From a reader:
I’m sure this has been discussed to death (as has holding hands during the Our Father, whether it should be done or not, etc) but I was wondering about reverence for the Mass. Or even reverence before, during and even after the Mass.
I’m in my mid 40’s so was very familiar, and was even comfortable, with the new Masses of my youth, the music, etc. Maybe it was the Church’s way of welcoming or bringing back the youth, I don’t know. But now I believe that something was lost along the way.
I read that Catholics younger than me are thirsting for more, wanting and seeking the reverence that they do not find in some of their parishes. I seek that too.
One Sunday, whilst waiting for Mass to begin, there was casual chit-chat behind my husband and I, and voices in other places, that I felt as if we were waiting for a show to begin. What was missing was the crunching of popcorn and peanuts in the pews. My husband described is as "cacophony" and I was later surprised to read online that there were others who described it that way too.
I understand that sometimes people need to talk in hushed whispers or that the choir needs to practice. But why is there still conversation going on while the other parishioners are saying the rosary? My husband sits in his seat with his eyes closed. That is how he prays in the church. I remain quiet in my seat. And yet one parishioner goes over to the seat behind my husband, where her friend is seated, and they have a conversation. And not in hushed tones, either. My husband later said that there was no respect. If it were the Pope seated there, surely they wouldn’t do that. I had to agree with him. [But they do so in the presence of the tabernacle and... their fellow worshipers.]
I have never attended a Latin mass and I don’t think there are any around here. I enjoy our Masses but it’s disturbing as well as frustrating when a priest exerts his own personality upon the mass and turns it into a show of sorts. There was a visiting priest who said a few masses several Sundays in a row. He was very respectful during the consecration but was otherwise "entertaining". I know we are not supposed to judge but I also suppose that is precisely what I am doing right now.
How to deal with this, Father, on a regular basis, when there are others who insist on talking and carrying on whilst waiting for the Mass to be performed. It is not always that way but it does depend on the priest, I have to admit, not only the congregation.
Unlike me, my husband doesn’t care what others think of him, but I do sometimes wonder if there are other parishioners who think that we are too quiet in church. But then, are we not supposed to be quiet and prayerful in church? I miss that. I used to love sitting quietly in church by myself (when churches used to be opened during the day and before they had adoration rooms). It’s not that way anymore.
Here are a few thoughts.
I believe that over the last decades there has been a dissolution of our Catholic identity and our Catholic worship. They are inextricable, the one from the other. When we changed our forms of prayer, the design and decoration of our sacred spaces, and the manner of the prayer – so much in the hands of priests – we slowly but surely have been forgetting who we are in church, who others are in church, who we come to find in church.
Our Holy Father in his letter Sacramentum caritatis addressed the issue of the manner and style of liturgical celebration, especially in reference to the priest celebrant. The ars celebrandi or "art of celebrating" is of critical importance. The foundation of a sound ars celebrandi must rest on the priest getting himself out of the way of the words and actions of the true Actor during our worship: Christ the High Priest. We must carefully follow our texts and rubrics and get ourselves out of the way so that what Christ desires to give us through the ministry of Holy Church will ring clear and true.
Our sacred spaces must ring clearly only with what is sacred. Our texts and music must be oriented to God. But just as important is what does not ring at all: silence. Worship must must must include silence. We are busy creatures, easily distracted, with many cares. We depend for our proper attitude of participation in worship – our active receptivity to what the Priest is offering – on the proper environment, before, during and after. We need silence for the sake of our immediate disposition for our receptivity.
We are culturally bound, to a certain extent. We are people of our era and our environment. But surely it is incumbent on the priest to help his flock to the very best sort of active participation in our worship even if what he proposes – imposes – is counter-cultural. Even if he must strive to break bad habits, it is his duty to see to it that his flock benefit as much as possible from what the Church is offering.