How to stop zoning out in Mass

“The Lord be with you.” “And with your spir—- …….. ooooh, I like that girl in front of me’s dress! I have a dress similar to that one. I should wear it sometime this week! What other outfits should I plan to wear this week? I have an interview on Wednesday. Am I ready for my interview? What will I say when they ask me to tell them about myself?………” And before I know it, the beginning of Mass somehow happened to turn into the readings, and then the consecration, and I leave the Church upset with myself thinking “Wow. I did not pay attention during Mass today, why do I keep doing that!”

I’m sure most if not all of us can relate to similar situations in which you find yourself zoning out in Mass for no reason, but have no idea how to stop. We enter the church thinking “this is finally going to be the day I pay attention and have the best mass ever!” but then leave struggling to even remember what the Gospel was for the day. It should be noted that by no means have I totally mastered being able to pay perfect attention during Mass, but when I have, these five things have helped me be able to better give of myself during the liturgy and not leave with regrets of wishing I had stopped zoning out.

1.) Get to the church early to pray and prepare yourself, and stay afterwards to pray in thanksgiving
It is so much easier to be receptive to what is happening at Mass when you spend time beforehand preparing your heart and mind for what is about to happen. When we rush into doing things, it is so much easier to fall into distraction because we are swept so suddenly from the parking lot to the the pew, and before we know it, the liturgy continues on and we do not even notice. But when we go early to the church (about 10-15 minutes before mass), pray, reflect on the readings, and prepare our hearts and minds, we are already settled into the atmosphere and mindset in order to better participate during Mass. 
This may come as a shock to some, but, believe it or not the Mass is not over after communion. Yes, the Mass is over after the priest says “the Mass has ended” and processes out of the church, but so often following these events, 3 minutes after Mass, most churches are nearly empty as parishioners flock hurriedly outside, eager to greet their friends and find out the latest news and updates. But if we stay for a few minutes after Mass, pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of the Eucharist, and conclude our Mass in a personal dialogue with God, we order our focus of the Mass back to God, and give our priority to Him. This conclusive action following Mass allows us to mentally remember the importance of what takes place, and reminds us during the Mass that we are to give God due worship throughout the liturgy.

2.) Read and reflect on the readings beforehand

This can easily be done during the moments of prayer before Mass, but reading and reflecting on the daily readings before hearing them at Mass is very helpful in paying attention during Mass, because you will already know what is about to be read, and have a greater understanding of what you have already reflected on. When hearing the readings during the Liturgy of the Word, you will make more connections and will definitely remember them afterwards, as you continue to reflect through the day.
3.) Educate yourself on what really goes on during the Mass

Let’s be real: do most of us even know what is happening during Mass or why we say the things that we say? Probably not. That’s probably why we find ourselves zoning out so much, because we don’t even know or understand the things we are saying and doing, so we really have to reason to fully participate in what we do not understand. Some good sources for this that I have found (and have linked below) are “A Biblical Walk Through the Mass” by Dr. Edward Sri, “The Lamb’s Supper” by Dr. Scott Hahn, short videos by Father Mike Schmitz, or podcasts that explain the liturgy.
4.) Think about what you say and mean what you say

While we may not always understand what is going on during Mass, there are things that anyone can understand. But when we say them, do we really mean it? When we say “we lift them (our hearts) up to the Lord”, are we really consciously thinking “I am lifting my heart up to the Lord right now and offering myself to Him”? Most likely not. Not zoning out in Mass can be as simple as thinking through the things we say during the liturgy, and by sincerely meaning every word.
5.) Offer yourself as a sacrifice in the Mass

Woah. That sounds intense.
Saint John Paul II said that “man can only find himself through a sincere gift of self”, meaning that in everything, we must make ourselves an offering to the Lord, especially during the Mass. In the sacrifice of the Mass, it is not only Christ that is offered, but we also offer ourselves and give everything to God as well. When the priest says to “lift up your hearts”, that means that we lift ourselves, our worries, the things we love - our entire being to the altar to be sacrificed as well. In sincerely giving everything we have to God in Mass, that invites us into the greater reality and brings us into more active participation, rather than thinking about what we should make for dinner tonight.

Ultimately, when we feel bad about zoning out during Mass, we must remember that the realities and graces still remain the same, and we can always strive to participate more fully rather than zoning out. The Mass is not about us or what we do during it, but rather it is about giving our worship to God and participating in the leisure of the sabbath and the heavenly realities of liturgy, for which God created us. So with these tools in mind, maybe next time, we can say, clearly through the Mass, thinking only of offering ourselves and giving glory to God, “and with your spirit” “Amen!”
God Bless,
Madeleine Sri