Q. Within the past year, I have seen a tremendous amount of talking and socializing while people are seated in church awaiting the priest’s arrival for Mass. Parents are even conversing with their children during the priest’s homily.
In the Communion line, individuals stop to shake the hand of someone they know and chat while the Eucharist is being distributed. One man, arriving in church and walking up the aisle to find a pew, was talking on his cell phone as if he were out on the street. What kind of example does this set for the young people in attendance?
Some devout parishioners arrive before Mass to pray, but with all the distractions I would think prayer to be almost impossible. Maybe if the priest made an appeal to those attending to respect the house of God, it might sink in. So far, the only thing that has ever been said from the altar (by the commentator) is, “We ask you to silence your cellphones.”
Thank you for addressing this total lack of reverence. (Houma, Louisiana)
A. The real “villain” in your story is the man on the cell phone: That is not only irreverent, it is downright rude. Nearly three years ago in this column, I addressed the importance of quiet before Mass in answer to a similar question from a different reader, but perhaps we all need a reminder.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in No. 45 expresses it this way: “Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.”
Certainly the goal of a parish is to create a community of faith, so it is natural and good for people to greet each other and “catch up a bit” when they meet at church. For that reason, newer churches are often constructed with a larger “lobby” so that folks can chat when they first arrive and then be quiet once they enter the church proper.
In the parish where I serve, our church was built in the late 1990s, at a time when we were being encouraged to create a separate chapel for the Blessed Sacrament (as a sign of special reverence and as a more intimate space where parishioners could stop for daily visits).
The downside, though, when the Eucharist is not reserved in the church proper, parishioners may regard the larger space as an “auditorium” and converse at sidewalk decibels.
So just before Mass is to begin, I announce something like this: “We are gathered this morning to share our faith in the risen Lord and to thank God for the blessings in our lives. Let’s take a moment now to quiet our hearts and to place ourselves consciously in the presence of God.”
Then we have 20 or 30 seconds of complete silence before the procession to the altar begins.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.