intentional living · Mass

“People Watching at Mass” by Callie Nowlin

I have a confession to make. I have developed a habit during Mass that might look a little odd at first glance. Essentially its people watching, but what I am actually doing is looking for Christ in the Mass.

Take this past week for example. A family with young children were in front of me. Toys multiplied, children climbed on Mom, boy sprawled across the pew with eyes staring up at me. Those eyes by the way, said very clearly that he was at this point more than ready to go home after the eternity of the hour they were experiencing. Anyone who knows me would likely expect this would be a recipe for disaster, especially if I am trying to pray. However, these are some of the most precious moments to me in Mass.


We are taught that Christ is present in the Mass in the priest, the Gospel, the Sacrament, and the people gathered in sacrifice. That is one way to say that he is wonderfully present throughout the Mass.

Some people I know worship quite austerely and devoutly. Their bodies seem rigid and quiet. And when I see them praying, I tend to feel like a “bad German.” Not that I care but even as a convert I have a twinge of German Catholic guilt in the back of my mind. One of the ways that I worship, however, is by taking it all in. Jesus, whom I adore, is present and I don’t want to miss a thing.

  • People shifting in their seat during a difficult homily? Jesus is there.
  • An individual begrudgingly being conscripted into serving as an usher because someone thought it would be nice if the young would participate in Mass? Jesus is there.
  • A priest pausing to adjust the height of the missal in the hands of an altar server? Jesus is there.


For me being aware of all of the people, the art, and the music, in the sanctuary, is not a distraction. Rather, for me it is deep prayer. I may not be able to understand how God is present in the incidental or the mundane, but I always welcome His presence and His insight into His person and nature.   It allows me to pray for and with those present, and it allows me in a limited way to hear God speak to His people.

I am not claiming anything audacious here. I am no more a prophet than the next baptized Christian. But as Christians we are not alone in this relationship. It is necessarily communal. And when Christ is offering himself in the utmost humility of bread and wine to you, he offers it in the sight of all.


I am reminded of when a young man kneels in public to ask for the hand of a lady in marriage. So, to here Jesus waits for yours and my response. Will you accept with joy? Will you brush it off as mundane and expected? Will you utterly reject Him? And once again I am left in awe of his wonderful love for us. These are the kinds of thoughts that may go through my mind during Mass, as I watch the people around me.

So, I ask for your forgiveness in advance, in case my eyes may wander in Mass, or if you notice me staring at something or even yourself during the liturgy. I assure you I am not really looking at you.

I am looking at Jesus, whom I love.

People Watching Looking at Jesus

9 thoughts on ““People Watching at Mass” by Callie Nowlin

  1. I people watch at church too. The church I attend sadly doesn’t have a lot of children (unless they go at a different time) but I have noticed that while the majority of parishoners are older, there are a lot of folks my own age. I was quite surprised to see a couple of “gruff” looking guys (blue collar types) at mass lately. God does not discriminate 🙂


  2. My father is a church minister and I grew up going with him in the church always. Nowadays I didn’t go to church for one reason, instead of me asking for forgiveness and praying I will be more tempted to be sinned because ladies in the church looks like they went to the church not for the mass but to show up their cleavage and asses.


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