Chatter v. Silence

What is it like in your parish church before and after Mass?  Is it still, recollected, decorous?  It is agitated, busy, undignified?  Is it silent?  Is it noisy?

Can we separate our identity as Catholics from our decorum in our churches?

Yesterday I wrote about the interview by a French newspaper His Eminence Robert Card. Sarah was at the time of the release of his latest book on the power of silence. HERE

My friend Fr. Ray Blake, mighty PP in Brighton, has a great comment about silence on his blog HERE:

Why do attacks on the Church always begin attacks on contemplatives? It was the Carthusians the French masonic government first attacked in 1903, just as bloody Henry had begun his English Reformation with martyrdom of St John Houghton and his Carthusian companions.

The silent Church is always a greater threat than the chattering Church. The chattering Church is easily manipulated, it depends on its own resources, its own wisdom and insights, it is receptive to novelties and eager for change. The silent Church is close to Christ, it contemplates the essential mysteries of the faith, it is in the World but not of it, it depends not on its own resources but the Power of God. It is united to an unbroken Tradition.


Read the rest there.

Consider Screwtape’s observations about silence in The Screwtape Letters (UK –HERE):

Music and silence–how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell–though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express–no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise–Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile–Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.

BTW… if you have never heard John Cleese read the Screwtape Letters you are in for a great time.  Here is Letter 22 which has the bit about noise.  Screwtape goes on a spectacular rant!  This is the letter in which Screwtape goes so crazy that he transforms into a giant centipede.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Decorum, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Polycarpio says:

    At the end of Mass this morning, two guys started yucking it up at the end of my pew, just going on and on about their college team’s performance. I was actually heading out to work following Eucharistic Adoration, but I was temporarily trapped in my pew between a parishioner who was still kneeling in prayer to my left (it must have been hard for her to concentrate) and these fraternizing buddies to my right, who were standing there carrying on and blocking my path. I just sat back down and waited for the social hour to subside, but I do think it was disrespectful.

  2. HealingRose says:

    My home parish is horrible when it comes to the wrong sort of noise and chatter. I actually happened to be talking to someone yesterday who recently started attending the parish, and they remarked that they found it very progressive, and it lacked the quiet that brings focus and attention to God and His Holy Sacrifice. This includes everything from the music to how people enter and exit the church, especially how casually they received Holy Communion. The building doesn’t help the situation. The Tabernacle is in a chapel off to the side and half the congregation has their back to It during Mass. Most people don’t even acknowledge the Holy Presence when walking by. There’s more, but you get the idea. (By the way, this is a parish celebrating the “Polka Mass” this weekend.)

    I prefer attending a TLM, but feel I should still attend this other parish, too. My hope is that I will stand out enough with my quiet actions of love and reverence for God that it will spark enough curiosity to maybe get one or two people asking questions and start looking for answers. I see it as a church that is filled with people who are full of potential, but just haven’t been properly catechised.

  3. HealingRose says:

    Polycarpio- I have run into similar situations way too often. I used to just be passive and do nothing. Now, I quietly tell them to be quiet, people are praying, and it isn’t the place to socialize. I have no patience for people who show disrespect to God by interfering with someone else’s desire to seek Him. I rather ruffle a few feathers than risk being offensive towards God.

  4. Tamquam says:

    Most places is pretty bad. It’s pretty much indistinguishable from the food court at the mall most places I go. The one exception is the TLM which I can’t always get to. What’s worse is when that same social chatter goes on during Mass, which is why I no longer attend parish Confirmation Masses. The Pastor agrees with me, but does nothing.

  5. jfk03 says:

    Chatter is an ingrained part of Ameri-Church. I have seen pastors fail to root it out for decades. Choir rehearsals before Mass don’t help. Everything is so busy, busy that it’s impossible to pray — at least for me.

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Before Mass, it’s quiet. After Mass, chatty, yes, but not boisterous. I’m okay with those.

  7. Cafea Fruor says:

    At my current parish, it’s so-so before Mass. Sometimes it’s quiet, and at other times, there’s any number of little old ladies “whispering”, which is really loud enough for someone several pews away to join in the conversation. And there’s always one cell phone ringing somewhere in the middle of Mass.

    My problem, though, is I seem to be a magnet for the noisy people during Mass. I’m convinced it’s God’s way of teaching me patience, or maybe giving me something to offer up. But almost invariably, I end up having the chatty couple behind me, or the misbehaving kids with parents who ignore them in front of me, or the person who insists on answering the phone they refused to turn off just a few seats down from me. I’m usually one of the first 5-10 people at Mass, so it’s not like I am getting there and can see the situation I’d be sitting in. Hmm…maybe I should arrive at Mass later so I can scope things out before picking a spot?

    The best parish for silence I ever attended was the one where, as he walked through the church before or after Mass, the pastor personally went up to people and asked them to take their conversations outside and said something along the lines of, “The church is for talking to Jesus. Outside is for talking with each other.” He was the founding pastor, and he even intentionally designed the church such that there was sufficient indoor (narthex) and outdoor (courtyard) space for people to congregate after Mass, so that there was a clear place for people to converse. It was so refreshing to be able to arrive early or stay late for prayer and really have silence. Then, the pastor got moved, and the silence deteriorated, and now, it’s not quite horrible, but hardly silent.

  8. un-ionized says:

    both my old and new parishes are quiet before and after Mass. the new parish has a sign about being quiet. in my old parish, if the choir needs an emergency practice before Mass, they do so in the church hall.

  9. MrsMacD says:

    What is it like in your parish church before and after Mass? Is it still, recollected, decorous? It is agitated, busy, undignified? Is it silent? Is it noisy?

    It is very (pin dropping) quiet at my church (TLM) during the week until I arrive with my babies, and after Mass during the week it’s quiet. On the weekends it’s a little more chatty before and after but not boisterous.

    At my local parish at our last house it was noisy, loud and chatty right up to the entrance hymn and right after the recessional and Mass seemed a little chatty too.

  10. New Sister says:

    I think the more modern the church architecture, the more noise one will hear. Even a pagan senses he should be silent when entering a traditional church w/ stained glass, arches, candles, altar rails, etc.

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    Sunday best earplugs for me.

    A recent plea from the pastor, delivered after masses and printed in the parish bulletin, had no effect on reducing the noise.

  12. KT127 says:

    I consider it noisy, but it seems normal now. I don’t mind signs of life. Children cry or laugh, people say hello. But hello is never just hello anymore. It has to be a full conversation. I know not to expect quiet in Church anymore.

    The Mass itself is very noisy too. I blame the PA systems everyone is installing. Before the sound of Mass had it’s own rhythm, some parts were soft and some were louder. Now it is just blaring like listening to the TV.

  13. Sonshine135 says:

    Let all mortal flesh keep silent.

    My church is relatively traditional, and most wait until out in the narthex to chatter, but on occasion, the chatter is loud and obnoxious, especially when the door is left open.

    Sundays, that chatter often is heard in the back of the church and can become a boisterous roar, but I do believe that decorum for the most part is maintained.

    I have been focusing on my own behavior (which I can control), and trying to spend at least 5 minutes after Mass simply thanking Our Lord for condescending himself for my benefit and meditating on that fact.

  14. Nathan says:

    We have been fortunate. Over our 16 years in our current parish, the noise level before and after Holy Mass has decreased from what was actually pretty reverent to begin with.

    I think the most egregious noise problems occur at the “special” Masses–First Communion and Confirmation the most. Not only do you have a lot of relatives who may come from “noisy” parishes (or, more likely these days, no parish at all) who simply do not know that it’s distracting from prayer to hear their views on football in the next pew, one has families drop the First Communicants/Confirmandi off early and then rush to be seated a minimum of a half hour before Holy Mass starts.

    In general, my TLM experience is that it is much more quiet before and after Holy Mass. The places where the Rosary has been publicly prayed before Holy Mass do tend to re-direct the “non-silence” to prayer.

    I do tend, though, to distinguish the source of noise before classifying it as a distraction. I’m a lot more patient with the families who make some noise trying to get their young ones in and out than I am with hearing about Mrs. O’Shaugnessy’s bunions.

    In Christ,

  15. Wryman says:

    My church is so-so. It’s changed over the years, getting more and more noisy after Mass. 20 years ago you could remain in prayer after Mass and people would respect that, but now people pay no attention at all to folks praying and talk as loud as they want to regardless of how close or distant the praying person is. That said, the talkers do tend to clear out fairly quickly. What irritates me much more are the cantors using the time before Mass to try to teach new hymns to the congregation. Not only are they a distraction, but I believe they encourage others to disrespect the silence before Mass as well: after all, if the people running the service are taking that silence away, why shouldn’t I spend it talking to my friend about the ball game last night? There’s a great book called “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” that makes the case against cantors anyway, but that’s a different topic.

  16. TNCath says:

    Our parish consists of many elderly parishioners who are both hard of hearing and extremely chatty before Mass; hence they are very loud and boisterous as they greet one another before Mass. I think it’s partly because of the difficulty in hearing and partly because they’ve made it through another week alive and are genuinely happy to see each other for at least another Sunday. The ushers, also elderly, have an obsession with keeping the door open between the vestibule and the church proper, so their ebullient conversations waft all the way up to the altar before Mass begins. No matter how many times I’ve asked the ushers to please close the doors, the next Sunday it’s the same old same old.

  17. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    TNCath. Tell the ushers to pipe down. Again. But the doors, heavy doors?, probably need to be open for all those elderly folks.

  18. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    This not an easy topic to debate because one man’s “noisy” might be another’s “normal”, and vice versa. Still, I make two points. (1) Contemplatives are SUPPOSED to be quiet and priests are SUPPOSED to be dignified, and laity are SUPPOSED to be chattering away in the world. But, nearly all of our Models of Holiness are priests if not religious including contemplatives. Thus when we laity (including many priests) think of what “holy” looks like, we think of silent nuns adoring Jesus in the tabernacle. No wonder we compare ourselves unfavorably to that. (2) In America, we Catholics are a minority; mainstream Protestants dominated the model of Christian, and how do they pray? Eyes closed, heads bowed, thinking about God in their hearts. Again, no wonder we Catholics, who use spoken words and gestures and postures in prayers tend to see ourselves as rude compared to the pious Protestant paradigm. I think we are too hard on ourselves, we are striving for what we think holiness looks like, rather than what it is. I would take reverence at Mass, and relaxed (not rowdy, relaxed) in church ANY DAY over goofy liturgies spotted with scowling snobs.

  19. oldconvert says:

    Before Mass on weekdays, the atmosphere is quiet and reverent. After Mass there are just one or two who insist on chattering before leaving the church, but on weekends, sadly, there are dozens who behave like this both before and after Mass.

  20. iamlucky13 says:

    Registered parish – subdued chatter, mostly whispers. Generally not too distracting, although there’s room for improvement. I wish we had a before Mass rosary group. I know, I know – I should take the lead – perfectly fair response.

    Backup parish (when our schedule leads us to go to a closer parish) – continuous buzz of conversation, moderate amount of milling about. On the good days, it is tolerable with some effort. On the bad days, it’s almost impossible to concentrate on prayer.

    The kicker is when the choir director says, “Let us all pause for a moment of sacred silence” one-one thousand, two-one thou…”Our opening hymn is number…”

    I wish I was joking. On a really good day, the moment of sacred silence is about 3 seconds long, and the conversation has dimmed to about half the original volume by the time the guitar starts.

    Closest parish – Silence before Mass? Ha! I’d be happy just to see people stop their conversations when they get in line for Communion!

  21. MouseTemplar says:

    For the half hour before Sunday Mass, someone leads the Rosary using a microphone. No one talks then. Afterwards, most people chat their way out the door and either continue talking over coffee and donuts downstairs or go home.

    Weekdays, it’s nearly silent before and after for both TLM and NO.

  22. yatzer says:

    A previous pastor began having the Rosary said before Mass. That cut out the chatter, but it’s difficult getting people to lead it.

  23. aliceinstpaul says:

    Fathers, you could help enxoirage quiet by exiting to somewhere that encourages people to shake your hand and then head somewhere more appropriate for talking. When Father walks somewhere that’s the opposite the direction of the way to the social room, or stays in the back of the church, others do too. And they chat while they wait.

    Architecture makes a huge difference here. How many churches are built/wreckovated so the parking lot placement encourages people to enter and exit side doors, not the front majestic doors? How often so people enter the church as was intended?

  24. Sword40 says:

    We have the Rosary about a half hour before each Mass (whether low of High Mass). After the 10:30am High Mass, which ends just before noon, we sing the Angelus. That keeps the “Lid” on things.

    I do have to say that since the FSSP has been at our parish things have gotten VERY reverent.
    Even the children are quiet.

  25. VeritasVereVincet says:

    (I never thought I’d meet a fellow parishioner on Fr. Z’s blog, but it appears I attend the same church as HealingRose! That is to say, my parish also has the Tabernacle in an alcove to the side with half the congregation’s backs to it, and is also having a “Polka Mass” this weekend. If it is not the same one, then I am deeply sorry Rose’s parish also suffers these absurdities.)

    It is my personal opinion that the chatter after Mass at my church is exacerbated by the abundance of doorways (there are at least six separate ways to exit the nave) and the lack of a real fellowship area, both of which mean it’s absurdly easy to miss people as they exit and you must therefore catch them in the nave if you wish to speak to them. A substantial minority leave after Communion or during the recessional, as well.

    I also think the chatter would be reduced if the music more often encouraged prayer rather than applause, and if we managed to finally get the Tabernacle into the sanctuary.

  26. MrsMacD says:

    With all due respect Dr. Peters, we are all called to the contemplative life. Cultivating silence is necessary for every human soul and as the very busy St. Alphonses put it, “when I need to work more I need to pray more (meaning silent contemplative prayer).” St. Theresa of Calutta found her sisters improved immensly when they started having a holy hour in the evening. And Venerable Fulton Sheen preached the daily Holy Hour to everyone, everywhere he went. That is one hour of silent contemplative prayer.

    There is a flip side to promoting silence, once the evil one knows you are convinced that silence is necessary, he will tempt you to hurt everyone who makes a noise!

  27. At my home parish, it depends on which Mass one attends.

    At the 10:45AM Sunday morning (more formal) Mass, the din of conversation is almost deafening – I can hardly stand it. It is usually between the older people in the congregation, and usually involves such sacred subjects as what someone cooked for dinner, what someone’s daughter said about someone or something, or who beat whom in (fill in sporting event here). Better yet, it is often not between adjacent pew-mates, but between people 20-30 feet apart – hence the din.

    At the 5:00PM “Lifeteen” Mass it is relatively quiet and prayerful. There are a few muted conversations, but it is generally quiet enough that one can kneel and pray without distraction.

    It’s worth noting that our priest is very orthodox, both in practice and preaching. So much so that he has a Father Z “Say the Black, do the Red” coffee mug in his office, so the celebrations of all Masses are reverent as can be. The music at the “lifeteen” Mass is, in fact, good music, just played with different instrumentation.

  28. Cafea Fruor says:

    Dr. Peters, yes, we laity are supposed to be chattering away in the world. But that’s in the world, not at Mass. Mass should be something of a refuge from the world where we can come to be refueled to go back into the world. That the world is noisy is precisely why I want a little more silence at Mass (and before and after it). I can’t get silence in the world, so I will always push for silence in church. If Mass isn’t silent, I feel exhausted going back out into the world where I’m supposed to be chattering, not recharged.

  29. un-ionized says:

    Dr. Peters, I’m with ya on the scowling snobs part. I’m glad I don’t have to kneel in the snow for letting a door latch click.

  30. Pingback: The Grand Silence – Noise in Church | Choristers' Challenge

  31. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    MrsMacDea, with all due respect, no, we are not all called to the “contemplative life”.
    CafeFruor, I never said we should chat it up at Mass.

  32. ALL: Regarding contemplative v. active life. Yes, we all have a challenge to balance the obligations of religion (worship, prayer, etc.) with the obligations of our state in life (duties, toil, etc.). Augustine describes trying to find “otium in negotio“. The otium/negotium pair is a topos in classical thought. Otium is “leisure, vacant time, freedom from business”. Negotium is otium‘s opposite: “business, employment, occupation, affair”. Otium doesn’t mean “doing nothing”. It is a time free of negotium. We have to find calm rest allowing pursuit of high objectives in the midst of our earthly affairs and duty.

    This is really hard. Augustine wanted nothing more than the have otium for study and prayer. He also wanted to fulfill his duties properly! He described his duties as a bishop as a sarcina, the heavy military backpack of the Roman foot soldier.

    We all should be aware of the tension of these two aspects of our lives and create sound strategies to see to both.

  33. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Quod dixit Pater, et sicut dixit ille.

  34. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thanks for the Lewis references – Lewis on noise and silence came to mind in reading your first post on Cardinal Sarah’s new book, but no concrete examples! (I suppose Cardinal Sarah attends not a little to ‘hesychia’ in the Church Fathers.)

  35. Grant M says:

    Thankfully it is now the month of the rosary, and so before Mass we have the recitation of the rosary at our parish church. That makes a difference.

    What I like about the sung form of the TLM is that nearly everything save the sermon is either music (chant) or silence (sotto voce). The silence in church during the Canon has a vivid “living” quality, like the silence that C S Lewis describes in the Wood between the World’s. (The Magician’s Nephew.) He contrasts this with the literally dead silence in the devasted world of Charn. I won’t call silences in the OF Mass Charnish, but it’s not quite the same as in the EF.

    You can argue that turning the priest around to face the people turns him into an entertainer, and does anyone feel the need to keep silence in a cinema before or after the movie?

Comments are closed.