When I was young, my parents and teachers told me that Sunday Mass was very special; we were visiting with God. We showed our respect by wearing our best clothes, blessing ourselves with holy water as we entered the church in remembrance of our baptism, genuflecting, and keeping silence. Today it seems to be just the opposite: talking, texting, and sloppy dressing. What am I supposed to do now? — Keeping Silence
DEAR KEEPING SILENCE:
The first thing for you to do is to be grateful you were taught what it is to show reverence for God. To reverence someone means having a respectful attitude that reveals affection and esteem for that person. For example, look at how the English reverence Queen Elizabeth. Well, we are called to reverence the name of God, the house of God, the Word of God, and the commands of God.
We must demonstrate this reverence by our actions. “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23).
Genuine reverence cannot exist without self-sacrificing love. Words about reverence without actions mean nothing. “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves” (James 1:22). “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). In summary, we proclaim our reverence and love for God by striving to be obedient to his most holy will, which manifests itself more often in the details of daily life than in major events.
Now back to your question. You can certainly continue to bless yourself, genuflect, and dress modestly. Keeping silence can pose a problem because of all the noise going on around you. There is no specific rule as such, but there is a recommendation from the Roman Missal: “Even before the celebration itself, it is praiseworthy 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). Jesus also told us that his Father’s house was a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13).
It’s not easy for any of us to go from doing one thing to another. To make the switch we need time to adjust ourselves psychologically. I think this also applies to going from conversation to an interior prayerful attitude. It cannot be done in an instant. That’s why silence before Mass fosters a more recollected calm so one can participate more fully and actively in the Eucharist.
Personal conversations can be maintained in the gathering space, the lobby, or outside the church. We both know that not every one will remember to keep a silent reverence in the church. But you can control your reaction to the noise, even if you can’t do anything about the cause of it. These emotions can be a serious impediment to your prayer. So here’s a suggestion you might consider when you’re annoyed or angry at all the noise in church.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus found herself in a similar situation. She writes that a Sister in front of her in the chapel “began to make a strange little noise which resembled the noise one would make when rubbing two shells, one against the other…. Mother, it would be impossible for me to tell you how much this little noise wearied me. I had a great desire to turn my head and stare at the culprit who was certainly unaware of her ‘click’…. I felt it was much better to suffer this out of love for God and not to cause the Sister any pain. I remained calm, therefore, and tried to unite myself to God and to forget the little noise. Everything was useless. I felt the perspiration inundate me and I was obliged to make a prayer of suffering; however, while suffering, I searched for a way of doing it without annoyance and with peace and joy, at least in the interior of my soul. I tried to love the little noise which was so displeasing; instead of trying not to hear it (impossible), I paid close attention so as to hear it well, as though it were a delightful concert, and my prayer…was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.”
This story illustrates that God can be found in the details. If we love and trust our heavenly Father, he will show us how to love him even in the midst of noise.