Catholics are not an either/or kind of people. We’re both/and. We are called to, what Monsignor Stuart Swetland calls, a horizontal communion – to live in community with our family, friends, and neighbors. But we are also called to a vertical communion – the union between ourselves and God. One cannot exist without the other, and we often find both at Sunday Mass.
But sometimes at Mass, people find that the horizontal community crowds out the opportunity for vertical communion. It is wonderful when fellow parishioners gather, chat, and grow in relationship with each other. But when it happens in church it can disrupt those who are seeking silent prayer and intimacy with the Lord. So how can the two co-exist?
Recently on Go Ask Your Father™, Msgr. Swetland offered his advice on how to be a both/and people when it comes to building relationships at Sunday Mass. He pointed out how we can seek to grow in love of our neighbor, and the key moments of silence we should take to commune with the Lord.
“God wants us to live in communion with one another,” he acknowledged. “As a matter of fact, St. John in his letter says, ‘How can you say that you love the God you do not see unless you love the brother and sister you do see?’ So we are commanded to love our neighbor, and to be in relationship with our neighbor. And that’s especially important in the parish setting, when we pray together and worship together.”
“But at the same time, we all recognize we need time of prayer and meditation,” he continued. “We need that oneness with the Lord, that time when we’re concentrated on the relationship that makes all relationships possible. And that is our relationship with God. And so we want to have a space and a time when we can speak heart to heart to the Lord, in the intimacy of personal and private prayer, as well as communal prayer.”
Finding the balance between the two can be a struggle. Some parishes are so quiet that people don’t interact with each other at all. Others may go to the other extreme, where there is so much interacting with each other that it doesn’t make it conducive to communing with God. So how do we strike a balance?
Msgr. Swetland advised, “I think we need to build into our liturgical celebration certain times that we have that quiet. Three in particular I think are important:
- We need quiet before Mass begins. So we should have quiet before Mass, especially I would say that 10-15 minutes before Mass should be a time when we can come in and pray in quiet.
- After Communion, as we make a thanksgiving and we have that time, there should be either meditative music being played or quiet during that time, as well.
- Right after the Mass concludes there should be a period I think of about five, but maybe 10-15, minutes when it’s quiet in church for us to give a thanksgiving and to have that time after Mass – that time of intimacy when having communed with the Lord in the Eucharist, we can speak heart to heart to Him.
Msgr. Swetland emphasized that these times of silence are the pillars in the Mass where we can tune-out the noise of the world and be united to the Lord in prayer. If those times of silence are respected then it paves the way for the community to gather, filled with the joy of the Lord.
“Those times I think are fairly precious and we should guard those,” he said. “At least two of those three should be there in every Mass. If that’s made possible, I think we’ve balanced it well. Then people can go into the foyer and interact or go to the hall where there might be, you know, the Ministry of Donuts as I sometimes joke about. There’s a time for us to to have coffee and donuts and to visit in those kinds of settings. So a parish should try to do those things as well.”