Silence in Church

In a recent letter to the editor of this paper headed: “The Church is for quiet prayer”, the writer complained about people talking in church before and after Mass when she wishes to enjoy quiet moments of prayer. Comments along this line crop up regularly in The Leader and in parishes.
First, I must take issue with the statement that the church is for quiet prayer. It’s a bit like saying that the home is for cooking. Certainly it is one of the activities that takes place in the building, but it is not its central purpose.
The church is the place where the people of God come together for liturgy – public worship. The church building is not a hall or an auditorium, but a complex of spaces for different but interrelated functions.
The main body of the church is where key celebrations of the community take place – Mass, weddings, funerals, etc. Other spaces are used for reconciliation, baptism, private devotions, storage and so on.
Conflict arises when the one space has to serve several functions. Actively gathering as the people of God is important for our worship to be authentic and meaningful. Before Mass readers need to prepare, musicians to rehearse, and other ministers to make final arrangements. It is unreasonable to expect all this to be carried out in silence. For the few hours of the week when Mass is scheduled, the need of the whole community to come together has priority.
On the other hand, parishes should provide a separate space within the church building for private prayer and devotion. In the busyness of our lives today, it is often in churches that people seek a still, quiet place for prayer.
Parishes might consider establishing a worthy shrine to the Virgin Mary or the parish patron saint where people can come for private intercession and thanksgiving. The shrine should be adequately separated from the worship space to ensure an atmosphere of privacy and intimacy.
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. It is possible to provide twenty-four-hour access to such a chapel even when the church is locked.
In a liturgical celebration we come together as people of different ages, backgrounds and walks of life to worship as the Body of Christ. God is present in the assembled community. We prepare for the liturgy by acknowledging where we are and those with whom we will participate in worship. Such activity is facilitated by having a gathering space which encourages hospitality and interaction and which helps build a sense of community – all prerequisites for good celebration.
Parishes might give consideration to designing a shrine, or building a eucharistic chapel, or establishing a gathering space as a worthwhile project for the Year of Great Jubilee. The June issue of Liturgy News from The Liturgical Commission offers information on these and other ideas for jubilee projects that a parish could undertake to enhance its liturgy – and avoid conflict!


Elizabeth Harrington