Irreverent Worship?

by Andrew Mountin

Recently, I found myself considering the question of hospitality in liturgical worship. For the past several years, I was a member and liturgist of a rather social congregation at a university. Perhaps because it was in a school setting, the students in the congregation were very open to one another, and the minutes just before and after Mass at times resembled a cafeteria due to the many conversations taking place.

When I first was asked to be a liturgist and music minister for this community, I was less than pleased with it. The seeming lack of decorum, of reverence, offended me. It certainly wasn’t what I wanted to have as an experience when I attended Mass. I wanted quiet, and consistency, and personal space. But here I was asked to serve a loud and personable and diverse community, where pastoral needs necessitated an approach to the Mass that would infuriate liturgical purists.

As I began to learn more and more of the specific peculiarities of the community, I found myself drained after every Mass. The liturgy no longer fulfilled me – it exhausted me! I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t get anything out of that Mass. There was just too much noise and energy for me to focus on my own prayer.

That’s when my conversion began.

I started to recognize why I didn’t feel a connection to that congregation. It was because I chose not to. Because it didn’t fit my own preferences, I was willing to remain a stranger, or at best a guest, within the community. Although at first I thought of their forward and social approach to liturgy as silly, I began to realize that by walling myself off from the community, I was the silly one.

As that realization slowly dawned on me, I began to focus less on what I did or didn’t get out of the liturgy, and more on what everyone else got out of it.

I noticed that the community experienced great joy and hope and strength from celebrating the Mass with one another, and especially loved to welcome in new visitors. As that revelation continued to unfold over time, their joy became my joy. Eventually, liturgies with this community became for me what it was for so many others – the highlight of my week.

The point of all this? Having been there myself, I can see how someone could come into those Masses and perceive a lack of reverence. But in reality, that congregation has simply chosen a different style of reverence – a style in which they speak to God before Mass, not by silent conversation within one’s own mind, but rather by speaking to the God dwelling in the person next to them. Their reverence simply takes on a more pastoral, and less introspective, form.

It seems to me that this mentality is one of true hospitality – a genuine, unforced expression of acknowledging Christ present in both community and Eucharist.

Andrew Mountain has masters’ degrees in History from Marquette University, and he is currently studying liturgy and music at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.






47 responses to “Irreverent Worship?”

  1. Jan O'Hara Avatar
    Jan O’Hara

    Good reflection.

  2. Nancy Dallavalle Avatar
    Nancy Dallavalle

    “…their joy became my joy.” What a wonderful and generous insight, Andrew, thanks for this guidance for all of us as we join with many others in worship.

  3. Michele Laughlin Avatar
    Michele Laughlin

    Thank you- this is great food for thought. I feel the same way about my new parish. I’ll have to think about this.

  4. Joe Kuebler Avatar
    Joe Kuebler

    I’ve often had the same misgiving about a loud congregation. This is a valuable, pastoral insight. Thank you!

  5. Charles Culbreth Avatar

    Are you kidding me?
    Upon re-reading this piece, what was self-evident is a mouse wheel of anthropomorphic narcissism. The Jesus Christ under the appearance of one’s neighbor (Mt.26) is immediate at our front door or on the street.
    At worship, both neighbors subsume themselves in order to increase their right focus upon Holy God, Three in One. That ethos didn’t surface at all in the equation of this piece.

    1. Christian McConnell Avatar
      Christian McConnell

      “At worship, both neighbors subsume themselves in order to increase their right focus upon Holy God, Three in One.”

      True, but if we believe in the incarnation, and in the ecclesial indwelling of the Spirit, we then find that the God we’ve focused on has chosen to be found among people. That’s a key difference between a specifically Christian, sacramental understanding of God and vague anthropological notions of “the holy.”

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB
      2. Charles Culbreth Avatar

        @Christian McConnell:
        Thanks for a thoughtful reply, Chris. Two questions: are the sacraments a revealed mystery? Does the liturgy function solely as an immediate, visceral entity?
        Bonus question: what is the mystery of faith?

      3. Christian McConnell Avatar
        Christian McConnell

        @Charles Culbreth:
        I’m glad you found it thoughtful, Charles. I certainly hoped my comments would be taken as respectful, and not as grinding an axe. As for your questions:

        1. Yes, and all revelation is mediated in and through human language, culture and experience.
        2. No, not solely.
        Bonus: I’m afraid the question needs elaboration. But I’d hazard suggesting that it’s the Paschal Mystery, as a central instance of savlation history, the ultimate horizon of which is the Reign of God.

    2. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      @Charles Culbreth:
      I don’t think there’s a need to be dogmatic about it. As a parish liturgist Mr Mountain has a duty to foster reverence, among other things. If it’s not happening just before or just after Mass, there’s a responsibility to make sure it happens during, or at other liturgies, or in the popular piety of the parish. It doesn’t have to be when the CMAA echo chamber determines it’s good for them to hush up.

      I applaud this good account of continuing conversion. And not a conversion to chatty Church, but to a significant personal insight that helped the man become a better disciple, servant, and liturgist. Chatting up my neighbor three minutes before Mass isn’t my cup of tea, but let’s go anti-Frank on this: it’s not about getting things My Way.

      1. Charles Culbreth Avatar

        @Todd Flowerday:

        It doesn’t have to be when the CMAA echo chamber determines it’s good for them to hush up.

        Don’t you think that’s getting to be a tired shibboleth now, Todd? Did I mention CMAA? No, I’m speaking for me. Might you consider that others beside you have both a right and obligation to speak their minds? Can you confine your judgments of others sans guilt by association? Sorry, AWR, didn’t anticipate an ad hominem turn.
        Now that’s over, would you answer my questions, Todd?

      2. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        @Charles Culbreth:
        To answer your questions in 13, no, not here, yes, and somewhat.

        You didn’t mention CMAA here, no. But I checked your forum this morning and found your link here at the top of the page. Intrigued, I followed it from there. The CMAA response was sad, but typical: criticize PrayTell, and suggest the writer “lost his mind.” Ad hominem, heal yourselves.

      3. Charles Culbreth Avatar

        @Todd Flowerday:
        Well, if it isn’t a tired shibboleth, then we have one more echo chamber obfuscating honest discussion. What’s spoken here is relevant to here. If it’s acceptable to speak one’s mind here (thus disabling any conjecture of a PTB echo chamber, thank you Chris and Rita) then speak directly, not in convoluted circles. And “somewhat” is quite a disingenuous modifier, given the anarchic twists of logic going on. I’m done, Todd. Done.

  6. Ronald C Chochol Avatar
    Ronald C Chochol

    After reading the reflection several times I am still puzzled by what caused the problem for Andrew in the first place. I understand that there was warm and welcoming interaction BEFORE and AFTER the liturgy. That may well have made private prayer by individuals difficult. But his description gave the impression that the noise and interaction continued DURING the liturgy, e.g. with some singing and praying together while others continued private or group conversations. (This confused presentation is what I assume leads to the harsh judgment that Charles Culbreth makes in the last sentence of #4. ) I think we need to recognize that there can be community preparation for the liturgy by way of greeting and so on. Those who want to use that time for private prayer may need to consider doing so BEFORE (e.g at home) they come for the community celebration.

  7. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    I’ve read any number of articles expressing this same “conversion” story – most often from silent to chatty. What always mystifies me is that it seems to be only an either/or option. Why not a both/and? Perhaps the community can be gregarious and chatty up until a few minutes before Mass begins, but then agree that it could be a good thing to have some settling-down time before undertaking something as tremendous as offering the sacrifice of praise. As this author (and numerous others) note, there are different modalities of being reverent. Why would/should a community have to choose only one?

  8. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    Great insights, thanks for sharing. There are different ideas of what is supposed to go on inside the church before and after Mass, and people tend to take dogmatic positions. I once saw an old, stern usher excoriate a person for carrying on a conversation in the church before Mass. That person turned out to be our guest presider for the day. Who was right and who was wrong? Different expectations.

    With the right architecture, you can have it both ways. Churches with a large and comfortable gathering and/or fellowship space can foster that sense of community as people enter the lobby space, then have an expectation of quiet once people move into the church proper. Unfortunately many Catholic churches have been slow to catch onto this idea, continuing to build churches where it’s just ten paces from the parking lot to the back pew.

  9. Paul Kusler Avatar
    Paul Kusler

    Thanks for your story!

  10. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    Who decides what should go on in church before and after Mass? The pastor? The presider of the day? The liturgy or music director? Majority rules? Vocal minority rules?

    And do we consider just the needs of those people who are here every week, the die-hards? Or do we also consider what kind of environment will be most welcoming to guests and visitors, people who may be inclined or disinclined to become members based upon their perception of hospitality? Some places decide based upon father’s personal preference or what the crabbiest old parishioner says, lest someone set them off again if they don’t get their way.

  11. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    This is a timely post, because yesterday there was a special event where I go to Mass, the place was full, and the crowd talked nonstop until the opening hymn began.

    I found it difficult. I am an extrovert. Yet I do need and want a few minutes of quiet before Mass in order to settle down and become centered after the hectic drive there. Some quiet helps me to prepare to celebrate, and to let go of distractions I may have come in carrying with me. It’s a precious luxury to have a few moments of un-programmed quiet in a beautiful, sacred space, to become present to my own thoughts, and present to what the Spirit may be leading me to hear inwardly at this time. I love to listen to the prelude too — forget that when everybody is talking. It’s like a theater before the curtain.

    I am glad to think that everyone who was talking was having a better spiritual experience, but I also wonder if that’s in fact the case. I am more persuaded that people increasingly do not know how to be quiet. They do not know what quiet is for. They avoid occasions when they might be uncomfortably aware that their inner life is an anxious space where they do not feel at home. As long as “something is going on” they do not face the possible emptiness within. The need to always have distractions is a well-charted, and unhappy, modern phenomenon.

    I am not suggesting a rigid imposition of silence. But I don’t know that what replaces it is always better. Why can’t the joyful conversations happen after Mass? Because everyone is on to the next thing?

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @Rita Ferrone:

      I found it difficult. I am an extrovert. Yet I do need and want a few minutes of quiet before Mass in order to settle down and become centered after the hectic drive there. Some quiet helps me to prepare to celebrate, and to let go of distractions I may have come in carrying with me. It’s a precious luxury to have a few moments of un-programmed quiet in a beautiful, sacred space, to become present to my own thoughts, and present to what the Spirit may be leading me to hear inwardly at this time. I love to listen to the prelude too — forget that when everybody is talking. It’s like a theater before the curtain.

      I’d like to explore what lies behind what Rita says, as well as tackling the comments of others.

      Surely it ought to be the function of the introductory rites to achieve the quietening down and focusing that Rita is looking for, not a private period of silence “before we all start” ? It seems to me that the transition from the personal to the communal is something that needs to take place within the rite, not outside it. This is our crux.

      I find in fact that the healthiest parishes are those where there is a variety of things that happen “before the bell”. Here are a few examples:

      1) Silence in the church. Anyone talking to anyone else is likely to be be told “Please be quiet. You’re interrupting my [sic] prayer.”

      2) Three minutes before the starting time, the cantor does a brief (one-minute) warm-up, preparing the assembly to celebrate, followed by silence for reflection.

      3) Presiding priest/pastor is out in the nave greeting people and catching up with them. Two minutes before starting-time, he goes into the sacristy to vest.

      4) Choir is quietly singing a Taizé or similar gathering chant. People coming into the chant are drawn into it, or sit/kneel quietly “in the midst” of it.

      5) The schola is singing a Gregorian introit or the choir is singing a polyphonic introit. When the bell goes, an entrance processional hymn begins.

      6) The choir/schola/ensemble are rehearsing, much too late, what they are going to be singing during Mass.

      7) An instrumental prelude.

      8) Perhaps a combination of more than one of the above.

      All of these, and many others too, are equally valid ways of moving into the celebration, with the possible exception of (6) and even that can become a familiarization process for the assembly. There is no “right or wrong”, or “only this is correct”. GIRM is only concerned with what happens after the bell. It does not give any clues as to how the assembly gathers and prepares itself to worship, primarily because those drafting it could not, and cannot, imagine anything other than scenario (1) above.

      I accept that some people are extrovert and some introvert, but the point is that liturgy is a communal activity, not a simultaneous occurrence of individual activities, and so even those who are more introverted need to let go of their personal needs and enter into the rite. That does not mean that those who are more extroverted can ignore the needs of those who are not. The answer lies in a realization that a diverse community is assembling to celebrate, and that we need to think carefully about what is the best way of enabling that to happen, the best way of drawing everyone in. If we get it wrong, the entire celebration is off to a bad start, sometimes such a bad start that things never recover.

      “Gathering Rites — crucial to our future” is the title of a workshop that I have often given. It explores these and many other questions. I firmly believe that what happens in those opening minutes is “make or break”, and that a decline in attendance may be largely attributable to getting it wrong at this early point in the rite.

      1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        @Paul Inwood:
        Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Paul. I’m of the mind, generally, that our arrival at church is part of the gathering ritual, broadly conceived. But the gathering rites of the Mass are important, I would agree.

        I’m uncomfortable with the policing aspect of #1, but it might be workable if done very kindly.

        The unfortunate fact about #5 and #7 is that people just talk right through them. I’ve seen it countless times. They gab away. It’s “background music” to them, unless they’ve been acclimated to listening.

        When there is a fixed pattern, things like these work. The key is that it needs to be part of the ritual.

  12. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    I tend to side with Rita, except for being the extrovert. I also accept the Ignatian maxim of “finding God in all things,” so if somebody reports that communal chatter in church is part of a rightful expression of faith, or even reverence, I won’t disagree.

    As a personal preference, I find monastic liturgy most fruitful, Mass and the Hours both, because it satisfies my need for quiet. I certainly don’t interpret the quiet as uninviting, unmoved, or bored. It is part of a monastery’s meta-charism.

    That said, parishes are not monasteries. So I temper my expectations. Also, as a parish minister, the hour prior to Mass is taken up with busy, but good work: preparing ministers, being approachable for parishioners and visitors, and the like. To satisfy my own needs, I have long favored arriving two hours before Mass. Recognizing that isn’t possible for most worshipers, there are other options. This includes the cultivation of silence during Mass as well as encouraging visits when the church can be silent.

    Possibly, monasteries and hushed churches are just more mature spiritual communities. I’m not convinced of that in all cases, but what about letting the chit-chat go uncriticized and cultivating reverence in other ways?

    And Charles, I’m hardly suggesting you or your friends hush up. People are free to speak, or even insult others. And I will state my opinions. And then we move on. Perhaps reverence is actuosa, and doesn’t have to be in public evidence at every moment.

    As for the “somewhat,” you posted a link at CMAA of this thread, and we all know how that would turn out in the comment boxes there. Does that make you “guilty” of something? Was I wrong for mentioning it?

  13. Fr. Dave Riley Avatar
    Fr. Dave Riley

    Several years ago I worshipped at Blessed Sacrament on Pawley’s Island, SC. It was a welcoming parish with a gathering space where many gathered. Inside the church people were chatting until four or five minutes before Mass was to begin. At that time the lector stepped to the pulpit and announced that Mass would be starting soon and lead a very brief prayer. Quiet followed and people put themselves into a different mood. I hope and presume it was a prayeful one.

    I was impressed and have never experienced this personally before.

  14. Joanna Burley, OSB Avatar

    Andrew, thank you for this reflection! Personally, I understand the desire for a quiet and reflective atmosphere before liturgy, and that is my preference. But I also understand the powerful work of the Spirit in communal rejoicing — which should be happening when the worshipping community draws together! At my monastery, our Sunday liturgy is regularly attended by 150 or so very sociable people, many of whom see each other only at our house. The Eucharistic celebration is the ground for the joy with which they meet each other. Physically, our architecture doesn’t allow for a good separation between gathering space and worship space; hence, we have chosen to embrace the happy re-union of our Sunday congregation each week, and I (introvert that I am) am learning as well to see God working wonders among the community as it gathers, as it embraces, shares, laughs and listens. When our announcer stands to welcome everyone, the focus shifts from the human interpersonal to the direct and hearty praise of God — and the community of individual people suddenly is one in that praise and gives the proper attention and attitude to that worship. I think the “oneness” happens because they have engaged and welcomed each other into the celebration.

  15. Carl Janicki Avatar
    Carl Janicki

    I read and re-read this post, along with the comments on the various sites. A few things stand out.
    1) The original post reads as a reflection, attempting to gain understanding on the question of liturigical hospitality. In my 20 years of ministry (parish, as well as high school and undergraduate educational) I have heard a lack of feeling welcomed as a reason for not attending Mass more than any other reason. I believe the question of how people are or are not intentionally welcomed in any Sunday community is important.
    2) The original post offers no insight into the ongoing conversion of discipleship experienced by the community, so it rules out judgement on the effectiveness of the liturgical experience.
    3) Finally, the lack of charity expressed by some in their comments does not indicate a desire to reflect alongside others the importance of how we extend welcome into our communities of faith. In my experience, a lack of charity becomes a fundamental barrier for faith development and the mature faith formation of an individual. Without ongoing faith development and mature faith formation of individuals, a welcoming community of any kind (chatty or silently reflective) would likely not exist.
    4) Thank you to all who contributed to this effort because I grow as a minister when called upon to reflect on the substance of both the original piece and the commentary.

  16. Aaron Sanders Avatar
    Aaron Sanders

    Presenting boisterous conversation as a different style of reverence seems like shifting the goalposts to me; it would be better to simply claim, “we’re not reverent, but that’s okay – and here’s why.” Reverence has etymological roots connoting awe or fear, and whatever means we agree to for its expression (some might find awe expressed sufficiently through far lesser means than others) we ought at the very least to be able to agree that reverence treats the things revered *differently* than we would treat more everyday realities. Perhaps if you’re bowing, rising, uncovering your head, or washing and kissing feet in recognition of Christ’s presence in another human being we can grant some strong proximity to our normal understanding of reverence, but if the conversations occur in the very same way they might unfold in the narthex, on the street, or in the local pub the attribution of reverence sounds a lot like the specious claim that “I don’t need to go to Mass because I can commune with God just as well in nature.” One *can* commune with God in nature, but that does not make such communion equal to liturgical prayer and sacramental Communion.

    As for other posters’ question of who determines what should happen in church before Mass, I submit that the Dedication of a Church be our guide. The introduction to that rite tells us that a church “is erected as a building destined solely and permanently for assembling the people of God and for carrying out sacred functions” (2). While one might try to read that “assembling” as including fellowship, I would think this (normally) excluded by the purposes enumerated slightly earlier: “the Christian community gathers to hear the word of God, to pray together, to celebrate the sacraments, and to participate in the eucharist” (1). Traditionally we have added further activities in support of or parallel the above ends (rehearsals, religious talks or concerts, etc.), but the very notion of “consecration” demands that the space be “set apart.”…

    1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      @Aaron Sanders:
      Is reverence solely an exterior expression of an inner quality? Is it satisfactory to have reverence during liturgy, but not outside of it? Many communities lack much authentic personal interaction in the secular sphere, so if, say, a suburban community, otherwise prayerful, chooses to chat before Mass, is that an acceptable expression of Christian counterculture? If the chatter is about one’s medical problems, one’s children, and concludes with some promise of intercession, is that part of a prayer? Is this a matter for a pastor to make a prudential judgment?

      Many commentators here and at CMAA seem to think they have Mr Mountain and his community well pegged. I’m not so sure, and I favor quiet.

      1. Aaron Sanders Avatar
        Aaron Sanders

        @Todd Flowerday:
        Some answers:

        1) I’m not sure what the alternative proposal is for reverence (are you suggesting a purely interior expression of an inner quality?), but I would think reverence is much the same as faith: one would be hard pressed to demonstrate it without works.

        2) There may be times when it is acceptable to lack reverence outside of the liturgy – e.g., when the liturgy is not celebrated in a sacred space. Steps should still be taken to ensure that folks can transition into prayer (we shouldn’t simply force people to flip a switch at once) but reverence is not intransitive; reverence requires showing respect/awe/holy fear toward some object, and if such a consecrated person/place/thing is not present there is nothing making a claim on our reverence.

        3) For the perfect who have managed to make every waking action a total self-sacrifice to God, everything is genuinely a prayer, but that doesn’t transform the nave of the church into a proper place for ascetics to practice handicrafts for their livelihood. We do better to stick with the simplest definition of prayer for these purposes, “lifting the mind and heart to God.” So where is the attention primarily focused? In your examples the closest we get to intentionally/explicitly lifting the mind to God Himself is a promise to do so later; this might be remote or proximate preparation for prayer, but not prayer, IMHO, of the sort to which that (part of the) building has been dedicated. The conversations you described are true goods, but they are quite literally mis-placed within a church.

        4) That being said, there is possibility for prudential judgment from the standpoint that “necessity knows no law.” A community that truly possesses no other space for fellowship might need to find ways of fudging as an interim solution, but ought to take steps both to safeguard against erosion of their understanding of reverence and to eventually acquire a narthex or hall to alleviate the need.

  17. Charles Culbreth Avatar

    Stop making assessments about CMAA, Mr. Flowerday. If you have Mr. Mountain and his community well pegged, say that. You alone brought the spectre of CMAA to this forum, no one else. You don’t get the right of a cavalier linkage of free thought to a reputable organization which has no, NO knowledge of this topic and commentary. Unlike you, I respect Mr. Mountain as having the capability of discerning honest debate about his premise. He has a MA, he’s an adult. He can suffer difference of opinion.
    I respect Mr. Mountain, it’s high time you try to do the same. If you want to embrace quiet, don’t extend the defense of your credence.

    1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      @Charles Culbreth:
      With respect, I disagree. You linked this essay and thread to a discussion page on the CMAA site. You expanded the discussion. CMAA members chose to engage the topic. It is illustrative that one commenter there questioned the group-think insults and was promptly chided. I submit that is illustrative of how some of the Church deals with issues like this, rather than look more deeply.

      The vital issues are hospitality and community-building in an era where easy associations of Catholics in secular life are largely gone, especially if we’re talking suburbia.

      Also, can we get a final decision on the spelling of the author’s name, and a correction of whichever is the typo above?

  18. Alan Johnson Avatar
    Alan Johnson

    Having the congregation move from the many “me” that walk through the church door to a “we” that worship together can only be a good thing surely.

  19. Sean Connolly Avatar
    Sean Connolly

    The reflections are certainly food for thought.

    Also food for thought, however, is the fact that the only reason Mr. Mountin stuck around to undergo the described conversion was because he had a job to do there.

    Otherwise, how welcoming would it have been, really? Would he even have come back a second time?–it doesn’t sound as if his first impressions even left him feeling challenged and compelled to return. I’d be interested to know.

    Certainly if I have a choice, nothing will make me walk away and never come back more quickly than a meet-and-greet in the pews minutes before Mass; that’s not how I want to prepare for the liturgy habitually, and if I have a choice, I won’t. Maybe I’m just weird, but I don’t think I’m alone. And I think we need to reflect just as strongly upon the people that being “welcoming” excludes, offends, and alienates. People who have no reason to stick around past one week, who won’t convert to the conversation, as Mr. Mountin has.

    In many ways, the open invitation to coffee and donuts after Mass, which appeals to the extroverts but can be refused by the introverts without guilt or awkwardness (we mean none harm by it, I assure you), is a much more *inclusive* way to build community.

  20. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    I once attended a church where people gathered in the lobby/cafe/bookstore space before the service while the church proper was closed. Then at 15 minutes before the hour, the doors were opened and people streamed into the seats as the band led 15 minutes of high-energy praise and worship music until the service began. This clearly delineated the sanctuary space as a place of worship, not of chatty conversation. The music was loud enough that you couldn’t have chatted even if you tried.

    1. Sean Connolly Avatar
      Sean Connolly

      @Scott Pluff:

      I think this is a very appropriate delineation of space, and such hard-and-fast divisions between gathering space and worship space are ultimately the only way forward that respects as many sensibilities as possible.

      That said, I’m not sure many Catholics wouldn’t prefer to prepare for worship by remaining in the now-quiet gathering space and praying privately, instead of being bombarded by strident praise choruses in the sanctuary.

      1. Scott Pluff Avatar
        Scott Pluff

        @Sean Connolly:
        In this particular church, there is a small and beautiful chapel available at any time for quiet prayer.

  21. Sean Connolly Avatar
    Sean Connolly

    In fact, there was a piece on here some time ago, by J. Michael Joncas, I think, that reflected upon the changes in expectation and physical habits upon entering the church building as the single most jarring and divisive change in the postconciliar period.

    If I remember his point right, more than the rubrics at the altar, more than texts and translations, it is entering the church without knowing whether to bow or genuflect, to look for a holy water stoop or make your way to the great baptismal basin, to enter your pew and quietly kneel, or enter your pew and find kneelers removed and the person next to you striking up a very deliberate conversation with you; it is this that contributes most viscerally to the feeling (ultimately a false one) that Something Has Changed and that these places believe different things.

    For the sake of Church unity, I think it is vital to recover a common churchgoing etiquette across at least the Church in this country. It helps newcomers to the faith, whose Catholic experiences may be distant in time and place, feel gradually more acclimated to the experience, and it helps cradle Catholics feel at home wherever they roam.

    No one, I think, should have Mr. Mountin’s initial experience of being actually offended upon entering a Catholic church to worship, whether that offence is because it was loud or because it was quiet and they were not greeted. And the way to remove that offence is to overcome congregationalist subjectivism and recover a common sense of decorum.

  22. Ed Nash Avatar
    Ed Nash

    A college setting where people would talk to each other before Mass. Might I suggest that you ask them to quietly text one another and allow them to practice the Incarnation that way.

    Your article is a challenge to a church that could be accused that liturgy is best done when “no one bugs me.” This shoe-horning way of looking at reverence or piety for that matter could have clouded over a terrific conversion as to where a minister found the joy of God, and God’s people. If quiet reflects reverence then please have the school community Mass attendees text …and hope they will stop with the opening song.

    1. Sean Connolly Avatar
      Sean Connolly

      @Ed Nash:

      Mr. Nash,

      Respectfully, I think the view being advanced by some, including me, is that quiet reflects respect for one’s neighbor and for the liturgical space as primarily a place of prayer, both private and public. It is not identical to reverence, and that is certainly not to say that the quiet cannot also be abused in the ways you have so keenly observed and described.

      I think it is also the general consensus of everyone here that, even (and especially) if it is their view that the worship space itself is not the appropriate place for conversation and community, that it is vital that an adequate space both in time and place be provided for such things.

      The remaining question, then, is which one, community or private prayer, is more important if the space allows only the one or the other, or whether in such cases a strategic use of time can provide adequately for both?

      Echoing Fr. Ruff’s point, I did find this article an edifying reflection on Christian charity, and it is worthy to reflect on how to deal with styles of piety that rub me the wrong way.

      I find it too, with respect to Fr., given the responsibilities that many posting here have (including Mr. Mountin) in forming the conventions and etiquette of our worship communities, worthy to reflect upon how we as leaders not only deal with but respect styles of piety that rub us the wrong way or differ from ours, even in planning and leading worship.

  23. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
    Anthony Ruff, OSB

    Hello everyone:
    Let’s dial down the rhetoric please!
    I read Andrew Mountin as simply offering an honest reflection on his struggle with something he disliked and then grew to view more positively from his effort to be charitable to fellow Christians. That’s all. I didn’t see a whole agenda that was tearing down all sorts of established things.
    Maybe we could profitably reflect on this: how do I deal with styles of piety that rub me the wrong way? Am I able to respect styles of reverence and devotion different from my own? Where might I grow and be stretched?

  24. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    We may, perhaps, have a consensus that the best solution is to have a substantial gathering and/or fellowship space to foster a sense of community while reserving the church proper for reverence and worship. Churches are really not ideal spaces for social interaction, especially if you are trying to offer food and beverages or have displays of information.

    Perhaps those who advocate for silence and decorum at all times inside the church should be pushing to build or expand gathering spaces and fellowship halls onto our existing churches. If people had a comfortable space to gather before and after Mass, (think hotel lobby, not bus terminal), it would go a long way toward serving the needs of all.

    Yet there is a reluctance to admit that churches built by previous generations may need additions or renovations to address contemporary needs. I’ve heard these comments many times, “Churches don’t need restrooms! When I was a kid you went before you left home, and if you had to go at church you just held it!” Or, “If you want to eat and drink and visit with people, go to a tavern, not a church!”

    Very few public spaces have remained unchanged for 50 or 100 years. Businesses are likely to tear down and rebuild, or at least totally remodel every so often, to adapt to people’s changing needs. Even libraries, schools, and hospitals build additions, redefine spaces, and adapt for new uses. But many churches remain locked in time, designed to serve the needs of our grandparents or great-grandparents without any adaptation. People have changed, the way they interact with their parish community has changed. If the architecture doesn’t change with them, we end up with a square peg in a round hole.

    1. Jacob Flaherty Avatar
      Jacob Flaherty

      @Scott Pluff:
      Yes, this is very true. People of every liturgical stripe should agree, I think, that having a place for the fellowship of Christians, is important for building up a parish. Pray hard, enjoy good, long fellowship. I’ve attended parishes of every kind, and all enjoy this and find need for this. A parish I’ve known that has a 350-400 person attended weekly TLM also has some of the best periods of fellowship, with coffee, doughnuts often moving to pizza and beer (for the adults…). The kids play soccer afterwards, too.

  25. Ed Nash Avatar
    Ed Nash

    Thank you #33 awr.

    In a school near here they stop the conversation with the minister asking others to quietly recognize the presence of God and that after a few moments of silence, they will begin Mass. That calming effect seems to work as a focusing moment and a challenge to recognize God.

    On December 8, Catholics all will get a year where mercy should rule the liturgical experience. And many will be challenged to look at those around us with the same lenses as Mr. Mountin. God Bless your studies Andrew.

    Where might I grow? Where might I be stretched? Exactly.

  26. Charles Culbreth Avatar

    We have seen what happens when a community of people, for good or ill, chooses to disregard self-discipline and then chooses to behave individually no matter at what expense to the greater society. That is likely too abstract a concept to apply to this discussion.
    Let’s frame the same concern more analogously to the situation of church worship. When individuals assemble to take in a film at a movie theater, they do so knowing there are basic if not minimal conventional behaviors they must adhere to in order to maximize their experience and enthusiasm for this type of social and aesthetic exchange. Whether it is profitable to debate that licentious, un-bridled social behaviors were dealt a blow with the institutions of television and video, electronic gaming and social media becoming ensconced is actually irrelevant here. Who among us has not noticed or acknowledged that at least one if not three generations of folks are ignorant by omission/commission of social mores when they go to the concert hall, the movie theater and certainly the church. Focusing upon the most pervasive of these, that reality impugned upon the majority of film-goers expectation of maximizing the movie experience with all its rituals when infants and toddlers howled, elderly folk, teens and others did not curtail their chatting during the film, and the now ubiquitous interruptions that smart phones elicit. So, what happened? The film industry, unlike the music industry, cannot privatize the movie experience as of yet. The industry along with the theater providers were compelled to articulate and enforce the minimal standards of personal behavior of all in the confines of the movie theater. (Were that likewise the circumstances of school and professional concertizing, musical theater and other artistic presentations.) The result in 2015 is that anybody viewing a film in a theater has a reasonable expectation that their fellows will conform their individual behaviors so that all may benefit for the better.
    I realize that taking in a movie not at all aligned to the experience of corporate worship. God forbid that the RCC would relent to conventional wisdom and install bistros, concessions, and stadium sound systems that enable folks to freely move, talk, converse on media if their personal interest in what is happening on-stage wanes. But in actuality, the real issue of this discussion ought to be who has the authority to determine that code of conduct for worshipping congregations? A congregation is not the same as an assembly, as it infers an overarching consensus as to what is to happen at worship. So, if there’s an ersatz and ad hoc (perceived) consensus of free license, I’m okay, you’re okay comportment at worship, rest assured that there are very unhappy people that you’ve marginalized because you self-perceive you’re in the majority. That doesn’t at all seem like we care for the least and last in that schema.

    1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      @Charles Culbreth:
      I see your point here. But consider that the cinema is essentially a performance/audience medium, unlike Catholic worship. Additionally, people do chat before the main feature. Moviegoers always get a gentle reminder to shush for the main feature. I consider the level of conversation before a concert or a movie to be acceptable–like what I usually hear in church.

      As for a low-level of conversation before liturgy, it seems to me to be in keeping with culturally solemn occasions, like funerals and weddings. The two extremes seem to be raucous conversation, which I’ve never encountered in church, and shaming, commanded silence, which likewise I’ve not seen.

      Perhaps what I object to in this discussion is the accusation that people who understand, but don’t stop pre-worship chatter are somehow selling out, or have lost their mind, or deserve some level of scorn. Instead of a mutual exploration of culture and faith, quite a bit of heat for a discussion that will have near zero impact on any of our parishes.

      1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn
  27. DJ Corlew Avatar
    DJ Corlew

    I’m an introvert and I often struggle with this.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the church I worship (and usher) in is over 100 years old and has no gathering area and the congregation is very reverent at mass; thusly I should really just relax and let the Holy Spirit handle it. People greeting each other or whispering is really not something anyone should let impair their peace at Mass.

  28. Dr. Cajetan Coelho Avatar
    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Meaningful reflection. Life is a learning process.

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