I find it interesting that when we have an event such as a funeral or wedding and many Protestants are present, they are often much quieter than Catholics. I have a theory on this though not necessarily a solution. If you have one I would be glad to hear it. (Remember, this is my theory, not a scientific study.)
At another assignment I had a pastor who used to go out among the people before Mass and encourage them to talk to each other. “Everyone here is from someplace else,” he explained to me, “they have to get to know each other if they are going to be a community.” I understand his point.
The parish in which I grew up was a nationality parish. It seemed everyone knew everyone and one half was related to the other half. They belonged to the same ethnic club, lived in the same neighborhood, went to the theater owned and operated by the community, went to the same bars, same bowling alley, and worked in similar jobs. When they went to church it was time to pray. The church was quiet before Mass. Someone trying to pray did not have to ward off evil thoughts while being constantly distracted by, “Pssst mumble ssspss NEPHEW who psss mumble muble spspps THREE TIMES and mumble sppst with his girlfriend. NO! YES! Hand to God.” All that was said at the hall the night before.
Church is not ideally envisioned the way we experience it now. Can you imagine living in a small European village and everybody coming out of their homes about the same time and talking as they walked to church (Mom described this experience growing up in Barberton) and then arriving at church and going in and having no need (really) to chat. There would be more time later, now we are quiet and praying.
How is it today in most of the United States? We drive to Mass, probably last minute, and unless we are actively involved or have kids in the school this might be the only time we see many of the people we encounter there. It feels almost rude not to say something so we do and sometimes that elicits a couple of other comments. This takes place whether we are on time or not. There is little transition time between a frustrating drive and full and active participation in the Mass. Then afterwards (hopefully) we squeeze out and head for our cars and head back to our home. No kidding we talk before and after Mass. When else would we do it?
However, the rubrics for the Mass call for silence before Mass not only in the main body of the church but in all of the ancillary rooms as well. This makes sense if you consider the brouhaha trying to get everybody ready to go (especially the kid that doesn’t wanna) getting them in the car, hitting every red light, getting behind the slowest moving vehicle in the universe, not finding a parking place anywhere close to the church, walking in the rain, stepping in a puddle, having your youngest jump in a puddle on purpose, and then, adding insult to injury, entering into church (late) and finding some interloper occupying your pew! From there you are to enter into joyful song and praise of the Lord? You might be half way through the Gospel before you are calmed down enough to really hear anything (that is, if the phrase, “I have to go to the bathroom” hasn’t popped up yet.)
The silence is a cushion and a transition. It is invaluable. It is like fasting and praying – precisely because it IS fasting (from talking) and praying. So how do we get people to engage in it and not “pssst sotoe mumble he to HER!”
Donut Sunday. Works somewhat. I really have no idea. At the Vatican they had guards walking around saying, "Silencio!" Maybe give kids squirt guns to shoot any adult caught talking. That would work and be fun for the kids. “PLEASE! Can we go to Mass today? I have silence duty!” I would enjoy your thoughts.