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The Right Atmosphere

Earlier this week I wrote a blog article, “Silence, How Much and When” where I talked about silence in private prayer as well as silence at Mass.

Now, I would like to discuss how silence at Mass needs to be balanced against other considerations. Specifically, today I am writing about silence before Mass.

I like to pray before Mass begins. It helps me center myself and to hand over my struggles to God. It can be hard to do this when there is a lot of noise from others talking in the church. I arrive at church early when no one else is there so I am able to pray in silence. However, not everyone can get there that earlier.

I also like to greet people before Mass. I believe it is important to greet people to provide a “welcoming atmosphere.” It is this “welcoming atmosphere” that we need to balance against “sacred silence.” A good balance of the two creates “the right atmosphere.”

The main way I try to work on the balance is by greeting people in the entry way or outside. That way, it isn’t disturbing people praying in the pews. Does that mean we don’t greet people in the pews before Mass? No, but we need to think about what and how much we say in the pews.

I think it can be appropriate to say hello to people next to us in the pews. It is polite and welcoming. Beyond saying hello, we might think about the content we are talking about. Are we expressing sympathy to someone whose loved one just died? That is Christian. Or are we talking about a party or sporting event? Is just before Mass the best time for that? Maybe you do need to confirm a date and a time but how long do you need to talk about it? Are we talking about Jesus or are we catching up on the latest gossip?

The right conversation before Mass can be part of being a good Christian. If you know it is going to take a while maybe you can find a place to do it where you aren’t disturbing others who are praying. Here, I wish more churches had large gathering areas for welcoming before and after Mass. Or how about people socializing after Mass?

Some people reading this might hope that I would say we shouldn’t talk in the pews before Mass. On the other side, some people will say the conversations they have before Mass is what they enjoy about the parish community. There are arguments both ways. I am not going to provide a black and white answer as I am not sure there is one definitive answer. What I do want to do is ask you to think about how much you do or don’t talk before Mass. God has given you the gift of reason. Please use that gift to think about what you do. There is a parallel here to what I wrote about last week in “The Sign of Peace”. We need to think about what we do and why. How best do we build up our parish communities?

I will end with a thought I have heard as one possibility, “Talk to Jesus before Mass. Talk to your friends after Mass.”

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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