Distracted Mind During Mass
  • Carol
    Posts: 600
    During Mass today as I sat in the pew I had the worst time keeping my mind on the Mass. All manner of thoughts kept coming to mind. It was a panoply of topics from worldly concerns to mundane musings about the people in front of me. I closed my eyes which helped some, but it was very distressing. I know it isn't a musical question, but I respect the spirituality of my fellow forum members. Thanks for any techniques or insights you may have for me.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    Was it a reverent Mass? How was the music? Were there noisy pips? Did you have a rosary?
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • There are moments during our prayers, meditations, attendance at mass, or even wanting our mind to focus on the Bach that we are playing, or any other situation in which we wish to focus our thoughts that the more we try to focus the more distractions and nonsense flood our minds. Even stuff that would never occur to us when doing some mundane chore. Sometimes it is the devil wishing to thwart our prayers and praises, sometimes it is just the human incapacity always to focus on higher things. It is best not to be disturbed at these distractions but just to let them be there, ignore them and give our attention as best we can to the true object of our thoughts. The more we fight the worse it will get. Stay mentally relaxed and undisturbed at distractions. The more we fight them or get upset the more they are empowered. Only in heaven will we see nothing but Light and the object of our love. Practice meditation to gain a clear mind and a focus on the positive.
  • m_r_taylor
    Posts: 156
    Look "over your shoulder" at God and give Him an occasional wave from your mired mind, or ask one of your heavenly friends to do the praying in your place. We're all there sometimes - or very often. You are there because you believe and love God, and your presence in the pew is a prayer even though it doesn't feel like it. So don't worry.

    From St Francis de Sales - The Art of Loving God. The bit about shame isn't entirely relevant to this but I wanted to include it as context for the next bit. I would also add that "acts of confidence" does not also need to be just words but also the physical things like kneeling and showing up to Mass and such things.

    We must never allow our shame to be attended with sadness and disquietude. That kind of shame proceeds from self-love, because we are troubled at not being perfect, not so much for the love of God, as for love of ourselves.

    And even if you do not feel such confidence, you must still not fail to make acts of confidence . . .

    It is always in our power to make these acts; although there may be difficulty, there is never impossibility. It is on these occasions and amid these difficulties that we ought to show fidelity to our Lord. For although we may make these acts without fervor and without satisfaction to ourselves, we must not distress ourselves about that; the Lord loves them better thus.

    And do not say that you repeat them indeed but only with your lips; for if the heart did not will it, the lips would not utter a word. Having done this, be at peace, and without dwelling at all upon your trouble, speak to the Lord of other things.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,217
    The other day I stopped into a church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and I found myself immediately feeling recollected. It felt great but I wondered why.

    Then I noticed I'd forgotten my mask in the car.

    There's an old saying: "Pray as you can, not as you can't." St Therese was distracted when praying the Rosary. St Teresa of Avila needed a book to keep her focused.

    Two things to try:

    1. Pray to God about the fact that you're distracted. Make acts of faith, hope, and love, and when you get distracted, talk to God about your distractions. Then go back to making acts of faith, hope, and love.

    2. Pray to God about the things that are distracting you. Especially if the same things keep coming back, your concern for them is an opportunity to place them into God's providence.
  • Carol
    Posts: 600
    Dear Francis, it was the same Mass, same celebrant, and the same people as every other Sunday. I think the difference was in me. I do not pray the rosary at Mass. I was taught (in the 60's and 70's) that during Mass you should focus on the Mass. Maybe I should try the Rosary though if I am in that distracted state again. Thank you.

    Dear MJO, thank you for the reassurance! I was thinking about this situation since my post and I think the turmoil of the world was at the root of my unease. I do agree that the more I struggled the worse it became, akin to being in quicksand. How reassuring that "Only in heaven will we see nothing but Light and the object of our love."

    m_r Taylor, I often appeal to the communion of saints. My dad was a wonderful Catholic and I do pray for his intercession and for the intercession of Mary. Thank you.

    Kathy, thank you. I guess perseverance is what is needed. I think I am concerned that winter is coming, the dark months are coming and I don't want to be isolated, especially from the Mass again.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 498
    You are not alone. That you notice and care is surely meritorious! Myself I find it happens a bit randomly. I've been recollected during noisy, disorganized Masses, and distracted during beautiful, reverent Masses. Maybe it's God's way of giving us exercises to do, or particular things to pray for (I'm usually distracted by thoughts about things that could use prayers). (Unless I'm thinking about lunch!)
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,217
    Btw, just for general information, one of St. John of the Cross's most famous teachings is that there is a shift in prayer that can seem bad, but is a very good sign of progress.

    What happens is that a person can't focus their mind and imagination anymore, despite being faithful to prayer and being in a state of grace. The shift is between meditation, which is the use of thoughts and images, and contemplation, which is just being before the Lord in loving reverence.

    A lot of times people think they are praying badly when this happens, when in fact it's a sign of progress.

    This looks like a good explanation of what a spiritual director should be attentive to at this point. It's strong medicine for someone actually going through it, but it's so clear that it may be helpful.


    This is gentler but longer. Very good:


    St. John's ideas come from a combination of experience and convictions. Two of his convictions are that 1. God is without form, and thus any image of God is not God, and at some point if the spiritual life it must be left behind, and 2. That which is received is received in the mode of the receiver. Those thoughts, feelings, and images that we have at the beginning of the spiritual life are needed then, because we are weak, but God, like a weaning mother (St. John's image) takes them away to guide us closer to the truth about Himself.

    These are excellent books about this:


  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    Well, I learned from a spiritual director a long time ago that what I was always labelling as distraction was actually the sign of a genuinely contemplative temperament/disposition. I worry a lot less about them now.

    So, one thing may be to hold a softer bite on what you consider to be distractions. (the content of distractions isn't necessarily their point, as it were, btw.)
    Thanked by 3Kathy CHGiffen Carol
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 379
    Given that we are in a pandemic which has affected all of us and that the integrity of our elections is dubious, given that we have had riots which involve all manner of destructive behavior and anything else you want to add to the pot, it's not a wonder we're distracted at Mass.

    I have found the best thing is to say interiorly "help me to stay focused Lord" it usually works. When it doesn't i recall one of my devotional hymns be it for the Sacred Heart, Blessed Sacrament or perhaps my Guardian Angel. Sometimes I recall a particular short prayer or aspiration from the Raccolta.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930

    The reason I was asking about type of liturgy and music is because sometimes the worst place to be able to pray is in a church playing lousy music and the personality 'presider' waving arms... in that case, you might find a better church or wear earplugs.
    Thanked by 2ServiamScores Carol
  • Carol
    Posts: 600
    I thank you all for your insights and advice! I have had a lot of practice in ignoring bad music at Mass so I doubt that was my problem. I knew I could count on learning from you all and I do appreciate it. I went to Mass today to sing for a Funeral and even though I had a role in the Mass I found I was better disposed to pray today thanks to things I read here and by the grace of God.