When yoga is more reverent than Mass — UPDATED

An astute observation from Elizabeth Scalia:

Out of curiosity, I recently visited a yoga class with a friend. It was held in a simple, unadorned room. Outside of it, there was a great deal of socializing and chatting, but once people entered the room, all talking ceased. People moved carefully, so as not to disturb others who, having placed their mats on the floor, were sitting or kneeling in postures that suggested recollection. This oasis of calm remained until the instructor arrived, and then—silent, still, but for the teacher’s voice—the class began to move through their forms: forty-five to fifty minutes of focus, silence, and shared striving.

At class’ end, the students bowed respectfully to each other, and made their exit, and in the lobby the chatter started up again—friendly, hospitable talk, some encouragement; someone complimented my friend on something she’d improved. Amid the “see you next time’s” it occurred to me that this little class was successfully “being community”—the goal of so many Catholic parishes—but without giving up its reverences.

I wonder if a corollary exists between Catholics surrendering silence and sacred sensibility, for the sake of socialization, and their exodus from her masses. Our noisy, cynical days have placed silence, consideration, and fixed-focus at a premium; they now seem like rare and remarkable, almost otherworldly respites. If people cannot find a little of that at mass—if they cannot identify something large and “less ordinary” within a celebration at which Christ himself is in attendance–they will seek out a facsimile where they can find it.

Check out the rest.  I think she’s on to something.

UPDATE: Someone else who’s on to something is Mike Hayes:

The quietest place I know most of the time: The Bank. Very little is said and almost no noise is present besides the whir of the money sorting machine and the printing of receipts. There’s little small talk–people need to concentrate on their transactions which are too complicated to use an ATM machine for in these cases.

That says a lot about silence’s value in our society and for what purpose does silence serve?

Silence needs to be engendered and people will find a way to do it because they can not do anything else. God calls them to worship.

What I think Scalia is missing is how a parish staff can engender well that quiet culture amongst a society mostly unfamiliar with both the need for silence and the former church landscape of which she describes. We shouldn’t assume that people know to be quiet, even out of respect for the fact that others might be praying. Rather, people need to be reminded that they are always in God’s presence, always being called forth by God into relationship–and more importantly, we’re being called into this relationship as not mere individuals haphazardly gathered on Sunday, but we’re called to see God in the community around us. We’re called to relationship not merely in the vertical “God and us” way (important to be sure) but also we’re here finding that connection to God around others, called to others to be Christ and to help them find Christ in the center of this church–not merely the center of their individual hearts. We’re called to be one heart beating in union with one another in the silence just as a much as we’re called to hear our own heartbeat and know that God is with us and is even closer than our very life pulse.

But nonetheless, Scalia’s take reveals that in order to be called to community we first have to be called into God’s presence—to be aware that this is a time like no other.

Another person ruminating on Catholics and community: Stephen Greydanus:

We’ve all heard that “the family that prays together stays together.” Apparently something similar applies to groups of religious friends as well: Friends who worship regularly together promote each other’s wellbeing like nothing else.

All of this raises concerns about social patterns in American Catholic churches today.

Read more to find out why.


  1. Henry Karlson says:

    Or maybe meditation itself is a worthy pursuit of the holy, and it is something which we find in the monastic tradition (St Gregory Palamas being a wonderful example). Why does it have to be seen as a “replacement” instead of a complement?

  2. Deacon Greg, neither link goes to the yoga post, both go to a post about mass at First Things.

  3. Fran, the section on yoga is about 3/4 down the page.

  4. Yes, dopey me – I did eventually figure that out and came back to say… well, dopey me!

  5. Henry it’s because yoga empties out God, unlike Catholicsm or adoration with the Blessed Sacrament which unites us even closer with God. Even the poses of yoga, as innocent as they may appear, are open portals for evil. There is good reason the Catholic Church is against yoga.

    There are many good Catholic references on this, starting with the Church’s reflection on the New Age, Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life, warns the Catholic faithful:

    Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment. Peak-experiences (reliving one’s birth, travelling to the gates of death, biofeedback, dance and even drugs – anything which can provoke an altered state of consciousness) are believed to lead to unity and enlightenment. Since there is only one Mind, some people can be channels for higher beings. Every part of this single universal being has contact with every other part. The classic approach in New Age is transpersonal psychology, whose main concepts are the Universal Mind, the Higher Self, the collective and personal unconscious and the individual ego. The Higher Self is our real identity, a bridge between God as divine Mind and humanity. Spiritual development is contact with the Higher Self, which overcomes all forms of dualism between subject and object, life and death, psyche and soma, the self and the fragmentary aspects of the self. Our limited personality is like a shadow or a dream created by the real self. The Higher Self contains the memories of earlier (re-)incarnations.

  6. Henry Karlson says:


    Yoga doesn’t “empty out God.” While there is an emphasis of self-negation in some forms of Yoga, we have this in Christian meditation (from the Monks of Mt Athos following St Gregory Palamas to St John of the Cross). Once again, if one is a Christian one knows the role of grace involved with this, but nonetheless, such meditative aspects are quite traditional with the saints.

    The Church is open to learning from Yoga (look to India where Catholic priests are trained in seminary in the practice of Yoga), what it is not open is using Yoga as an expected method with an expected end. In the way one can use Plato or Aristotle, despite what they believed wrongly about God, the Church does look to and learn from non-Christians and baptize it, fulfilling the expectation of the nations in the process. (And this is why the document you quote has no relation to Catholic engagement with Yoga, when such engagement does not deny Catholic thought). And so, what you must be clear is what the Church is talking about is the way some people engage Yoga.

    Now, let’s get back to the original question. Why is it seen as anything outside of the mass is in competition with the mass itself? This is an erroneous view as well. There are many spiritual practices which complement one’s liturgical experience.

  7. Henry Karlson says:

    I think Scalia is not onto something, rather, I think her Americanism is showing forth. Just like she didn’t know we pray to the saints and mocked it, so too she is seeking to reduce the Church and its spirituality. This is the problem I was pointing out in my initial comment. She is on to a way to squash the spirit, not enforce it.

  8. Peterman says:

    Henry, please quit creating fabrications about the Church and yoga, they are not compatible and never will be.
    The New York Times of all publications, on 2/28/12 pointed out “Yoga and Sex Scandals no surprise Here” that Yoga originated as a sex cult. From the article: “One factor is ignorance. Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a SEX CULT — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.
    Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness.
    The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. Candidates for worship included actresses and prostitutes, as well as the sisters of practitioners.”

    Please do read this expose on Yoga from the New York Times. There is no mystery and yet people like Henry Karlson keep trying to link Catholicism and Yoga but there is no linking the two. They are 100% incompatible. If a Catholic wants to stretch and meditate on the mysteries of their TRUE faith, GO FOR IT, just avoid pagan yoga at ALL COSTS if you value your soul.

  9. deacondog says:

    My wife and I have been practicing yoga for 10 years. It has helped us enormously. Our physical shape has never been better even though we are both 53 years old. It has helped our marriage basically because yoga is something we can do together. It has brought us closer.

    Yoga teachers tell their students that they do not like a lot of chatter in class, that is their right and it does help to focus.

    Proper reverence in church is the responsibility of the pastor and the bishop. Children and young adults have not been taught that they need to practice silence or revere the church space as different from their local movie theatre.

    With all the issues we face in our life and in the world, why are we taking time to again pick on yoga. If your faith is that tenuous you may consider talking to a spiritual director or your pastor.

    Peace and joy to all

  10. You want your Mass to be as reverent as a yoga class? It’s easy.
    1. Do away with the pop liturgical music.
    2. Choose accentless, emotion-free Readers
    3. Limit the congregation to less than 100.
    4. Limit the congregation to a certain age bracket – say from 45-60, mostly women
    5. No children. No babies
    6. No altar, no flowers, no candles, nor statues
    7. No priest.
    You’ll have the most boring, most empty-headed, most self-satisfied group of people on earth. But don’t call it a Mass.

  11. pagansister says:

    Yoga is a great, healthy discipline! Glad it came to this part of the world.

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