Friday, September 16, 2011

RKIA's Guide to behavior in a Catholic Church... part 3

(CAUTION! These are easily the most insulting series of Articles the Rev. Know-it-all has yet written.)

More talk about shutting up.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I have always realized that this guy wants to take the church back to the stone age. Doesn’t he realize that since Vatican II we are a resurrection people and the church is the place of gathering for the people of God? It is impolite not to greet our spiritual sisters and brothers in the house of our heavenly Parent. Doesn’t this troll realize that God is present in the community and that She is pleased by our affection for one another? After all God is Luv.” (Note to the humor impaired: the preceding was satire.)

Au contraire, mon cher! (That’s French for “Nope!”) Have you read the GIRM (General Instruction to the Roman Missal)? It says in paragraph 45, “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence 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 action in a devout and fitting manner.”

Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of Calvary. It begins with a confession of sin; it then offers the Father the sacrifice of His Son, and then goes on to the joy of communion with the Risen Lord. The resurrection follows the crucifixion even at Mass. Mass is both sorrowful and joyful. It is repentance and forgiveness. It is death conquered by life. It isn’t a pep rally. So rejoice your little hearts out after Mass. That's what the recessional hymn is for, followed by doughnuts and coffee in the parish hall. (I have heard this called the laying on of food, a laudable custom.)

The great offenders are, first of all, the clergy. We used to be silent in prayer and preparation for Mass. Sacristies were places where you could compose yourself and realize the amazing thing you were about to do. Now we scan the gathering crowd to see if we can catch the president of the finance committee before he ducks out early for his golf game. We yak with the best of them. We modern clergy are always “on” always ready to do the entertaining. God forbid that someone shouldn’t like us!

The next bunch of offenders is the ushers. They generally stand in a clump at the back of church, whispering at the top of their voices because, as ushers, like the clergy, professionalism makes them exempt from the rules. And then there is the blue-haired brigade, little old lady land, as Max Bialystock called it. I have great sympathy for them. They are the saints who keep the church going. Their generosity makes everything possible, but they don't get out much and half of them are deaf as stones. They are the sweetest people on earth and the joy they have at seeing someone they care about in church is genuinely touching. HOWEVER, they cannot resist chatting with the girls. They sit there talking over the week’s news with their homies, thinking they are whispering, but the batteries in their hearing aids must be dead because they too are whispering at the top of their voices. This is not as I remember it from my long distant youth. I ask myself, "How has it come to pass that the moments before Mass have come to resemble a cocktail party after the second martini?"

You think I exaggerate? Once I was asked to say Mass in a much more progressive parish than my own, no kneelers, no vigil lights, tabernacle over on one side of the church, orchestra pit and piano over on the other, 30-year-old burlap banners everywhere urging us to rejoice or to dance in the forest or some such nonsense you know the kind of place I'm talking about. An usher literally yelled across the church, something on the order of “Yo, Fred! When did you get back from Boca?” I was once at a church in another diocese attending Mass with relatives. I knew things were not going to go well when I saw a wide screen television in the place where the tabernacle used to be. The noise before Mass was deafening and the noise during Mass wasn’t much better. We used to have nuns whose mere glance could freeze water. They could quell any disturbance with a well-placed glare. Now most of them are off at native-American spirituality centers trying to get in touch with their spirit guides. We are just going to have to police ourselves.

“Well,” you may ask, “are we just to ignore our neighbor?” No, you can greet them with a nod and a smile, even a peck on the cheek, but if they insist on schmoozing, just whisper, “Let’s have coffee together after Mass,” or “Wait for me in the vestibule after church.” If it’s something really important like cousin Maude’s complications after her latest nose job, just tell them, “Oooh! I want to hear it all. Let's go to the vestibule.”

“Well,” you may counter, “I’m just going to talk for a couple seconds!” No, you’re not. You’re going to talk until the organ drowns you out, or someone wrestles you to the ground, and even then you will probably keep yakking! I remember the story of two ladies who were having a wonderful conversation in church. The organist increased the volume in an attempt to silence them. This merely encouraged the two to overpower the organ. When, at the end of the song, the organ abruptly stopped, one of the raconteurs was shouting at the top of her voice, “I always baste mine in butter!!!” Take it outside, because no matter how quiet you think you are being, you are stopping people from encountering the Lord and they have a perfect right to prepare for Mass, even if you don't think you need to prepare to meet the maker of the universe.

“All right! I’ll shut up before Mass. But the GIRM doesn’t forbid talking after Mass!” You’re quite right. The GIRM doesn’t forbid talking after Mass. Common decency does. If you see people praying after Mass, have the courtesy to be quiet. A big part of spiritual maturity is realizing that there are other people than you on the face of the earth. You think that you are the belle of the ball and that all your chatter is an expression of your good will to all the world. It isn’t. It is narcissism. Church doesn’t exist primarily to enhance your social life. Remember that the Scripture tells us that, “…even in the fool, silence is mistaken for wisdom.” (Proverbs 17:28) Don’t get all huffy. I warned you this would be insulting.


  1. As before, I agree 100%. I also applaud you using an example of something shouted into sudden silence that wasn't scandalizing. (My wife and I have a joke about that sort of situation, but the phrase we use isn't something I can share here.)

    Two minor nitpicks. Sorry. Your title for this issue misspelled "Catholic". Also, for some reason, your posts have been replacing apostrophes with equal signs. ' ≠ =

  2. Truly, I may have to switch my Friday penance from abstaining from meat to not reading your column (till the next day)...what a joy you are! :o)

  3. Voting has begun. Good luck!

  4. Can we go back to putting a sign at the entrance of the church saying: “Please observe SILENCE in the House of God”…? I know that’s rather radical today, but it used to be the norm (and you didn’t even need a sign!). And maybe get rid of the ‘Greeters’ in the vestibule who can be heard throughout the church ‘meeting and greeting’ – not to mention laughing and hugging (well, you can’t actually ‘hear’ the hugging, unless it is the cracking of elderly joints…).

    It used to be that if you saw people kneeling and obviously in prayer you took pains not to disturb them. Now it is almost taken as an affront: “How dare you interrupt my conversation with your silence!” There was the recommendation in the NO that periods of silence should be observed during Mass. It never worked very well because people have become so accustomed to ‘active participation’ that, like nature, they abhorred a vacuum. Of course if the rubrics were observed properly even in NO Masses, the periods of silence – or sotto voce prayer – were already included. But the sounds of silence were not unheard… (key, Simon and Garfunkel…)