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Loud talking in church

Q: I was raised a Catholic in the 1950s and '60s. I left the Church in the 1980s but am now starting to attend once more. However, I am very distressed by the amount of noise in church, especially right after Mass. As soon as the priest processes out, our parish church sounds like a sports bar during the Super Bowl. I see children running between the pews, yelling to their friends, while their parents seem to pay no attention because they themselves are talking to their friends.

Back in the '50s and '60s, you could hear a pin drop in church, and if it became necessary to speak, you always did so in a whisper. We were taught that this was God's house, and that we were there to pay honor and reverence. The way I see it is this: God gives us 168 hours a week; can't we devote just one of those hours to God alone while we are in His house? We would still have 167 other hours to socialize.

The Mass is the re-creation of Christ's passion and crucifixion. I don't imagine that Mary and John walked away from Calvary discussing John's new haircut or how Mary's veil looked! (Martinsburg, Pa.)

A: Your concern is well-expressed and serves as a helpful reminder of the importance of reverence in what is clearly a sacred space. While there is no "rule" about talking in church, a few thoughts might help us to reason to an appropriate solution.

First, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, "Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner" (No. 45).

Although the instruction makes no specific reference to silence at the end of Mass, it would seem that a period of quiet at that time would allow gratitude to fill the soul for the special gift received.

The countervailing argument, of course, is that prayer is not just vertical but horizontal - i.e., it puts us in closer touch not only with the Lord but with the community of disciples who share our faith in Jesus.

It's a natural instinct, and a good thing, for parishioners to want to welcome one another and catch up on one another's lives - and it is often a sign of a parish's vitality that people genuinely enjoy socializing before and after the Sunday Eucharist.

So the question becomes how to combine that value of community with the reverence due to Christ present in the tabernacle and the respect owed to people who are still praying after Mass is over.

Certainly a nod of recognition and a smile is appropriate when filing out of pews, and even a few whispered words of greeting; but an extended conversation at a normal decibel level is better left until the gathering area (the "lobby," for Catholics of my vintage), and some parishes make that preference explicit by signs or bulletin announcements.

That way, both quiet reverence and happy conversation have their proper settings. (Newer parish churches are being built with larger gathering areas to accommodate those twin goals.)

Also, in order to foster the special attention the Eucharist merits, I know of some parishes which, shortly before Mass starts, make an announcement that the next few minutes will be spent in silent preparation for the sacred celebration.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012