Read the GIRM, Elizabeth!

Grrr. (Sound of grinding teeth…)

Elizabeth Harrington is at it again in her latest column. The issue silence (or the lack of it) in the Church before and after mass. Elizabeth writes:

A lady rang me recently seeking advice on what to do about people in her parish who talked in church before and after Mass. “I come to church to spend time with God. How do I get them to understand that the church is for quiet prayer, not for socialising?” she asked.

When considering this issue, it is important to keep in mind that the church building is…a complex of spaces for different but interrelated functions. …Conflict arises when one area has to serve several functions, as happens when there are not separate spaces for gathering and private prayer within a church building.

Where that is the case, what takes priority – the gathering of the community or people wanting a quiet place to pray?

Elizabeth proposes that there be “a separate space within the church building for private prayer and devotion” so that the really important work of “actively gathering as the people of God” which includes “the need for members of the assembly to greet one another as they arrive” and “last–minute arrangements that liturgical ministers need to make before Mass begins” can take place.

Notice what’s happening here folks? The true purpose of a Church building (prayer, worship, devotion, focus on God) has been completely introverted so that now it’s purpose is to for the “people of God” to focus on one another and making “community”. I had a chat with a young man on Sunday–a reverent, earnest young Catholic who has a great heart for the Church–and yet for whom it was a complete revelation that the songs we sing and the other stuff we do in Church may actually be for the worship of God rather than for our own benefit.

Now let us hear what the National Liturgical Office has to say regarding the new GIRM for Australia:

GIRM n.45 “Even before the celebration itself it is commendable that silence be observed in the Church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”

Silence before and after the liturgy is important to establish an atmosphere of prayer and to set the Church apart as a holy place.

How about that. The Church is “set apart as a holy place”. It’s not just that Elizabeth has got it all inside out–it isn’t just that she should have suggested that the people do their “gathering” and chatting somewhere “adjacent” to the church while the church itself is used for prayer and devotion rather than the sacred act of “catching-up”–it is that the entire building and ALL its adjacent areas are at all times to be disposed toward the sacred action of worship and adoration taking place in it.

It is worship that forms community, Elizabeth. Those poor old benighted folk who want to pray to God are the ones who have truly “gathered” for the liturgy. It is their communion with God that unites them in Christ and in the Spirit into one community, not their chatter, Elizabeth.

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