Q: Why are Catholics all quiet before Mass? It seems so stuffy. Whenever I've been at non-Catholic services, everyone gets to talk and socialize before worship starts, which seems like a great way to build fellowship.
A: Several years ago, I decided to have a low-key weekend at the seminary and prepare for mid-term exams. I went to a Saturday evening Vigil Mass at one of the parishes in suburban Detroit. As I sat down in my pew about 15 minutes before Mass, I was surprised by all of the “chatter” between parishioners. I can’t by any means say that I have never talked with my family or friends before Mass (just ask them), but this particular experience seemed a bit odd to me—I felt like we were in a coffee shop or getting ready for a movie.
Since then, I have realized that many non-Catholic worship services and even some Catholic parishes are accustomed to visiting and socializing in the pews before worship starts. Many may see this as a great opportunity to build community and friendships. On the other hand, however,
those few minutes before Mass are very precious moments
. Think about it for a minute: For most of us, our weeks are filled with an incredible amount of commotion, noise, and conversation—which is just a fact of life. But I know that
so many of us long for some peace and quiet throughout our week.
For some individuals, the best time to have a period of silence and quiet is at the beginning of Mass as a time of preparation and prayer. (Note to parents of young children: don’t be discouraged about noisy children—it’s a sign of a healthy parish!)
Yes, fellowship is important. Yes, catching up with our friends is a valued part of any human relationship. But,
when we come to Mass and enter into the church, our primary concern is to enter into dialogue and communion with Christ
. As Catholics, this relationship reaches its pinnacle in our reception of the Eucharist.
In order for our reception of Holy Communion to be as fruitful as possible, we have a responsibility to make sure that our hearts are prepared to receive Him. This preparation takes place most beautifully and personally as we present to Him our gratitude, praises and petitions in the silence of our own prayer.
Some may think that the practice of maintaining a spirit of silence before Mass is “stuffy” or unwelcoming. Allowing time for silent prayer, however, is a clear indication that we primarily come to Mass to both hear God’s voice and for Him to hear us. At the same time, a vibrant parish is also one in which fellowship and community is encouraged. This can be done in a variety of ways: from social gatherings in the parish hall or even simply catching up with friends and family after Mass.
We should in no way feel embarrassed or rude in desiring and expecting a spirit of silence before the celebration of Mass. The Lord is constantly laboring to love us and to speak to us. In order for Him to enter more fully into our lives, both time and space are needed. He indeed gives us that time and space before Mass—our job is to take full advantage of that tremendous gift that He gives to us Sunday after Sunday.
Fr. Johnson is the chaplain at St. Mary’s Central High School and parochial vicar at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, both in Bismarck. He can be followed on Twitter @frjaredjohnson.
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