|St. John the Baptist, Front Royal, VA|
Since the vigil Mass was only an hour after the end of Confessions we used the time to take a walk and pray our rosary then returned. Half an hour before Mass started the church was already filling up. And where were most parishioners? In the front pews. Not only that, there was total silence...no chatting, no greeting of friends except an occasional smile and hand wave, complete silence.
The Mass was reverent, the music was traditional instead of banal pop songs from the Gather hymnal, and the homily was thought provoking and challenging. But what especially makes us want to return often, is the reverence of the congregation and the clear awareness that, yes, Jesus is there in the tabernacle. The posture and disposition of the congregation make it clear. Aside from a few baby noises throughout the Mass the church, which was relatively full, was silent except for the responses and hymns.
And after Mass, praised be to God, the reverence continued. Some people stayed to pray. Those who left exited silently.
Sadly, that is not the way at many churches. After Sunday Mass, the "worship space" often becomes the "parish gymnasium." People laugh and talk, not in whispers, but in loud cheerleading voices. Some call to their friends across the church. Even many of those who should be models for others: the organist, the choir, the ushers engage in what I can only call "church hall socializing." It is irreverent and a serious impediment to anyone who wants to stay and pray. I remember Fr. Groschel's advice to tell talkers to "Shut up!" but I'm too much my mother's daughter. She would not approve. And so, when we are at a church where socializing in the church after Mass is the norm, we leave quickly apologizing to Jesus on the way out for the lack of reverence offered Him as King of Kings.
One of the most distressing things about the socializing to me, as a mother and grandmother, is the bad example to the young people. Bad behavior is contagious. A few Sundays ago I noticed the altar boys after Mass chatting in the sanctuary as they cleared the credence table and snuffed the candles. Are they just imitating the behavior of their elders? And really, do any of those chatting and laughing have any sense of the reverence Our Savior deserves? Aren't they showing the attitude of the moneylenders in the Temple? They may not be turning the church into a "den of thieves," but they are certainly turning it into a den of socializers. Please, I want to say, take your conversations outside or to the hall. I have done that, but only rarely.
One last thought: while we were at St. John the Baptist, we ran into another couple from our own parish who said they no longer go there for Sunday Mass. "Isn't it wonderful here!" they said. Yes it is. And it is certainly clear by their actions that all those people kneeling and praying after Mass at St. John the Baptist believe in the Real Presence before them in the tabernacle. I'm not so sure about those laughing and talking with their backs to Jesus while they celebrate their own fellowship.
Let us all pray for increased reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Nothing illustrates belief in the Real Presence more than that. "O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine."