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Question: Some parish priests want silence in their churches before Mass. Others encourage socialising with others. This is confusing! Which is correct?
When I was teaching high school, I had a photo-poster of a sunrise in the classroom. It depicted that moment when the dark shadows of night are being put to flight by the first rays of daylight. Superimposed over the photo were these words: “God speaks when we are still enough to listen.”
From earliest times, silence has been an important – even essential – component of our communication with God. The Book of Job gives us this beautiful description: “Someone stood there – I could not see his face, but the form remained before me. Silence – and then I heard a Voice.” (Job 4:16) The prophet Habakkuk says this: “The Lord is in His holy Temple: let the whole earth be silent before Him.” (Hab 2:20) Another prophet, Zechariah, is better known for his summons: “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion, for I am coming to dwell in your midst – it is the Lord who speaks.” (Zech 2:10) But just a few verses later he gives this admonition: “Let all man kind be silent before the Lord; for He is awaking and is coming from His holy dwelling.” (Zech 2:13)
So what are we supposed to do at Mass – sing and rejoice, or keep silent? We’re supposed to do both. However, it seems that the rejoicing usually wins over silence, hands down. I was recently in a church hearing confessions before Mass. For a full hour the din went on – musicians rehearsing, people talking, ministers loudly giving instructions to one another in the body of the church – to the point where I was unable to hear myself think, much less those coming to confession.
When I was a child I was taught to enter the church quietly and leave my other concerns outside: I was entering the Lord’s house. I genuflected to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and then knelt down to prepare for Mass. That preparation included a few prayers I had learned: the Morning Offering, the Acts of Faith, Hope and Love, and the Act of Contrition. I also mentioned to God those people and intentions I wanted to include in my offering of the Mass. Then I sat down and prepared my missal (if I hadn’t done so at home), so that I could follow the Mass.
I was taught always to whisper or speak quietly in church, except when joining in acts of public worship, and only to speak at all other times when absolutely necessary. The church building was a holy place, where people came to pray and to wait upon God in silence, and to engage in chatter was to show both a lack of respect for God and a lack of consideration for other worshippers.
Basil the Great speaks with pity in his Sermon, 9 of people who hurry to church, but when they arrive pay no heed to the word of God, but “smiling and shaking hands with each other they turn the house of prayer into a place of endless gossiping”. he goes on to say that such people not only fail to speak God’s glory in his temple (Ps 29 ; 8), but are a distraction to their neighbours by turning their attention too away from God to themselves.
We need to recall what is our main purpose in coming to church. We do come to enjoy fellowship with other members of the congregation, but that is incidental to the main purpose of our coming, which is to worship God. Basil puts his finger on the point when he draws attention to the two directions of worship. We come to listen to what God has to say to us, and to offer him thanks and praise for what he has done for us.
After receiving Holy Communion, I was likewise taught to kneel down and bow my head, avoiding all distractions, while I spoke to Jesus in my heart. In thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist, I prayed the Anima Christi (Soul of Christ), the Prayer before the Crucifix, and the Self-Offering of St Ignatius Loyola.
Finally, before leaving after Mass, I (and nearly everyone else) again knelt and prayed: O Sacrament Most Holy'(three tunes), a consecration to Our Lady, (My Queen, My Mother), and the acclamation “May Jesus in the most Blessed Sacrament be praised, adored and loved…”
I still try to maintain this practice, and I’m glad it was taught to me. I learned how to pray the Mass – not only in the responses we made and the hymns we sang, but also in our listening to readings, homily and prayers and in silence. I’m afraid that today’s people are trained in all aspects of participation except silence.
The 2001 General Instruction on the Roman Missal says this: Sacred silence, as part of the celebration, should be observed at the designated times…at the introduction to act of penitence, after the invitation to pray, at the conclusion of a reading or the homily. Then, after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts. Even before the celebration itself, it is laudable for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner, (no. 45)
Talking in Church is disrespectful of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We are in the House of God, in the Presence of God Himself in the Tabernacle, not in a coffee shop. All our thoughts should be directed to Him.
It is the Lord’s House, which Jesus taught was “a house of prayer” (Mt 21:13) and thus should be used according to its purpose. It is unholy to turn the Holy House of God into a man-made place of socializing or gossiping. The House of God, where dwells the Real Presence of God, must be treated with ongoing reverence. Talking in Church is a violation of justice against God, for whom we should have reverence.
Talking in Church is selfish and a violation of justice against actual neighbours who are trying to pray.
Talking in Church is a violation of charity, since as Christians we should be going “out of ourselves” to look after others first. Unnecessary talk in the Church is a total disrespect for one’s brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying to pray, and against the faithful who seek to grow in their spiritual lives. Talking in the Church falls short of manifesting love, charity, kindness and self-control, which are fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). If a person crassly and knowingly disregards others trying to pray, or worst of all does so with malice or contempt, it could even be a mortal sin against charity.
I know that some will object, saying that the Mass is community worship. True, but does silence have no place in that community? At what point before Mass is there room for silence, for those who wish to pray quietly? Are we losing an important part of our communication with God by constantly succumbing to the urge to fill every available moment with some kind of sound: if not reciting, reading or singing, then chatting?
I would recommend that parishes adopt some kind of compromise: a mandated period of silence before Mass, allowing for any brief announcements and music practice with the congregation that is necessary.
Then, after Mass, let there be some socialising as people leave – but let them keep walking, and not loiter in the church as they talk. Let the ‘talkers’ move to the porch or, better yet, outdoors.
Likewise, let those who choose to remain in church after Mass be patient enough to let the others leave before beginning their quiet prayers.
Saturday (Vigil): 4:40pm Rosary & Rec., 5:00pm Mass
Sunday: 7:30am, 9am & 6pm
Monday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
Tuesday: 6:15pm Ador., 6.30pm Rosary & Rec., 7pm Mass
Wednesday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
Thursday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
Friday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
First Friday: Ador. 7am-7:30pm.
Masses at 9:15am & 7:30pm with Anointing of the Sick.
Ador. – Adoration.
Rec. – Reconciliation.
1 Beaconsfield St, Revesby, NSW 2212, Australia
Parish Office Hours
Mon, Wed, Thur & Friday: 8:30am to 4pm.
Phone: (02) 9773 9065
Deanery: South West Deanery
Diocease: Parish Boundary
Available (Entry Via Beaconsfield St)
Weekdays: Around the Church or on the road.
Weekends: Parking is located in the School yard.
Wheelchair Access: Available (Via Side Door)
Priest: Rev Dariusz Basiaga SDS PP JP
Pastoral Associate, Sacramental Coordinator & Secretary: Pauline Sahyoun
Parish Secretary: Jasmin (on leave)
Bookkeeper: Maria Amaral
Catechists’ Coordinator: Margaret Hill
Youth Coordinator: Ellina Nandan
Safeguarding Office: Felicity Chang
Parish Council: ....
finance committee: George Mansour
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