The other experience happened some years ago in another parish. The parish I was in at the time took part in a “pulpit swap” with the local Protestant churches. That meant that one weekend I had to go to an evangelical church to speak at their service. I felt strange to hear members of the congregation calling out “Amen, brother” or “Preach it, Preacher.” Once I got used to it, they really got my juices flowing. At Mass the next day I had to remind myself not to expect the same response.
I do have my own theory as to why we have a reputation for being quiet. I suspect that part of it goes back to the days when Mass was in Latin. The priest would say his part, and the servers would respond on behalf of the assembly. The people sat or knelt in reverent silence, in awe of the mysteries being celebrated on their behalf. When Vatican II began to promote full and active participation in the Liturgy, it was difficult for people to change ingrained habits. Even many of those who are too young to have experienced the Mass in Latin grew up with parents who had a hard time coming out of their shells.
Yet the Mass belongs to all of us, and we all have a hand in making it a joyful and reverent celebration. For some, that means taking an active part as a Lector, Eucharistic Minister, Choir member or in some other way. For many others, that active participation will simply mean putting everything we have into our prayers, responses and hymns. I don’t even care if you sing on key. If you have a beautiful singing voice, you can inspire those around you to find the joy in singing out. And if you cannot sing well, that’s even better, for you will inspire others around you to sing loudly enough to drown you out. Either way, if we take a full part in what is happening, we become more a part of the Eucharistic mystery, and we appreciate it much more deeply. We get more out of the Mass when we put more into it.
Of course, I also welcome the “participation” of those too young to participate. As I like to remind people periodically, we welcome families to bring babies and small children. They may not always be quiet, but their noises are a refreshing reminder to us that God is renewing the Church by sending us a new generation.