Sometimes people tell me, a little apologetically, that they felt distracted at Mass, to which I respond, of course you are and so am I sometimes! However, I use even distractions to call me to the Mass. For example: when I hear the door opening during the Mass it distracts me; however I pray through the distraction and thank the Lord another person comes to worship. When I hear the crying of a child I pray that this child will be reared to love the Holy Mass and be a disciple. When someone wanders in and is somewhat nonchalant in his or her attitude, I pray that this might be the moment that they will respond with deeper devotion to the Lord who is searching for them, in the depth of their heart. Even distractions that are inevitable can be invitations to pay closer attention to what is going on at the altar.
All the rustlings and noises and so forth teach me an important aspect of the Augustine doctrine of the Totus Christus: the whole Christ, head and members. Christ is alive in the hearts of a living humanity coughing and sneezing and crying and bumping around. He has gathered a mass of humanity in his presence to invite them to divine communion in the Sacrament of the altar.
If you find yourself distracted during Mass, what can you do? If the distraction is someone else, pray for that person. If the distraction is your wandering thoughts, try to turn your attention to the beautiful words of the Mass. If you can’t concentrate on the words, then you can look at the beautiful surroundings and thank God that he gave us the saints of the ages, depicted in paint, statues, and stained glass. If we can’t think high uplifted thoughts then we can simply rest in the heart of Christ, thankful that he comes to us in the Sacrament of the altar.
There is a little book called Meditations Before Mass, by Msgr. Romano Guardini, in which he speaks of stillness and distractions. He says “Men live, and living things move; a forced outward conformity is no better than restlessness. Nevertheless, stillness is still, and it comes only if seriously desired.” So we pray through the inevitable distractions in order to cultivate within our soul the stillness Romano speaks of. “We must learn and practice the art of constructing spiritual cathedrals,” he says, and “Something of eternity is deep within us… this seed of eternity is within me, and I can count on its support.” Saint Frances de Sales also speaks of gently leading ourselves back, rather than becoming impatient with ourselves.
We pray that stillness be cultivated within our soul as we witness the awesome sacrifice of the Mass, and thus enter into the heart of Christ.