Just a few weeks ago I was at Mass with my friend who I’m sponsoring in the RCIA and the two families in the pew in front of us talked all the way through the service. I mean, they talked before Mass, during Mass and after Mass. Well, not after Mass, because as soon as the final hymn started up, they were out the door, exeunt stage left and right! The blast from their speedy departure purt near blew the missalette right outta my hands when I got caught in the crosswind. Talk about turbulence. Oy.
So why do we, or why are we supposed to keep silent before the Blessed Sacrament? And the answer is: because of Who, and not what, the Blessed Sacrament is.
That’s right, Who. Because the Catholic Church teaches and believes that by the power of the Holy Spirit the offerings of bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. And she bases this belief upon the words of the Lord Himself in Holy Scripture.
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19, emphasis mine.)
The Lord does not say that the bread is “like” His body or a “symbol” of His body. He says it is His body. And we take Him at His Holy Word. He lost a lot of disciples as a result of the things He said in the Bread of Life Discourse in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, and you really should read the whole chapter if you want to understand the heart of Catholic teaching on the Mass.
In this section Jesus has (the day before) performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fed the multitude, with bread left over to spare. Then He walked on water, which is something you might expect a God to do, but which the apostles definitely did not expect. The next day He delivers the discourse. Now the people came looking for Him, wanting Him to perform a sign (and feed their bellies while He was at it). They even quoted Scripture for Him.
“He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (John 6:31)
(Wasn’t that nice? They quoted the word of God to the Eternal Word of God Himself and the Author of Life. Guess they thought He might have needed reminding.) They are referring to the bread, the manna from heaven in Exodus 16, which had been hidden by Jeremiah (2 Mac 2:5-8) and the prophecy that it would reappear miraculously at the Passover in the last days.
Since their minds are not on the things of God but on their bellies instead, the Lord speaks to them in terms they can appreciate. He tells them that He is the true bread come down from heaven and the only food that gives not mere physical life but eternal life. But this is not what the people want to hear.
And it’s still not what the people want to hear. Jesus is there, right there, present in the tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament and people do not want to think about it, do not want to acknowledge His Sacred Presence; do not want to bend their knees before the King of the Universe; do no want to fall on their knees in adoration before the Word made flesh Who dwelt among us and has deigned to remain among us, humbling Himself under the appearance of bread in our tabernacles; do not want to take even a minute to kneel in silence while He offers Himself in His perpetual sacrifice to His Father in heaven, offers Himself for us, for our sins and for our salvation.
But the LORD is in his holy temple; silence before him, all the earth! (Habakkuk 2:20, NAB)
The sense of this passage comes out better, I think, in this translation:
“But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20, Douay Rheims)
So, Catholics (and anyone else visiting a Catholic church), for heaven’s sake, think about what you are doing and in Whose Presence you are and, please, keep silence!