Preserve churches as places of silence

We should not “treat churches merely as community halls”, writes Andrew O’Connell

It was to the Dominican Church in Tralee we went for Sunday Mass when I was a toddler. This was in the early 1980s when you had to arrive fifteen minutes early in the hope of “getting a seat”. Though we were always on time, my father would join the other men who stood at the back of the crowded church.

It wouldn’t be unusual to hear the odd whisper during Mass, usually suggesting changes for the Kerry team, but at the moment of the consecration something remarkable would happen. The giants standing all around me would kneel and this curious toddler would wonder at what was happening. What could it be that would bring them to one knee, close their eyes and gently strike their chests with a closed fist?

As a small child, I could tell this was a serious business.

I’ve sometimes wondered when those who stood at the back stopped kneeling. When was the first Sunday of overpowering self-consciousness? Like any changing habit it was probably gradual over time.

Another habit is changing gradually in these times – the habit of keeping quiet before and after Mass. It has long disappeared at Masses for special occasions, but one notices increasingly at daily and Sunday Mass. Some will roll their eyes and say there are bigger issues to worry about. But this is important. “Lex orandi, lex credendi” – the way we pray indicates what we believe. And if we treat churches merely as community halls with scheduled services it says something of our relationship with the Blessed Sacrament.

Some will argue that this chatting is the expression of a healthier and happier theology which acknowledges each individual as a tabernacle of God’s presence. But the less naïve will see it as further evidence of diminishing awareness of the presence of the Divine, as well as a lack of thoughtfulness for fellow churchgoers who might want to pray in silence.

One parish I visited recently seemed to be concerned. Two stark notices in the porch read: “Honour God with Silence” and, quoting Mother Teresa: “Talking in Church is an irreverence. It is a denial of the real presence.” “A bit harsh,” some might say. “Quite necessary,” others will argue.

This is not a gripe about gargling infants or screaming toddlers. This is about the adults who already have many places to chat openly.

A church should be a special place of silence, stillness, reflection, peace, prayer and worship.

In an age of noise and distraction, silence is even more golden. And not as an end in itself but as a portal to the Divine.

South Pole Priests

The Columban missionary magazine, The Far East, was delivered to our school every month. I remember one article in particular illustrating how Christ’s command to ‘do this in memory of me” had been carried to the ends of the Earth. It was accompanied by a dramatic photo of a priest celebrating Mass at the South Pole.

I thought of it last week when the BBC reported the ending of the Catholic chaplaincy to the researchers and scientists working in Antarctica. The problem is not a shortage of priests but budget cuts. 

For almost 60 years, priests from New Zealand have ministered in the South Pole and they’ve left their mark. The 1,600m high Coleman Peak and four-mile-long Creagh Glacier are named after two former chaplains. To the ends of the earth indeed. 

Heroic Holiness

You may have read already of the sad death of Mary Ann O’Driscoll (24) from Glasnevin. She died after a car accident in Liberia where she had been working as a missionary.

Her early experiences in Africa are described in an article she published on her parish website. Though young in years, her words suggest an impressive spiritual maturity. 

“It is a huge challenge,” she wrote, “surrendering everything to God: Your weaknesses, your strengths, your worries, your anxieties and your ambitions… Being scared is not a bad thing, allowing it to rule you is…I have to accept my new calling and focus on being the best version of myself to glorify God.”

The Church renews herself in every age by the holiness of her members. Heroic witnesses like May Ann confirm that.