We’ve all been there before; churchgoers in a nearby pew chatting it up during Mass. Their conversation can be heard by all those around unless they whisper, which we all know rarely happens. Regardless, on the off-chance they speak in low-tones, rest assured that they’re doing it just to annoy you.
What is a Catholic to do? I’ve seen priests glare down parishioners and say, suspending their own homily, “Yoo-hoo! [yes, he said 'yoo-hoo'] Hello? Yes, you. It’s my turn to talk.” I’ve heard them work a correction into a homily (… it’s fair to suppose the Judas was the only Apostle to interrupt Jesus while he spoke…), hurling lightning bolts of public guilt toward anyone who dared steal the attention from the clergy. The rest of us were silently fist-pumping in our pews.
Of course, there are a few lay methods of correction.
- The Polite Smile When to use: The Opening Prayer – Employed mainly by old ladies and really sarcastic people, this method is rather ineffective at saying, “I wish you were a Trappist.” Unintended effect: The talkers think you’re a nice person and begin to ask your opinion on whatever it is they shouldn’t be talking about.
- The Big Sigh When to use: The Psalm – Still remaining passive, the big sigh takes hold of that Catholic guilt and emits it as a cloud to anyone who may be doing something annoying. It says to those around you, “I am helplessly and quietly suffering because of you. Ease my pain.” The natural response of someone who hears the sigh is usually, “That man must be going through some tough times. I’ll pray for him later.”
- Clearing the Throat When to use: The Gospel – A quiet grunt is generally not enough, as the offender might actually think you are really clearing your throat. Give it a good, open-mouthed AH-HA-HUM. Make sure to angle your noise within 120° for accuracy. If multiple attempts are ineffective, it is possible that you’re dealing with a mutant whose power of ignoration can resist not only the priest, but also the plethora of seemingly sick people around them. Bonus: No one can question your motives, since you might have had something stuck in your throat.
The Ol’ Stink Eye When to use: The Collect- Nothing says, “Shut up, I’m trying to be holy,” like the glare that everyone learned from the time their mother gave birth to them except, apparently, these talkers who seem to have just hatched. No need trying to be covert – at this stage, you’re standing up for the integrity of the liturgy and the consideration of those around you. Carefully watch out of the corner of your eye until one of them is facing you, then whip around and give ‘em your best Clint Eastwood.
- The Confrontation When to use: The Eucharistic Prayer – It’s come to this. The true presence of God is on the altar and these dopes aren’t paying attention in spite of your repeated attempts to correct them. Turn around smiling (see #1) as though you just noticed the talkers for the first time and politely whisper, “Excuse me, would you mind continuing your conversation after Mass?” At this point, three things can happen: They will be quiet, they will ignore you or somewhere in-between. The last two options are unacceptable and you must intend to offer your communion prayers for their souls – if only you could pray!
Honestly, I have never seen any of these methods work successfully. The last time I tried #5 was 2005 and actually received a tongue-lashing after Mass from the talkers. I asked an old Jesuit what to do about Mass talkers and he replied, “Nothing. If they knew better, they wouldn’t be talking in the first place. Since they don’t know better, they won’t understand why you’re correcting them.”
Let me know in the comments what success (or lack thereof) you’ve had with people talking in Mass!
Update: Got smacked down for a Paschasian heresy in the comments! Made changes accordingly.