Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Can't Parishioners Know When To Shut Up? #Catholic

I'm talking about arriving ten minutes before Mass and finding the sanctuary filled with the sounds of a subdued suburban mall instead of silence for a sacred space. Several parishes I've visited have had people yakking to one another as though they're in a town hall rather than a place for prayer and meditation.

Is what I have to say to my neighbor so important that it can't wait until after Mass has ended?

Recently, I visited my father and stepmother in Florida. Both are very devout Catholics. They told me about their chatty parishioners, so I was prepared. At least I thought I was. We arrived about five minutes before Mass and filed into a pew near the sanctuary. In the pew in front of us, a couple were chatting animatedly with a gentleman who was sitting in the pew in front of them; and was turned almost completely around as his arm extended casually on the top of the wooden pew. My father and his wife wasted no time in shushing them. "Psst.. quiet, please. We're trying to pray."

I was slightly surprised that this little social gathering didn't even take a breath when realizing newcomers were kneeling behind them. To their credit, they did immediately stop chatting when asked to pipe down, but for the love of pete, they had to be asked? What has happened to the Catholic Church?

I remember when I was younger and the nasty looks we'd get from our teachers if we tried to whisper something to our neighbor. I also remember the first time I heard clapping during a Mass. I was mortified. It wasn't because I didn't like clapping or celebrating. It was because I was raised to see Mass as a very holy and silent hour within a busy week.

When you think of it like that -- that Mass is only one hour (and for us blessed with a Latin Mass, an hour and twenty minutes), is it too much to expect those who attend to be silent and respectful of that time?

Our society has become even chattier with the addition of technology. So not only do we have that old relic of a standby -- the telephone; we now have the Internet, email, text messaging, and even location-based social media services so we can let everyone on the planet know that we're at a McDonald's in Ashland, Kentucky and enjoying the Best. Fries. Ever. There seems to be an ever-increasing need to talktalktalk and let everyone know what we're thinking during every waking moment, everyday.

If you suspect I have a few drops of contemplative blood in my veins, you'd be correct.

But I'm also half-Italian; which means I can jawbone like a Southerner at a family reunion. However, chalk it up either to my upbringing or my temperament, I know there are times to be silent. Mass, certainly, is one of those times.

One time I was visiting my brother in Cincinnati. I had left to return to Columbus, but not before attending Mass. I visited my father's parish and arrived about twenty minutes early. I thought I'd spend some quality time in prayer and silence. I entered the church, and made my way to an empty pew. I passed two women a few pews back. One was sitting and the other was standing alongside the pew, in the aisle. They were chatting in normal voices as though they were in a grocery store. I thought once I knelt they'd at least lower their voices, if not stop altogether. Nope. Nothing was going to interrupt their little tête à tête. I don't think I lasted a minute before I got up and walked out. I realized I'd be really early for the only Latin Mass in town, and even though it was out of my way, I headed toward that parish. The silence was entirely worth it.

I think it says something about us as a Church when we can't stop thinking about ourselves for just one hour so we can focus totally on God. I include myself in this because I still have moments when I'm distracted. I also think that engaging in social conversation within what is supposed to be sacred space, sets a bad precedent.

It shows a complete lack of regard and sensitivity for our fellow parishioners. How do we know what is going on in someone's life? Attending Mass that morning may be the only peace they will experience for an entire week. Pouring out our heart to God in preparation for Mass is not easy. It is so much easier not to face our frailties, our shortcomings, and our sins. It is easier to shrug off the suffering of the world in order to focus instead on The Me Show. Placing the needs of others above our own while setting aside our own preferences is a beautiful act of worship that we can give God.

I know this is a huge issue. I have a great deal of empathy for our priests who realize the problem but not sure how to solve it. My father's parish had the announcements before Mass and there was an admonishment to remember to be quiet because people were trying to pray. (Good night. Didn't we learn anything in kindergarten?)

I have a feeling that the only way things will change is if a few brave priests spend time on the subject during their homilies, and when other parishioners start to do what my father and stepmother did -- pointedly reminding people that they're not at a baseball game.

I know not all Catholic parishes are like this. But I can't help but wonder that if a congregation cannot recognize that the time to pay homage to the mystery of our faith, once a week, for one hour, is during Mass - then when is that time?


Jackie said...

This is a big issue. Good post. I feel the same way about it.

There is always other areas to chat and it seems as though the only quiet place is in the little side room where they have placed the monstrance (Jesus) .

It is shameful and a travesty.
We need Jesus to be put back in His place .
Front and Center of the sanctuary then maybe people will shut up and give us peace.

It is a house of prayer!

I go to church to hear God not to socialize , and don't get me going on about cell phones ....uggggh *sigh*

I don't like clapping , drums, shaking hands , lining up for communion without genuflecting and communion in the hand . Wow that sure sounds like a protestant service !

kkollwitz said...

I think the architecture often signals whether chatting or silence is more appropriate (not necessarily in this case).

Our church is dead quiet before Mass. Sometimes visitors will start to yak, but are quickly advised that people talk outside after Mass.

Janny said...

Years ago, there were some comments made about parishioners chatting prior to Mass, in the sanctuary, in my previous church. One of our members--a man I respect in pretty much every other area!--was indignant that people thought the place should be quiet. "You're not supposed to be PRAYING before Mass--that's the time we're GATHERING and you SHOULD be greeting your neighbors!" he said. "If you want to pray quietly, you can do it after Mass or before you get there."

I nearly dropped my teeth.

(How he thought you'd be able to pray quietly AFTER Mass, when people were greeting each other in the same way as they left church, was an interesting question I never asked him.)

The worst shock I had in this area, though, was a couple of years ago when we attended the ordination of a cousin; we entered the cathedral to absolute BEDLAM. The volume of sound in that place would have put an athletic arena to shame...and it wasn't because people needed to communicate important information to each other. It was simply pre-Mass chatter! I confess, I fell victim to it and without thinking, started talking with my son...only to be asked by a woman in front of us to kindly be quiet, because she was trying to pray. I stood corrected, but at the same time, I thought, "How in the world is she praying with all this noise around her? Like we made a difference?" :-)

I'm still astonished that that behavior was considered appropriate prior to a Mass for one of the most sacred occasions any one of us would ever witness. It boggles the mind.

The other shocker was when I was at Eucharistic adoration and a gal took a call on her cell phone...in church. Didn't bother to say, "Hey, I'm in church, hang on, I'll call you back," and leave. Just did business--and it was a business call, talking about an order someone was placing!--at normal speaking volume. And this wasn't a teenager or someone who was brought up in the happy-clappy era...this woman was older than I am.

However, I do my bit when I can to calm things down. To two gentlemen chattering away during my daughter's high school graduation Mass, I finally said, "Unless what you're talking about is an emergency, please take your conversation outside the church."

They were dumbfounded. But...they shut up. :-)

We're all suffering from a lack of perspective: we're more afraid of offending a fellow churchgoer than we are of offending the Lord of the Universe by not treating His house with respect.

Let's get our priorities back straight, shall we? Starting with having priests with enough guts to say so out loud, please...


C. LaSalle said...

I couldn't agree more! It's nearly impossible to pray quietly either before or after Mass. It sounds just like a bunch of protestants chatting away!

Heaven help you if you ask someone to stop talking or take the yaking outside.

molly said...

thank you for this post! Jackie, above, said that they should place Jesus back to the sanctuary, front and center. I couldn't agree more!! I am a Cathedral parishioner so I'm used to having the tabernacle front and center but every other parish it's in a chapel. I don't understand why they moved it in the first place.
anyway, i completely agree with everything you said here! I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and a 14 month old daughter and it is very difficult and trying to teach them how to act in Mass, especially a Cathedral with marble floors that echoes. and everybody around us is always talking to my daughters and playing with them and it isn't doing me any favors!! sure they're sweet and adorable, but they need to learn the solemnity of Mass and when you act silly with them it isn't helping them learn!!