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A Time for Sound & a Time for Silence
In recent days, I have read and heard expressions of concern about two related issues – the disturbing noise level in some churches before and after Mass and the absence of the opportunity for personal prayer after Communion.
With regards to people talking in church before and after Mass, it is important to keep in mind that the church building serves a variety of functions. The main body of the church, the worship space, is where key celebrations of the community such as Mass take place while other spaces are used for reconciliation, baptism, private devotions, and so on.
Ideally a church has separate spaces for these different aspects of faith practice. The Roman Missal encourages parishes to set up a separate eucharistic chapel to provide a place of honour for the reserved sacrament and a space that is suitable for private adoration and quiet meditation.
Conflict arises when one area has to serve several functions, as happens when there are not separate spaces for gathering and private prayer within a church building. Where that is the case, understanding and tolerance are called for on all sides.
Hospitality and interaction as we gather for Mass help build a sense of community and an understanding that we worship as the Body of Christ. On the other hand, all members of the assembly need to respect the fact that the church is not simply a meeting hall but a sacred space for celebrating the rites of the Church.
Strategies for encouraging people to keep noise levels to a minimum immediately before and after Mass include placing notices in the parish bulletin requesting everyone to respect those who are praying in the church and announcing before Mass begins that the next few minutes will be spent in silent preparation for the sacrament. Parishes might even consider asking those who arrive during this period to wait until the entrance hymn begins before taking their seats.
With regard to prayer after communion, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that the period of silence after Communion is intended for people “to praise and pray to God in their hearts” (#45). Too often this time is taken up by a Communion hymn or what is called a Thanksgiving hymn.
According to the liturgy documents, the communion song begins while the priest is receiving the Sacrament, and continues for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful (General Instruction of the Roman Missal # 86).
The distribution and reception of Holy Communion is a communal, not an individual, act. If it was the latter, we would stay in our seats and pass the sacred elements along the rows, as happens in some traditions, rather than coming forward to receive Communion.
The time for individual quiet reflection is the period of silence that follows the Communion procession. That silence must be respected by everyone – collectors, special ministers, musicians included - and modelled by the presider and others on the sanctuary.
Again it might help, especially if the practice is new, to inform the assembly that a time of silence will be observed and to suggest that it be used for giving thanks to God and asking for the strength to be Christ in our world of family, work and community in the days ahead.