Of the many things that have been lost during the last forty years in the name of the council, I miss one the most. Silence.
Noise is my life. With five children ages ten and under, I know from noise. My ten year old daughter screaming at my nine year old son “You are SOOOOO rude!” while he bangs on the bathroom door laughing. The seven year old and the five year old are playing Mario on Wii with the volume up to 147, and my three year old daughter is running around in a princess dress with a light sabre yelling “I’m Apunzel! Daddy, I’m Apunzel, see?” Noise is my life.
But these same children who are an endless source of decibels know, the moment we open the doors of the Church, silence is the rule. This is God’s house, not yours. That is what I teach the children, now if someone would only teach the adults.
So it bugs me when I read a story like this. A reporter with an Anglican background goes to a Catholic Church to do a story and is taken aback at the noise level. This is a Church right? Shouldn’t it be quieter? The Pastor, Fr. Reilly responds this way.
I had gone to St. Ann’s in search of sacred space, drawn there by the beautiful exterior architecture. But what I found there during a Sunday service was different from the hushed reverence of my Anglican childhood. Energetic and talkative parishioners filled the open sanctuary, greeting one another with enthusiasm.
This, according to Reilly, is as it should be.
“Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has seen a change,” he says. “A sense of community is stressed. The main church, by which I mean the nave of the church, is the place where the community gathers for celebration, to celebrate the Eucharist.”
While Reilly admits that there are those who may complain about “talking before Mass,” he believes that this is congruent with the liturgy, in which the congregation greet each other and exchange tokens of peace before the Eucharist.
One reason this is possible is that St. Ann’s, like many Catholic churches, has a separate chapel housing the Blessed Sacrament.
Oy. The spurious spirit of the council strikes again!
So now a story. A few years ago my Bishop, Bishop Murphy of Rockville Centre, visited my parish for a confirmation and was appalled at the noise level and the total irreverence he witnessed. Being Bishop has its privileges and he decided to do something about it. He wrote a letter to my former pastor and said this…
As I mentioned to you during that day, I am very concerned about the comportment of the faithful in your parish church prior to the celebration of the Eucharist. I am not blaming anyone. I am not trying to say that anyone is at fault. I am simply saying that the comportment is not compatible with proper preparation for the celebration of Mass. This interferes with the ability of the people to enter into the liturgy and have the kind of active participation that the Second Vatican Council calls for.
In my judgment, a major reason for this is the fact that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a separate chapel that is so removed from the main body of the church that no one knows where the Blessed Sacrament is. I don’t mean that literally but I mean that conscious awareness of’ the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is lacking to those who enter the main body of your parish church. This is further hampered by the fact that the music ministry is set up in front of the doors into that chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. That means that anyone who wishes to go and pray needs to go through the paraphernalia of those who provide music. I find this problematic.
Problematic is Bishop-speak for really really bad. What Fr. Reilly misses and what Bishop Murphy gets is that real active participation can be fostered by silence, glorious and heavenly silence. Further, there are plenty of other times to foster community, silence is much rarer indeed. This manic need to be moving and talking in the misguided notion that it is active participation is, well, misguided.
Bishop Murphy had it right. He asked my pastor to move the tabernacle out of the chapel and back to the center of the Church and begin an education campaign of the value of silence and her constant companion, reverence.
The pastor did what the Bishop asked and things have improved, a bit. We recently got a new young pastor who, not long after his installment, wrote a letter to his new parishioners in the bulletin. I don’t have the full quote here in front of me, but it went something like this. “If the Church is not on fire, you should not be talking.” Amen.
So to those who still think that cacophony equals community, I say one thing. For the love of God, shut up.