Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A courtesy towards those who want to pray

Bishop Gilbert of Aberdeen recently devoted a Pastoral Letter to the theme of silence. Quoting Kierkegaard, he began by explaining why silence is important, and then moved on to offer some practical advice:
A wise elderly priest of the diocese said recently, ‘Two people talking stop forty people praying.’

‘Create silence!’ I don’t want to be misunderstood. We all understand about babies. Nor are we meant to come and go from church as cold isolated individuals, uninterested in one another. We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming places. We want to meet and greet and speak with one another. There are arrangements to be made, items of news to be shared, messages to be passed. A good word is above the best gift, says the Bible. But it is a question of where and when. Better in the porch than at the back of the church. Better after the Mass in a hall or a room. There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be. At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries. And then the Mass, with its words and music and movement and its own moments of silence, will become more real. It will unite us at a deeper level, and those who visit our churches will sense the Holy One amongst us.
I was heartened to read the good Bishop's letter because it says something that I have tried to convey in my own parish. If people talk loudly in conversation after Mass, they prevent other people from praying. There are plenty of places to talk - in England you don't even have to be quiet in the public library nowadays - but there are few places where people can bring their joys and sorrows in silence before the Lord.
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