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Monday, January 18, 2016

When Christ's Church Becomes a Social Hall

St. John the Baptist, Front Royal, VA
My husband and I decided to attend Mass this past weekend at the parish up the road, St. John the Baptist in Front Royal. I like to go to Confession there because both priests give encouraging direction during the sacrament that always makes me reflect more deeply on my own spiritual condition. And they are obviously in demand because both lines are continuous during the entire hour and sometimes beyond. Long lines aren't the result of long confessions either. When I got in line there were about eight people in front of me and I waited about 20 minutes. I estimate the priests hear between 50 and 75 Confessions on Saturday afternoon. The parish also offers the sacrament every day after the morning Mass as well as the "Welcome Home" program of evening Confessions on Wednesdays. What a blessing for those parishioners!

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 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."


  1. Thank you for sharing your observations. We frequently go to Confession and Mass at St. John's, even though our parish is St. Peter Catholic Church in Washington, VA.

    The reverence in the pews at St. John the Baptist is a reflection of the reverence to be seen in the Sanctuary. The priests at St. Johns are true shepherds, guiding and protecting their flock. This is why St. John's has become a second home, or a home while in exile, for several families from St. Peter's. I suspect that, even after the current pastor departs St. Peter's, some of the St. Peter's families will continue to attend Mass at St. John's.

    As Catholic laity, we have a right to the type of shepherd that St. Peter was told to be - "Feed my sheep." At St. John's the flock is nourished - at St. Peter's the flock goes hungry.

  2. It is the same in the church we attend. Complete lack of decorum. Not only disrespectful to God but completely rude to those who are still in prayer after the mass is over. One Sunday a middle aged woman sitting directly behind our family whispered through the entire consecration to her friend/family member. She apparently had a terrible time picking out earrings that morning because her daughter "stole" the ones she wanted to wear. And guess what else?? She hoofed it up to the altar and was one of the eucharistic ministers that morning.

  3. Frank, I am praying for all the families at St. Peter's. It is a tragedy when a priest trades his birthright by ordination to be a priest acting in personal Christi, and instead chooses to be community organizer in the image of Saul Alinsky. I also pray regularly for Fr. Grinnell.

    Thanks for your observation, Kathy. Let's pray for each other and all those robbed of reverence.

  4. Five years ago, in anticipation of a possible retirement, I started looking for an orthodox Catholic parish for all of the reasons described in this article (the banal gather music, the noise and chaos after Mass, etc). My wife and I visited St. John's about seven times over a five year period, met some truly great people here, and prayed and prayed and prayed that, if it be God's will, we could sell our house in a very depressed market and move to Front Royal. Finally we prayed the 54 day Rosary novena and the second week into the thanksgiving we had an offer on our house. We started another 54 day Rosary novena for a house in Front Royal and two weeks into the novena we were able to buy a house two blocks up the street from the Church so we can easily walk to Mass and adoration. Thanks be to God and our Blessed Mother. Thanks also to our terrific priests and parish community.

  5. We moved away from Front Royal ten years ago and miss that parish very much. I'm sorry to hear about St. Peter's as we used to go there during the Fr. Pokorsky years. It was beautiful and very reverent then. Please spare a prayer for our area here in Tennessee. It feels as if we are in the wilderness and we travel a good hour and a half to get to Sunday Mass that is reverent.

  6. From Facebook:

    Thank you for this great article! This is the beauty about the Catholic Church that I’ve found as a convert… you can go to any number of churches! I am very grateful that our parish (the largest in the diocese) has 3 great, holy, orthodox priests, which I have found, attracts holy behavior at mass. They will also call out bad behavior. “Please leave the sanctuary in silence”, for instance.

    When you attended St. John the Baptist, did you see women wearing mantillas? I’ve observed this more often at the more orthodox-type masses/parishes. I’ve made my own mantillas, and have given them to friends - received with joy from some … and others, not so much. I don’t wear mine at every mass, but ALWAYS wear one when I go to Adoration.

    Always enjoy reading your articles!


  7. So sorry for your situation, Kris. But what a commitment to travel so far for Sunday Mass. I know God will bless your sacrifice. More and more we are in the desert -- both in the secular world and in the church. May God send us holy shepherds and help us to persevere in faith.

  8. I am late to the thread, Mary Ann. However, you have hit on a *really sore* pet peeve of mine here.

    I just laugh and shake my head whenever I hear about dioceses (like my own) that are starting up the latest funding drives. (pick one) For example the annual diocesan CPC drive (admittedly needed, but always falling short) and now we have one they are starting up so they can earmark said funds for the infrastructure of diocesan wide church buildings, et al, because they are getting old... blah, blah, blah.


    As long as our churches sound like a flock of magpies in a corn field just after it was harvested, mere *minutes* after Almighty God touched down upon the church altar[!], their efforts are like wheels spinning in the mud. (some churches may not sound like that *before* Holy Mass TBTG, but many sound like a bee-hive... prayer? what prayer?) Do diocesan officials really think they are going to meet their fund raising goals as long as our Blessed Lord in the Tabernacle is treated as if he was a .25 cent bubble gum dispenser in our parishes?

    Recently, after the vigil Mass at our parish, our pastor was anointing those who had ailments of some sort. Not kidding Mary Ann - it was the same. Here our poor priest was, confecting a *sacrament* in the church in front of the Altar, and there was zero reverence. None. Many folks acted as if the poor man was merely blathering on as they were! I was just shocked.

    This has to stop. How? I do not know. Maybe our pastors could reiterate, in *every* sermon, that the church is a place of prayer and worship... not some sort of gathering hall for "fellowship."

    (continued next entry)

  9. The USCCB said this in a Q&A booklet they put out back in 1998 titled "The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions and Answers":

    Question 9) What are appropriate signs of reverence with respect to the Body and Blood of Christ?

    The Body and Blood of Christ present under the appearances of bread and wine are treated with the *greatest reverence* both during and *after* the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. Mysterium Fidei, nos. 56-61). For example, the tabernacle in which the consecrated bread is reserved is placed "in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer" ( Code of Canon Law, Can. 938, §2). According to the tradition of the Latin Church, one should genuflect in the presence of the tabernacle containing the reserved sacrament. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, the traditional practice is to make the sign of the cross and to bow profoundly. The liturgical gestures from both traditions reflect reverence, respect, and adoration. It is appropriate for the members of the assembly to greet each other in the gathering space of the church (that is, the vestibule or narthex), but *it is not appropriate to speak in loud or boisterous tones in the body of the church* (that is, the nave) *because of* the presence of Christ *in the tabernacle*. Also, the Church requires everyone to fast before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ as a sign of reverence and recollection (unless illness prevents one from doing so). In the Latin Church, one must generally fast for at least one hour; members of Eastern Catholic Churches must follow the practice established by their own Church. (stars added for emphasis)

    I apologize for the rant/length, Mary Ann. As I said above, you hit on something that has been simmering inside of me for a while now.

    Praying for you and your family because of all of the snow you will be getting in your neck-O'-the-woods. ;^)

    God love you!
    Catechist Kev

  10. Thanks for your comments, Kevin. I've been "ranting" to my husband for some time. And when we travel...oy!

    Thanks for the prayers. We need them. If we lose our electricity we lose the pump that gives us our water -- hence no heat AND no water. I put two wheelbarrows full of wood under cover and gathered kindling so we're set on the heat. The snow plow and chains are on the tractor. And now I need to fill lots of things with water. And I guess I should get out the hot dog forks in case our only source of cooking is the fireplace. Wish I had a cast iron kettle.

  11. As I recall Mary Ann, a few years back you folks had to use your John Deere lawn tractor/snow plow for... what? 24 hours or something like that? (I believe you posted a picture of you on it during the storm)

    This one looks eerily like that one. :^(

    We had but a dusting here (2-4"). Yet, we are still having Holy Mass at 6 o'clock tonight (whoo-hoo!).

    [I wish we could transfer our Holy Day of obligation to a weekday Mass. They are *much more* reverent.] ;^)

    I will be offering you and yours up tonight, Mary Ann.

    Godspeed to you,
    Catechist Kev

  12. I can't find those snow pictures (2009). One of my grandkids wiped my computer a few years ago. For some reason all the photos posted on my blogs got wiped about the same time. Anyway, I tried to find those photos but can't find a photo file for either 2009 or 2010. Too bad.

    But yes, this storm is sounding a lot like that one and I have no intention of getting up every three hours to plow. I'll plow in daylight, but then we will just have to deal with being snowed in. That won't be so bad as long as the electricity doesn't go.

    Thanks for the prayers!

  13. A beautiful Traditional Latin Mass is said every Sunday at 10:15AM at St. Stephen of Hungary, Allentown, PA. The people are silent, reverent, and modestly dressed. They remain in the pew after Mass to pray. I was tired of all the abuses at other churches as you mentioned and I have found peace.

  14. Is Father Tuck Grinnell bad? I went to one of his healing services once, so I am curious. Heterodoxy can be common among charismatic leaning priests, but not always. Look at Father Phillip Scott! So, what is the issue with Father Grinnell? Too bad about him!


  15. PS Love the thread!

  16. Hi Dawn,

    Fr. Grinnell is a community organizer. I've known him for thirty years and he has promoted liberalism from the beginning. He started an IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation) affiliate with another liberal priest, Fr. Gerry Creedon. VOICE (Virginian Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement) is basically a lobby group to get the government to redistribute income. But, of course, all these community organizers are really about gaining power.

    I like Father Grinnell personally. We went out to lunch about two months ago. But he has a socialist mentality, loves dissenters (He hosted the Nuns on the Bus at his previous parish and often had dissenters speak regularly at every parish he pastored. He also offered asylum to Call to Action.), and avoids preaching about any of the hard issues. Don't look for any sermons on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, etc. His parish this years had no bus planned for the March even though they have had one for twenty years and he would not let the K of C put up a monument to the unborn.

    "Bad" is a relative term, but I certainly would not want him to be my pastor and would probably go elsewhere for spiritual nourishment if he were. He starves his parishioners of the real bread of life and gives them the stone of man-made solutions to problems.

  17. Mary Ann,

    Thanks for the wonderful blog entry about St. John's. I think you were very accurate in your descriptions except for the silence part. I love the old school Mass and would love to continue going to the 12:30 on Sunday, but the "chaos crowd", as I call them, are always in full force. It's not the kids that are irritating; it's the parents who never take them out. They are the ones who are setting the bad example of showing lack of reference for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and disrespect for the priests and their fellow Catholics. The only Mass with minimal chaos crowd is the 7:00 am.

    I greatly appreciate St. John's for so many things, not least of which is that we have been blessed with solid priests the whole time we've lived here (24 years?). I just wanted to rant a bit about the clueless/oblivious/(self-centered?) parents. It's not their personal holy hour where they can dispense with their duties as parents. It's the right and perfect time to teach their children what behavior is expected before Our Lord.

    Thus endeth the rant.

    Thanks, Mary Ann, for your wonderful blog.