Recently I was in Mass with my wife when a lady in front of us began talking to someone beside her during the Offertory. It may have been important to her but I always find this exceedingly distracting and annoying. Is there anything that can be done about it?
Let me begin by considering the importance of silence, not only in Mass, but in general.
Modern life tends to be noisy. People have the radio or recorded music on when they are driving, when they are working, when they are resting.
Television occupies a good number of hours in many people’s lives, even when the family is gathered together for a meal.
It seems we feel uncomfortable when all is still, when there is silence.
Yet we all need silence. We need time to think, to reflect, to commune with God, just to be still in his presence.
We need “interiority”, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it: “This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection” (CCC 1779).
For this reason it is so important to turn off the radio, CD player or iPod from time to time.
Then instead of being bombarded by sound, which leaves the mind passive and numb, we find ourselves able to think, to make plans, to talk with God, to pray.
It is a different world – a world of peace and quiet. Then we wonder: why do I always have the radio on?
What a difference between our noisy, busy world and that of a monastery, where silence reigns practically, or literally, all the time.
We may not be called to that life, but we can appreciate how different such a world would be.
At least we could try it some of the time. It would be good for our soul and our peace of mind.
Everything about the birth of Christ in Bethlehem speaks to us of silence.
The book of Wisdom seems to describe it: “When a deep silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, leapt from heaven’s royal throne’ (Wis 18:14-15).
We sing “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright” and “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given”. If only we could live this spirit always.
If we need silence in our busy, everyday world, we expect to find it especially in our churches, which are the house of God.
To come out of the noise of traffic, of talking and of problems into the silence of a church is truly refreshing.
There we find God in the tabernacle and we can commune with him in stillness.
It is like an oasis. If no Mass is being celebrated at the time, there is generally deep silence, as people pray and bring their lives and intentions before God.
The prophet Habakkuk urges: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20).
If silence is so important in church in general, it is even more important during the celebration of the “sacred mysteries”, as we call the Mass in the Penitential Rite.
The Mass should be a time of prayer, of recollection, of actively following the prayers and readings, of preparing for holy Communion and of giving thanks for it afterwards.
Even if some are not caught up in this spirit, they should be respectful of the many others who are.
This applies as well before Mass, when many arrive early in order to prepare themselves for the mysteries which are to follow, and after Mass, when many stay behind to prolong their thanksgiving.
In this regard the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: “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” (GIRM 45).
This does not mean that there is no place for chatting with those we have not seen for some time.
But that place is outside the church, before, or better, after Mass.
What can be done? Some churches have a sign at the entrance, reminding everyone that this is the house of God and they should observe a respectful silence.
If necessary, the priest can remind the parishioners from time to time of the need for silence, out of reverence for God and respect for others.
Let us pray that all will observe this spirit, which is so important for everyone. – firstname.lastname@example.org