fill it at unnecessary length.

    5. Whittle down announcements – both in number and content – ruthlessly. I am not saying none, but wordy and lengthy announcements are a sign of busy-ness,…

  18. In our parish the norm is an hour. When there are baptisms , or RCIA rites, maybe 1:15. Seldom longer; maybe Palm Sunday.

  19. When Mass is done poorly, when it’s excruciating or boring or offensive or dull, adding even a minute beyond the minimum will be a burden. When it’s done well, time flies, and people do not itch to have it over. Liturgical time is truly “time outside of time” when you experience the presence of the Lord.

    I’ve experienced exceptions to virtually all the rules enunciated here, except for the general rule about fiddling around with microphones, which is always tedious. You have to know the community, the people, the pacing that’s right for the event as it unfolds.

    To give a concrete example that flies in the face of the common sense of many of our comments here, let me tell a story. I was a member of a black parish for a number of years, and the announcement time was priceless. In fact, one time the music director and I were talking and we both burst out laughing, saying “Cut anything but the announcements!” It wasn’t the dull laundry list of things you could have read in the bulletin. No. That’s when you welcomed visitors and found out where they were from. That’s when people stood up and gave impassioned impromptu witnesses, and when you learned what was happening in the parish in ways that surprised you. The pastor was witty and the people were so sincere, and everyone was wreathed in smiles by the end of it. Every week. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But a lot of elements had to come together for this to be so. It would not have worked elsewhere.

  20. Rita #22 it sounds as if the black church community was very life giving. That makes all the difference. I try to keep weekend liturgies to under an hour, lengthy announcements and slow moving ushers at the collection are my bugaboos.
    I have attended Holy Thursday Eucharist in suburban Chicago celebrated by the pastor, a former liturgical leader. The 2 1/2 hour celebration flowed so well it felt like the time flew by.

  21. Our Principal Sunday Masses probably go 70-75 minutes, Saturday and Sunday nights around 65-70. The Spanish Masses about 60-70.

    The English Masses are fully sung, so “singing the Mass” really doesn’t add much time at all. All Sunday Masses have incense, so incensing the altar, etc. doesn’t add that much time.

    We are also blessed with an MC and clerics (Bishop, priests, deacons) that do not start Mass late. Everything always begins immediately after the bell ringing at the hour.

  22. My one observation (apart from the generally accepted notion that boring Masses and engaging Masses need to be measured, time-wise, with different clocks) is that at least within a parish Masses should have consistently similar times,i.e., whatever time is right for the celebrant it should be more or less the same. Why? Because even truly faithful people can lead very busy lives and need to plan.

  23. I have no idea how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could ever suffer from an “overly extravagant style of celebration” as Heaven meets earth and the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

    I will say that it is irksome when the priest pauses the Mass to explain what is going on nonstop. Like explaining each of the readings BEFORE they are read…the proper place for that is in the homily. Or explaining what bringing up the gifts represents. Or telling us to applaud the altar servers, the cantor, the choir, lectors, EMsHC…it can get excessive and the primary focus of Mass is to give God praise and I don’t even think the people who serve the Mass are even looking for applause, they kind of seem mortified by it.

  24. Oh for the good old days when Half-hour Harry promised swiftly dispatched masses on holy days, and when the priests at my junior seminary would race at their various altars to get to breakfast before the bacon got cold. 17 minutes was the accurately timed record.
    Then the door was opened to abuses by VatII.

  25. High Mass usually lasts 60 to 70 minutes in my experience. I’ve noticed that OF Masses have grown in length in recent years, even though they aren’t typically celebrated with any more music or ceremony than the one hour (or less) Masses I grew up with. The last one I attended was an hour and a half, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how that happened.

    I often wish low Masses were shorter. The EF can be celebrated quickly and reverently without music, and I sometimes wonder if some priests draw out the low Mass because of the “half hour Harry” and rushed low Mass stereotypes. One with a homily and hymns really shouldn’t go beyond 35 to 40 minutes counting the prayers afterwards.

  26. I was taught to shoot for an hour, in general, but 5 min over isn’t the end of the world, especially if occasionally you also go 5-10 min under. What I thought the best advice I received was that if you want to “add” something that will make it notably longer (more chanting, the Roman Canon, solemn blessing, a sequence) then you need to cut something to make up for it. What you cut is the homily; make it shorter. If I want to do EP 1 and chant the preface, dock a page from the homily. It’s often hard for me to top, personally, some of those lovely Prefaces, so just let THEM speak!

    I would be grateful to hear people’s thoughts on daily Mass length, especially on Feasts and Solemnities. What do you do when the day of the week suggests 30min but the Missal looks just like a Sunday? I feel that so many beautiful feasts are just glossed over, but do people CARE about them?

    Also, I love the IDEA of restoring more solemn vigils for some Solemnities (John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Pentecost!), but how is that made feasible, except in a religious house or seminary?

  27. There’s some agreement here that dullness is what matters, but what defines dull? For me, a casual Mass with innovations and praise music is hard to sit through. Traditional, solemn, otherworldly liturgy draws me in and awakens a thirst for prayer – and I’m not alone.

  28. I attended the centennial Mass for the Diocese of Ketamine-No in Ghana, celebrated by Cardinal Tomko. It ran three hours and the priest I was visiting was quite upset that the cardinal ended it so abruptly.

    Culture is also an issue. Most comments seem to be about middle class Americans.

  29. I echo what Rita said above; that when we are at worship we are on kairos time, not chronus time. Would that we possess such a sensibility each Sunday when we cross the thresholds of our separate places and journey to become Church. I also agree with Scott Pluff’s secular analogy of an exciting baseball game, to which I might add opera and drama that might go as long as three hours in length.

    All of this is premised that if liturgy is done with great style and grace it would prevent us from such temptations of trim and wristwatches.

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