Silence

Patrick Archbold has a post about silence – or the lack thereof – at parishes today.   He speaks of an experience in his own Church where the Bishop subtly, but firmly rebuked the parish for its lack of decorum.  He suggested that they move the tabernacle out of a separate chapel and back into the center of the Church, and subsequently things did improve.

Patrick is writing about the chit-chat that goes on before and after Mass, but it seems we could do with a bit more silence during Mass as well.  One of the things that bothers me is that no matter the Church, it feels like there must be noise or sound at all times.  There are times where I just wish the organist would, pardon the pun, pipe down.  There’s music for the offertory, the post Communion, after Mass, etc.  Sometimes it feels like the organist is just vamping to make sure that some kind of background music is playing at every second of the Mass, as though people would walk out should there be any silence whatsoever.

One of the beautiful things about the Extraordinary Form is how it permits prayerful silence.  This is not necessarily lacking in the new liturgy, but I think Priests and music ministers could be ever mindful to create an atmosphere that encourages silence.  Or as Pat Archbold writes,

So to those who still think that cacophony equals community, I say one thing.  For the love of God, shut up.

30 Responses to Silence

  • Most folks cannot pray,talk to God, for 3-5 minutes, without our minds wondering. So maybe the Church and organist know best.

  • We have lost our sense of the presence of God, and people dress, talk and act as if they are in no place special, instead of in a tabernacle of I AM. Of course the Novus Ordo, the mass I always go to for lack of realistic alternatives in driving distance, as if by design seems to be as prosaic and banal as possible, and I can readily understand why people seem to feel no sense of awe, except, one hopes, at the consecration.

  • Tsk tsk, Don. You didn’t use the officially approved, politically correct term, “ordinary form.”

    I will never call the traditional Latin Mass the “extraordinary form.”

  • For a lark I checked out Rick Warren’s megachurch a while back, since it is here in Orange County. The first half pretty much reminded me of a Novus Ordo service, only with more and louder music.

    There’s a song (x2). Then the “president” comes in and says a few words. Then there is another song (x2). Then someone reads something. Then there is another song (x2). Then there is a telescreen message about things going on at the “church.” And then – you guessed it – some more song. Then there’s the lecture, which I have to say wasn’t horrible stuff. It was probably more conservative than what you would hear at some parishes around here, though overall it still has a very modern self-help vibe. Then they have their faux-communion thing. I don’t know what happens after that because I left. Everyone just starts wandering up to the tables they set out with the soup crackers and vials of grape juice.

    There is no doubt that this service, and many Novus Ordo services, attempt to stay “relevant” by becoming more worldly. I think of Mass as, among many other things, a refuge from the world, a time during which we participate in something timeless and transcendent, and during which there is no room for or justification for the introduction of the vulgar or the profane.

  • One priest at my parish back in NJ, after a Mass had let out, was trying to have a conversation with some elderly folks (and I waiting there to discuss wedding plans) when there arose a loud conversation on the other side of the Church. He loudly said, “Excuse me, this is a Church, not a Gossip Hall.” The embarrassed quickly left the Church.
    How I wish there were more people who understood the role of Silence in a Church :/.

  • Of course the Novus Ordo, the mass I always go to for lack of realistic alternatives in driving distance,

    There are Byzantine-rite services about an hour-and-a-half from Dwight, Illinois (in Palatine, Illinois and Munster, Indiana). There is a Maronite service in Peoria.

  • I strongly agree on the talking before and after mass.

    On the silent canon in the Tridentine Mass (a term I use affectionately) I’m divided. Myself, I can like it a lot, though I wish I could hear the beautiful Latin words spoken aloud. But trying to keep five kids quiet for ten minutes of total silence when the priest prays silently through the most important part of mass does far more to kill active participation than… Just about anything.

    I love the text of the old mass, but I desperately miss the spoken canon when I attend one.

  • “He suggested that they move the tabernacle out of a separate chapel and back into the center of the Church, and subsequently things did improve.”

    Unfortunately at our parish the presence of the tabernacle in the church does nothing to halt the tsunami of chatter before and after Mass. It iss depressing.

  • I fully agree with the author. I want silence. I am moved on those few occasions when there is no organ and the priest leaves his seat and goes to the altar to get the book of scriptural readings. In our church , he sings Alleluia etc and the congregation answers Alleluia etc back. When his voice and then ours breaks that silence, I usually tremble in awe. ( I neither tremble or find my self in awe very frequently) Sound, even the most beautiful sound gains some of it’s beauty from the accompanying silence.
    I’m pleased someone finally wrote on this subject.
    antonio

  • Yes i agree Paul.
    The chatter before and after Mass – and sometimes during :-( I find annoying – I call it “The Farmyard Effect”. Mainly, but not always, women’s voices chatting away at volume to be heard above the other, to me sounds like a whole lot of chooks around the farmyard, with the odd dog bark and sheep or goat bleat thrown in.
    A few weeks ago, as an experiment, our parish secretary put on a soft tape of chant music about 10 mins. before Mass was due to start. Amazingly, there was very little chatter; must try it again.
    Once a month on a Saturday, and every second Thursday at midday we have a Tridentine Mass, celebrated by one of the younger priests, who taught himself Latin specifically to celebrate the Tridentine rite. I usually attend, as Thursday morning I take communion to the elderly in a nearby rest home, and am starting to serve as acolyte – a throw back to my youth as an altar boy.
    The reverential silence and the sense of mystery with the Tridentine is a great thing to recover.

  • “Amazingly, there was very little chatter;”

    I’ve noticed the same thing Don when a public recitation of the rosary is going on in my parish before Mass.

  • Thanks. Yes. Amen.

  • Some of it comes from a change in the understanding of the Mass also. If the Mass is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, then silence is an appropriate response. But, if many have been taught, it is merely a communal meal with “All at the Table” then the appropriate response is communal interaction, cheer etc.

  • This causes me much angst. I am struggling to find the line between indifference, consent, charity, fraternal correction and indignation. I find myself spending most of the Holy SACRIFICE of the Mass merely trying not to be distracted and recollect myself. When opportunity allows I do hear the Tridintine Mass and it is extraordinary, as in magnificent and the Missa Novus Ordo is often just very ordinary. Between the bad self-serving music, the chatter, poor Protestant posture, especially during the Consecration and the Pater Noster, the announcements before the dismissal and the lack of silent prayer before and after I sometimes forget that we’re Catholic. But, am I to complain, to endure, to educate, I suspect most Catholics (practical Protestants) don’t know any different.

    Just to be clear, here in the Arlington (VA) Diocese we have an excellent Bishop and our priests celebrate Mass far more reverently than other places I have been both North and South and they give good homilies (most of the time). The church is full, although it often looks like an auditorium and not the place where Heaven touches earth and we are transported in time to the Crossroads of history.

    Do we have an opportunity to correct this mess with the ‘new’ translation of the Novus Ordo? Is it our responsibility to speak up about this? Where is the line between obedience and indifferent tolerance? Do we who appreciate silence before , during and after Mass, have a right to be silent about this, or do we have a duty to be silent? I am honestly confused because we are not Catholic alone, and I cannot merely do what I like. If I think it right shouldn’t I be encouraging my brethren to do the same?

    Satan is causing this and as soldiers of Christ we should correct it, but in what manner?

  • I agree with Darwin on the canon of the Mass. At the High Mass here in DC at St. Mary’s, Father Pope (what a wonderful name) usually says it aloud, though in a low voice.

    Darwin’s comment also got me thinking about a somewhat side issue, and that’s the noise of children at Mass. As a father of a rather rambunctious two year old I’ve learned to tolerate and appreciate the noise of little children at Mass, though I think we should certainly teach them the importance of silence at Mass and instill a sense of reverence as they get older. I also must admit to some jealousy when I see families with four or more children, all of whom barely utter a peep. Don’t know how you do it.

  • I must admit that children making noise and scribbling in their coloring books, playing with Mommy’s purse and eating snacks is disturbing; however, children are not the problem. Measures can be taken by the parish and the parents to minimize that and if the child is old enough to speak (assuming no special needs or illness) they can be disciplined to be silent. Nevertheless, children are, well, children. When adults act like children, that is very, very disturbing. I suppose that time in Purgatory will be mom and dad’s for the behavior of children before they attain the age of reason.

    To be clear, children tend to mimic adults. If the adults, all of them, not just mom and dad, were silent and reverent the children will follow. Children have very acute hypocrisy-meters, why should they be reverent and quite when the rest of the ‘Catholic’ adult worshipers aren’t? I suspect that we all have a responsibility for assisting mom and dad in helping their children worship reverently, yet, as we engender a more Protestant ‘community’, we become far more respectful of our fellow man than we do of God. Aren’t we supposed to be a Catholic community and aren’t all the children of the parish our children too? The formation of the next generation of Catholics cannot only be the responsibility of Mom and Dad. Where’s the Charity?

    I suspect the answer to Paul’s question is the quite children behave the way that they do because mom and dad aren’t teaching them alone.

  • “Darwin’s comment also got me thinking about a somewhat side issue, and that’s the noise of children at Mass.”

    As the father of three very noisy children in their day, I do not regard that as the problem. Young kids, and I would classify that as 7 or below, really do not know better, and often resist the admonition to silence of the best parents. That is why we would sit in the cry room. Mentally handicapped people who sometimes make noises at mass are not the problem. No disrepect is meant by either group. The problem is the parishioners who are of normal intelligence or better, grown, and who should know better.

  • Usually during Mass when I notice a child making noise it is because I myself am not praying/paying attention. The child then is a cue for me to refocus. At least that’s how I deal with noise. As Don notes, adults are more annoying.

    I think one way to signal others is with proper respect for the altar and tabernacle. Do we kneel reverently before the tabernacle or bow with respect before the altar. This might send a cue to some that something more than a community picnic is taking place.

  • Well, if some committee hasn’t removed the tabernacle and put it in a utility closet, then you should genuflect before it. But part of the reason they remove it is so that you aren’t cluttering up the isles with your medieval, superstitious gestures. You should give someone a hug instead.

  • Joe,

    If I ever meet you I’ll give you a nice, big hug! :)

  • Back when I put in a couple years on parish council, the one absolute knock down shouting match that took place was when one of the retirees opened up a rant about lack of quiet during mass which ended with, “I don’t understand why all these people are bringing kids to mass anyway. Why don’t the parents go to separate masses or get a babysitter? Or we could have the parish provide babysitting in another building like the baptists do.”

    Hoo, boy…

  • Adults making noise, on the other hand, is totally unacceptable. (Not to mention a very bad example for the kids.)

  • Have any of you wondered that this problem of silence and reverence in our sanctuaries may be the result of our using our “churches” for cafeterias and gymnasiums first until the building funds were available to complete a real Sanctuary during “boom” years of the recent past?

    As we did this and held out for catholic elementary schooling against surmounting financial odds until we were basically forced to systematically begin closing them we taught ourselves to “worship” in crowded noisy rooms without stained glass, statues, communion rails, pews, kneelers, a pulpit, a large crucifix, and yes pathetically a Tabernacle.

    Bad habits are hard to break!

  • “And whereas such is the nature of man, that, without external helps, he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of divine things; therefore has holy Mother Church instituted certain rites, to wit that certain things be pronounced in the mass in a low, and others in a louder, tone. She has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolical discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice.” — Council of Trent, Session 22, Chapter 5

  • Back when I put in a couple years on parish council, the one absolute knock down shouting match that took place was when one of the retirees opened up a rant about lack of quiet during mass which ended with, “I don’t understand why all these people are bringing kids to mass anyway. Why don’t the parents go to separate masses or get a babysitter? Or we could have the parish provide babysitting in another building like the baptists do.”

    Never heard any stuff like that when we were parishioners there. HOWEVER, folks from the same generation at another parish nearby were rather militant about the cry room and such. And they recruited the pastor and associate pastor too. It was so bad, that they paused daily Mass one day and asked my wife to go the cry room simply because my infant son made a few cooing noises. The implication was such, “How dare that child interrupt MY mass!”

  • “And whereas such is the nature of man, that, without external helps, he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of divine things; therefore has holy Mother Church instituted certain rites, to wit that certain things be pronounced in the mass in a low, and others in a louder, tone. She has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolical discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice.”

    So, it is fair to say that the Fathers of Trent would not be enamored of the decdes old attempt to transfom Catholic Churches into ugly versions of Quaker meeting rooms. You know, rampant bad taste and bizarre liturgical riffs can only explain so much. Some of this rampant ugliness had to be proposed by people who secretly wished the faithful only ill.

  • The reverence and peace of a non-dialog TLM in a big half-empty church—okay, that’s incomparable. The cooing of babies is lovely. Genuinely disruptive kids get whisked away pretty efficiently. Everybody’s quiet before Mass; afterward, following the silent reflection time (5 minutes), things can be a tad social, but no “Farmyard Effect.” And if you happen to be still praying in the pew, or at the Stations, or kneeling before a statue, you will find a zone of quiet firmly established all around you.
    I think prayerful silence IS missing in the N.O., by the very nature of the liturgy, not just because of a competition between the organist and the parishioners to fill in every blank.
    I also feel that, sadly, some first-time visitors to the TLM don’t come back because the Mass is so quiet that it doesn’t even feel like Mass to them.

  • Funny, Suz – that’s how I feel about the Novus Ordo.

  • “Why don’t the parents go to separate masses or get a babysitter?”

    Actually, that might not be a bad idea once in a while — not for the sake of the other congregants, but simply so the parents THEMSELVES can worship without distraction or worry.

    My own parents went to separate Sunday Masses when my brother and I were small. I did not go to Mass until I was about 5. We were well prepared and knew exactly what to do, and never (to my knowledge) presented any behavior problems.

    Now with my own daughter I have always brought her to Mass since infancy (she’s now 15). Although she is autistic, and was at one time given to being somewhat fidgety or hand-flapping or talking to herself during Mass, never once has anyone, in any parish I have attended, complained of her behavior.

    I am not real picky about how other people’s children behave at Mass — I did enough fretting about my own child. As long as parents make a reasonable effort to calm or quiet kids when they get screamingly loud or disruptive, that’s fine. I am NOT in any way opposed to the presence of small children at mass.

    That being said…

    I know some Catholic couples subscribe to the notion that children should be brought to Mass every single Sunday from infancy because the earlier they learn how to behave in church, the better. But while there is much truth to that, still, a child is not OBLIGATED to attend Mass until he or she reaches the age of reason. There is nothing wrong with leaving rambunctious toddlers home with the other parent or a sitter once in a while, or waiting until they are a little older to bring them to Mass, if you, the parent, simply need a break or if they are in a particularly terrible stage of terrible twos.

  • I can’t speak for all churches, but I keep my year-plus year old daughter in the main area as much as possible because a lot of that yammering you hear is the ladies chattering non-stop in the crying room. (Talking also occasionally happens when I’m in the main area of the church, but a very old lady giving my baby a whispered complement while Father is tidying up after communion is a far cry from my hearing someone’s life story. Again. For the entire hour. Even kneeling doesn’t slow them.)

    Look, I love that folks are friendly and all, but can you please keep your children from poking my daughter and will you PLEASE stop talking to me in the middle of Mass, barring a child emergency?

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