Many of us have heard that participating in the Holy Mass offers us a glimpse of heaven. St. John Paul II said, “The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem that pierces the clouds and lights up our journey.” So, if Holy Mass is heaven on earth, it should look and feel different than our normal daily lives. This also includes the way we enter and leave the church building.
Cardinal Robert Sarah says, “The desire to see God is what urges us to love solitude and silence. For silence is where God dwells. He drapes Himself in silence. In every era, this experience of an interior life and an intimate, loving relationship with God has remained indispensable for those who seek true happiness.” Through silence we encounter God; silence allows us to listen. We quiet our inner self — we empty ourselves and allow the Lord to fill our minds, hearts and souls.
For us “older” Catholics, we remember entering a church that was filled with people, yet there was complete silence. If someone had to talk, it was in a very low whisper. There was no less community fellowship back then, but there seemed to be a more pious and reverent attitude of everyone in general. If you’ve ever travelled abroad to visit the beautiful cathedrals, you are reminded quite sternly to remain quiet upon entry. Why? Because you are in the house of God, not a gymnasium or a concert hall. People come here to pray, worship and adore the Creator of the Universe.
How does your church sound when you enter it for Mass and then when you leave it? Pope Francis has said, “Mass is the highest form of prayer and not an appropriate moment for small talk. Catholics should spend their time in silence before Mass preparing to meet Jesus instead of engaging in idle chitchat. We are not going to a show. Silence prepares and accompanies us. To experience the Eucharist is a privileged moment to be with Jesus and, through Him, with God, and with our brothers and sisters. We go to a living encounter with the Lord!” A quiet exterior helps develop a quiet interior.
The Church in St. Louis is about to change to help better evangelize each other and people not currently in the Church. We will soon see the “exterior” conversion of our Church through the new realignment of our St. Louis parishes. But, more importantly, let’s all work on the “interior” conversion of our Church. Let’s give the gift of silence to ourselves and to our fellow brothers and sisters, before and after Holy Mass so that we can give people time to encounter Jesus. Silence before and after Mass is not going to dampen parish fellowship. In fact, it will enhance it. When we take time to talk and listen to God in silence, we realize that we are His beloved sons and daughters. When we recognize this in ourselves, we begin to see others as God’s beloved sons and daughters also. This deepens our relationship with each other. This strengthens us to go out into the world to be the missionary disciples that we are all called to be.
David Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.