Vol. XVII, No. 10
"Coming to Mass in a Catholic Church"
UK priests produce leaflets on how to behave in Church
by Joanna Bogle
We all know the problems — you try to concentrate on the Mass, but as you arrive at church, people are chatting in the pews, and during the readings several children get up and run about, unchecked by their parents. As the Consecration draws near, someone’s mobile phone rings. Behind you, a child is being fed some chips. In front of you, another is playing with a noisy tin truck.
How can we have silence, dignity and beauty in the ordinary Sunday Masses of a busy parish? Of course the liturgy is central — a glorious Mass, with its rhythm and sense of pace, with some good music and with dignified serving, sends its own message. But sometimes, even where this is achieved, people still can’t seem to get the message about appropriate behavior in church.
Now, a group of priests in Britain has produced a small leaflet, “Coming to Mass in a Catholic Church”, which has been handed out at a number of parishes.
Its opening statement sets the tone: “Christ’s Living Presence in the Church building is what makes this sacred space different from anywhere else on earth! Our current age sees everything as an object of human production, and human relationships made effective by conversation. But praying to God is totally different because God makes Himself known to me. Appreciating the Mass as an activity of Christ, our prayer inserts us into its action and thereby into the Body of Christ thus building up our relationship both with Him and with one another”. And to emphasize the point gently that this is no mere whim of the parish priest, but the teaching of the Church, that bit about the Body of Christ is footnoted with a reference to Lumen Gentium, the document of the Second Vatican Council that speaks of the Church as the light to the world.
We need to be sympathetic to people who lead busy and often difficult lives, running a home, raising a family, coping with frail or elderly relatives and with jobs that may or may not be agreeable and congenial. But precisely because of people’s stress and worries, the local church can and should be a place of peace, a real oasis, where we can all pray and be still. In this sense each parish church really is a unique resource at the service of the local community.
The leaflet gives simple, practical information: “When you come into church, try to be as quiet as you can. Genuflect when you enter, and whenever you pass the tabernacle (in the center of the church) … Food or drink should not be consumed anywhere in the church. Children should be fed before or after Mass, never during the Sacred Liturgy.” There are suggestions about toys: for very small children, these should be soft, not hard things that can be banged and are noisy! If a child needs to bring a book, this should of course be a religious one, and ideally an age-related Missal so that they can participate in the Mass and make the responses with everyone else.
Our parish has a “quiet room” where small children can be taken if they are crying or noisy, and the Mass can be heard there through the speakers. The room is meant to be occupied only briefly, so that others who need it can also use it. There is a box of books that can be used to help settle the children. We also have a large and comfortable parish hall where refreshments are served after the main Sunday Masses: we are all warmly encouraged to gather there and the money raised goes to help the poor. We are reminded that chatting is meant to take place there, not in the church.
The leaflet includes information about receiving Holy Communion, including the need to go to confession beforehand if we are conscious of grave sin, and that “this could include deliberately missing Sunday Mass”, or, for example, an irregular marriage or relationship. We are reminded about reverence, and the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life”. We are urged to spend time in adoration of Christ: “The moments after we receive Holy Communion are the most sacred moments of our life on earth — to be treasured and prayed”.
What about when Mass ends? The leaflet reminds us that we should not hurry out before the priest has left, nor should we start chatting: “Remember that there are people who want to remain in prayer, so please respect their wish by leaving the church as quietly as possible”.
Ours is a good-sized parish — there are well over a thousand people at Mass on Sundays, and good numbers at weekday morning Masses too. I think that people like being helped and encouraged to treat the church as the house of God, and to understand the greatness of what is happening at Mass.
It’s also a friendly parish, and we have an excellent priest. He invited everyone to help build a proper parish hall and social center to replace the old one, which had a leaking roof and a kitchen that had last been renovated shortly after World War II. The funds were raised with enthusiasm and the hall is in regular use every day. Large numbers of young people are confirmed each year, and the Sunday evening Mass is followed by a gathering of young people, for talks or a social time. There are parish pilgrimages to Rome, Lourdes, and Fatima, as well as to shrines in Britain.
It has been useful to remind us that all of this is centered on God, on prayer, on the real presence of God in the church. Thus it is a building that is, as the leaflet puts it in bold type, “entirely different from anywhere else on earth!” — and where we should be quiet, respectful, and aware of God’s presence. I have not heard of any resentment, or why-does-he-think-we-need-this-information?” from anyone. On the contrary, the message of the leaflet seems to be seen as absolutely all-of-a-piece with the other good things that we have in the parish.
I do hope many other parishes follow suit. Mobile phones switched off, children quiet, chatting banned — so the powerful message that God welcomes us into His presence to pray may be clearly heard. This is not a matter of rules and regulations, but of an effective means of evangelization, part of the mission of the Church itself, leading regular parishioners and passing strangers alike into a friendship with God, our bond with eternity.
To view the leaflet go to “Coming to Mass in a Catholic Church”
Joanna Bogle is a Catholic journalist who lives in London. She frequently appears on radio and television, and hosts “Feasts & Seasons of the Church”, a program on EWTN.
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