I've been to a Catholic Church very few times in my adult life. It's a very different experience than the protestant Churches I'm used to.

In most of the Protestant Churches, there is generally a time of singing/praise/worship, followed by some general announcements for members (The Lady's Missionary meeting will be meeting on Monday night at Liz's house, for example), followed by a prayer, then a sermon on a particular topic, more singing, and a prayer. In most Baptist Churches, there's an altar call just before the final prayer.

The Catholic Church also seems to have a very set format, and it doesn't seem to vary much, but that's probably an outsider's perception. I'm interested to know what the standard format it, and also, what things are the same every week, and were there is variation.

To give an example, in all the activities in the Protestant Churches I described, each and every one of those activities vary. The sermon is different every week. The Hymns vary (in our Church they are chosen because the doctrine in the Hymn is directly relevant to the sermon message) The format stays the same, but the contents seem different.

In the Catholic Church, however, it seems to be much less flexible. I do not mean this to be disrespectful, but it seems that everyone knows when to stand, when to kneel, when to sit, and there's usually a time when the Priest says one thing and everyone else responds in unison. ("Peace be with you" - "and also with you" being the easiest to remember.) I get the impression that this part of the service is the same week after week.

So, in short, could someone post a general format something like:

  • Opening prayer - varies
  • Other activity - standard part of the Mass, always part of the Mass, doesn't change

Even better would be each item listed with the correct Catholic terminology with a layman's or potestnt synonym... Like

  • Eucharist (communion/Lords Supper)

Or if I'm just perceiving things incorrectly, correct my misunderstanding.

  • 2
    And you haven't been to one in awhile, I see! They changed "and also with you" to "and with your spirit" to reflect the Latin more accurately.
    – svidgen
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 3:49
  • Nope. The last time I was in one was probably 10 years ago for my best friend's wedding, and before that, it was a Christmas service years before that. It was only as a teenager that I attended several in close succession. I can't even remember why, other than that my Mom was looking for a Church at the time, and she had been raised Catholic. Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 3:52
  • I think this would be a good starting place. You can click the link that Begins with Next at the bottom of each page. ourcatholicfaith.org/mass/introrites.html
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 6:18
  • @Drew - it's too bad you didn't use that to form an answer. It was particularly helpful. It was exactly what I was looking for! Thanks! Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 16:11
  • @DavidStratton, Thanks! XD I was just kinda feeling lazy yesterday.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 27, 2013 at 1:44

4 Answers 4


I think you're looking for the Order of Mass

But in General, each Catholic Mass is broken up into 4 parts (It's a little different for Sundays and the few Holy Days of Obligation than it is for weekday Masses; more things are optional for weekday Mass)

  1. Introductory Rite

    A. Procession in to the Church

    B. Greeting

    C. Penitential rite (there are a few ways this can be done)

    D. Let us pray... (This is the prayer that changes, if you go to weekday mass it usually has something to do with the saint whose feast day it is)

  2. Liturgy of the Word

    A. OT reading

    B. Psalm

    C. NT reading (not Gospel)

    D. Alleluia

    E. Gospel (usually connected in some way with OT reading)

    F. Homily

  3. Liturgy of the Eucharist

    A. Creed (Apostles or Nicene)

    B. Intercessory prayers

    C. Collection and presentation of the gifts ( bread wine and money brought up)

    D. Eucharistic Prayer (This is the part that the priest does mostly, but I'll list the parts you'd do if you were at Mass)

    i. Great Amen

    ii. Acclamation (what the we say after "the mystery of faith")

    iii. Our Father

    iv. Rite of Peace (hand shake time)

    v. Lamb of God (and then you kneel)

    vi. Lord I am not worthy...

    vii. Eucharist time!

  4. Concluding Rite

    A. Prayer

    B. Lame Joke (that might just be in the Footville order of Mass)

    C. Mass has ended...

    D. Process out.

    E. Eruption of noise as everyone suddenly forgets they're still in the presence of The Lord.

That's about the gist of it, the order of mass is what is supposed to happen, some things that aren't supposed to happen are pretty normal ( or at least regional) if you want to see how it's supposed to be done head over to the Guadalupe Shrine outside of La Crosse.

  • Thank you! You've given me more things to Google, but that gets me going in the right direction! Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 13:45
  • On Sundays except for Advent and Lent there is "Glory in the Highest" hymn after the Penitential rite. On week days, there is usually just one non-gospel reading (usually OT, sometimes NT). Alleluia can (on lent it must) be substituted with a song or (in lent) some equivalent of "alleluia". Creed is usually omitted too on week days. I write "usually", because on solemnities the order of the mass is transitional between Sundays and week days. Lame Joke is a part of general announcements and it's followed by blessing.
    – Pavel
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 20:00
  • And what role does Coffee Hour play in the rite? Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 12:50
  • @AffableGeek Catholic's have trouble keeping the entire hour sacred. In my parish we have Donut Sunday, it is usually announced before the joke, but is preannounced by the smell of coffee emanating from the basement and the squirming of small children who disappear from the pews after Communion.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 13:06
  • 2
    Don't forget the Sanctus (a.k.a. Holy, Holy Holy), which goes about a third of the way through the Eucharistic Prayer—that is, after the Preface and before the Anamnesis (i.e., recollection of the Lord’s Supper). Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:23

I got this manual from my sibling's homework for their subject, Christian Living Formation. Hope this helps.

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1. The Order of Mass. St. John Bosco Parish Church. 20 August 2010. Web. 5 February 2012. <http://www.saginaw.org/images/stories/PDFs/missal/order-of-mass.pdf>.
2. The Order of Mass. Catholic Diocese of Saginaw. 10 June 2012. Web. 5 February 2012. <http://sjbmakati.com/uploads/2/7/4/3/2743634/new_roman_missal.pdf>.


To supplement the other two fine responses, I'd like to point out another general distinction. The texts prayed at every Catholic mass fall into one of two categories:

Mass Ordinary: This set of texts remains more or less fixed from day to day, with some variation based on the season or the day's liturgical rank1 -- for example the Gloria is omitted in Lent and Advent, the second reading and Creed are generally omitted on weekdays, etc. Peter's answer outlines its structure.

Mass Propers: These texts vary from day to day. and can themselves be divided into three categories:

  • Two or three Scripture readings or lessons: always one from the New Testament, sometimes one from the Old Testament, and always one from the Gospel
  • Five or more processional chants: usually small excerpts from the Psalms, traditionally sung by the choir at various points in the mass where there could be a procession. In the newer form of the Roman Rite several of these chants are often replaced by congregational hymns, which the music staff choose ad libitum:

    1. Introit (entrance procession)
    2. Gradual (between lessons)
    3. Alleluia or Tract (before the Gospel)
    4. Sequence (a long non-Scriptural hymn added before the Gospel on major feasts)
    5. Offertory (during the preparation of the bread and wine for consecration)
    6. Communion (during the distribution of Holy Communion)
  • The presidential prayers, prayed by the priest:

    1. Collect: concludes the opening rites and immediately precedes the Scripture readings
    2. Prayer over the Offerings: concludes the Offertory and immediately precedes the Anaphora (i.e, Eucharistic Prayer)
    3. Postcommunion: concludes the Communion rite and precedes the dismissal

1Every day of the year has a liturgical rank, which ranges from Easter at the top to an ordinary summer weekday at the bottom, with saints' feast days somewhere in between depending on a number of factors.


Obviously this is a late answer, but a couple of things should be noted:

Generally mass is celebrated in a Catholic church every day, if a priest is available.

Attendance at mass is required for Catholics on every Sunday, and Holy Day of Obligation (which vary by country), as previously answered. However, notwithstanding several important points, participation in the Eucharist (communion) is only required once a year.

The order of mass is specified by the pope. It is specified in the "General Instructions of the Roman Missal". A great deal of the structure, form, and specific words to be used are strictly prescribed. Some songs, and some customs are up to regional and local variation. To be exhaustive, there are also other authorized rites that are somewhat different, particularly the traditional Latin mass. But generally, the mass is the same everywhere, and one should be able to follow along even if it's in a different language.

To get back to the start of the question: yes, a Catholic mass is very different, and that's because protestants have decided that they have 20,000 better ways of worshiping God than the Church does.

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