‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’

The trouble is that it doesn’t, if you take account of the congregational chattering that is the prelude to most services today. What happened to custody of the voice? For many folk it is not good enough to chat to the pew neighbour, but there is the need to look around and seek out acquaintances a row or two back. Surely the Peace is the time appointed in modern liturgies for the chat-break and to enquire after Ada’s arthritis?

Could be tempting to blame Messy Church for the growth of pre-service noise, but, for once, unfair. The chattering classes are found in congregations from Catholic to Congregational. Alas, not all FiF congregations can claim to be among the faithful remnant of silence keepers.

In my experience, the practice of pre-service silence is now most likely to be found at opposite poles – the Society of St Pius X and Gospel Standard Baptists. Proof of an axiom of that great Catholic anarchist, Fr Gresham Kirkby, that ‘truth lies in the extremes, not in the via media.’ Of course, it is possible that confronting worshippers with liturgical Latin or classic Calvinism strikes modern folk dumb.

Some clergy try to restore standards. One told me, ‘I now have a bell rung five minutes before the service, signalling that silence should commence.’ A few weeks later I asked. ‘How’s the new procedure going?’ He sighed: ‘They just take it as a signal to talk more loudly.’ Talking loudly is a feature of modern mobile phone society. Voices rise when there is a mobile clapped to the ear. TV chat shows, X-Factor panellists, hysterical sports commentators and tweeting also encourage the belief that silence is leaden rather than golden.

So, come next Lent, forget giving up chocolate, or taking up the Master of Magdalene’s Lent book, and switch off the ‘moby.’

Alan Edwards

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