Would God Tell You to Just Shut Up?

One day up in heaven, people were praying and praising and singing and having a good ol’ time.

And John Smith, who had just died and arrived at the Pearly Gates, spotted his wife Mary, who’d been waiting for him all these years.  “Honey!” he exclaimed.  “How I’ve missed you!  How great to see you again!”

At the same time Jeanette Evans, overwhelmed by the radiant beauty of the golden path and the delicious aroma of the heavenly flowers, exclaimed loudly to her friend Rosa, “Oh, look at the wonders our God has planned for us!  What a great day this is!”

Little Anna, who at age seven had experienced a painful death by cancer, ran headlong into her devoted grandparents, who opened their arms to welcome her.  “Grandma!  Grandpa!”  Anna shouted with glee.

But hearing all this ruckus among His people who should be focusing only on His immortal greatness, God the Father stood up and stepped away from His throne.  In a loud voice, He commanded His elect:


*     *     *     *     *

I don’t think Heaven is like that.

I think that when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, He meant a place where we, in the Divine Presence, could rejoice in all that He had prepared.  In heavenly glory, we would savor the friendships we’d built during our earthly lives, and rejoice at the new friends we made in heaven.

So my question is this:  If it’s good to enjoy the companionship of the saints in heaven, even where God is before us in full glory, why is it bad to greet one another in church?

*     *     *     *     *

This morning I ran across a post on the La Salette Journey blog which tries to make that point.  Blogger Paul Anthony Melanson has penned An Open Letter to His Eminence Antonio Cardinal Canizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  The letter asserts that Bishop Robert J. McManus, Bishop of the Worcester Diocese, has refused to take action to correct a problem in Melanson’s home parish; namely, that

There is an extensive lack of respect and devotion toward Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament

Melanson is upset that he experiences an

 overall lack of silence in the presence of Our Lord reserved in the tabernacles of the churches in the diocese. It is a common and routine occurrence for people to chat, joke, and otherwise carry on as if in a social hall prior to and after the celebrations of Masses.

Further, Melanson is disturbed that efforts to address this directly with Bishop McManus have been met by silence.  He hopes that Rome will intervene to discipline this negligent bishop and others like him, who react with pastoral sensitivity to the news that the faithful dare to speak to one another in the presence of the Lord.

The traditionalist blog Etheldreda’s Place makes the same point.  Why so many adults talk in Church, (and gossip, that is talk about other people’s business),” the blogger opines, “is that they have not grown up into the virtuous life.”  

Never mind that it’s more than a little snarky to insert that bit about gossip, as though that’s the only reason for people to speak in church, and more than a little pompous to infer that the blogger is holier than the talkers.   She is also more reverent, and more repentant, and more educated.  To prove this, she adds:

“This lack of self-knowledge shows a lack of repentance and reflection. Also, the basics of the faith need to be learned by the adult community.”

Oh, where is that first stone for Etheldreda’s Place to cast?!

*     *     *     *     *

I have a personal preference for a liturgy that is conducted with reverence and piety.  I’m not sure, though, that there can’t also be a full measure of joy and love and conviviality.

In our home parish, there is a good amount of hugging and chatting and laughter at the back of the church following Mass.  To say that these good Christian folks “need to learn the basics of the faith” is prideful and pretentious and simply preposterous.

I’ll tell you one thing:  That old adage about “catching more flies with honey” would seem to apply here.  The angry traditionalists who rant about their fellow believers’ perceived lack of reverence win no hearts and minds to Christ.  The happy ladies, regrouping for après-liturgy lunch, display a joy which might very well inspire others to join them in their Catholic faith.

I am reminded of the admonition in the First Letter of Peter (1 Peter 3:15, RSVCE):

“…but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence;

Sometimes it is good to make a joyful noise.


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  • NicholasBeriah Cotta

    God may not tell us to shut up, but maybe because God wants us to realize ourselves to shut up. My home parish is decent about this (even gentle reminders given in the parish bulletin) and I recently visited one that was much more “Mass is done, let’s all turn around and chat” and it did strike me as irreverent, and I am someone who has a proclivity toward irreverence.
    Re: theologically, I hear it repeated that we find God’s still voice in the silence and there it is easiest to listen to Him. After all, almost every one of us will literally go our entire lives walking hand in hand with Him yet never hear Him speak in to our ears. If we can’t generate silence to listen to Him at the mass, where would we do it?
    Maybe the solution is that we build our churches (and our expectations) with clear places in mind to commune away from the altar and tabernacle. People who want to pray before and after mass definitely deserve a chance for quiet prayer over those who simply wish to chat.

  • “If it’s good to enjoy the companionship of the saints in heaven, even where God is before us in full glory, why is it bad to greet one another in church?”
    Here’s my attempt at an answer. In heaven one might assume that all the noise and distraction does not effect the mind set of another soul if he didn’t wish to participate, but here on earth we are limited in our ability to concentrate. Here on earth we need to set aside some sacred time for people to interact with Divine Presence one on one.
    I’m with you. I think the human interaction after mass is a good thing and a divine process, for lack of a better phrase. After all Jesus said wherever 2 or 3 three are gathered in His name He will be there. And love of neighbor is a divine command. We need time to socilaize.
    But silence at the beginning of mass allows parishners to pray and commune with our Lord. Those fifteen or twenty minutes before mass require silence.
    What a great post Kathy.

    • Paul Anthony Melanson

      Monsignor Peter J. Elliott, in his book entitled Ceremonies of the Modern Roman
      Rite, has this to say: “The Church should be open well before the liturgy for
      those who wish to pray privately. Silence is the best preparation for the
      celebration of the liturgy. Apart from suitable music, no intrusion
      on the people’s right to tranquility before the Eucharist should be
      tolerated, for example, musical or choral rehearsals,
      announcements which could be given later, or distractions in the sanctuary or
      elsewhere. People may meet and talk before Mass, but in an area set well apart
      from the place where the liturgy is about to be celebrated.” (Ceremonies of
      the Modern Roman Rite, No. 233, p. 87).

      • I agree. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a place set aside to talk in most churches.

        • Michael Cole

          Melanson is right. Here is an excellent article which appeared at CNS:

          I’ll never forget the silence of Sept. 11, 2001.

          Most of us remember the chaos of that day—the sirens, the alarms, the confusion and pandemonium. The senses were assaulted—especially for those who were physically present in New York, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania.

          But like many, I watched the events of Sept. 11 unfold on television from afar. I was still in Rome at the time, working for the Vatican Congregation for Bishops. I watched the Twin Towers begin to collapse on a television set, with other American priests assigned to Rome. All of us sat in stunned silence, helpless to do anything. What amazed me was that the television commentators also sat in silence. For long periods of time, the television displayed terrible images, with almost no sound, commentary or interruption. Everyone seemed to know that words were nearly useless in the face of something so unthinkable.

          Silence amplified the magnitude of what we were watching.

          I think I remember that silence so vividly because silence, especially on television, is a rare thing in contemporary culture. Rarely in the world do we encounter a silent moment. Media blares and, more than that, we are a people who talk a lot. In some ways, our culture seems uncomfortable with silence.

          But I learned, on Sept. 11, 2001, the power of silence. A silent moment, in a loud, chaotic, confusing world, amplifies reality. In silence, without distraction, we see what is real—what is truly before us. We are given the time to better comprehend the true meaning of things.

          This is the reason the Church calls for silence, and a great deal of silence, during the liturgy of the Mass. Silence amplifies the reality of what we experience. Silence is a proper response to a reality which words cannot express—in the case of the Mass, to the reality of God’s presence.

          We are invited to silence several times during the Mass. We are first of all called to be silent before Mass begins. We need that space of time to recollect ourselves in order to enter into prayer. This is why there should be no video presentations or even choir rehearsal during those five or 10 minutes before Mass begins.

          We are then called to silence as we recall and repent of our sins. We are called to silent reflection after each Scriptural reading, and after the homily. We are all called to silence after we have received holy Communion. And we are invited, at the conclusion of Mass, to kneel down for a silent prayer of Thanksgiving before departing for the parking lot.

          These periods of silence are intended to bring reality into focus. At Mass we express to God our contrition, we hear his word, and we receive his physical presence sacramentally. These realities go beyond our comprehension. To hear and understand the Word of God is an expression of his great love for us. To receive the body of Christ is the deepest kind of communion with God. The silence in the liturgy punctuates a rich and profound time of prayer with opportunities to reflect on the reality of our experience. The silence of the liturgy is a gift which helps us to understand the greatest gifts we can receive.

          In 2000, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, offered an insight into the silence of the liturgy. “We respond, by singing and praying to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us.”

          Pope Benedict described the liturgical silence as a “silence with content … a positive stillness.” He meant that our silence in prayer is not to be an emptying meditation alone. Instead, silence in prayer is an occasion to more deeply understand the Mass itself.

          After the readings, for example, we can, in silence, picture the narrative of the Old Testament or the Gospel. If the readings contained advice, an exhortation, or an admonishment, we can ask the Lord how it applies in our lives. The period of silence is a time when the Lord can vivify—make alive—the word proclaimed. We need only to ask him for this, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

          After Communion, as we pray in silence, we can ask the Lord to fill us with his love—to help us love our brothers and sisters, to help us see the world as he does. We can give him thanks for the great blessings he has given us. After a while, our silent prayer after Communion may become an experience of simply being in the silent, radiant, loving presence of our God.

          Silence isn’t easy for any of us. The Church gives us silence in the liturgy to train our hearts and minds in silent prayer. But attentive, active, “positive silence” takes work. Often, we may find it difficult to focus. The Church encourages us to ask the Lord to help us to experience his presence. As we cultivate silence, we will begin, more frequently, to hear the voice of the Lord.

          Silence points us to reality. It is a rare gift, but to understand it may take us each a lifetime. Let us give thanks for the silence of the liturgy. Let us ask the Lord to help us use it to see more clearly the reality of his magnificent and loving presence.

  • Christine Hebert

    Making a joyful noise in the back after Mass is different than chatting it up in the pews before Mass. I find it extremely disrespectful when people chat like they are at Starbuck’s while people are praying before Mass to prepare for the Holy Sacrifice. I understand children being loud, but adults should know better.

  • Barbara Sears

    I found this entry of interest. My Church handles times for reverence with kindness. Some Masses are requested to be entered in silence. They post a sign on the doors as you enter. But this is done for specific masses, not all masses. There is balance this way.