At the altar, the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine, then makes the sign of the cross and leads worshippers into the most sacred moments of the Mass.
The prayer is familiar: "To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you firstly for your Holy Catholic Church."
The atmosphere is reverent, or it's supposed to be.
The problem is the people in the pew right behind you who -- just -- will -- not -- stop -- talking.
What are Catholics supposed to do under these circumstances, as they kneel and try to pray? It's hard not to fire frustrated or even angry glances at these people. Is it sinful to chuck a Roman missal at egregious offenders? How about heaving a loud, dramatic sigh in their general direction?
This is when the voice inside Andrew Sciba's head says: "It's come to this. The true presence of God is on the altar and these dopes aren't paying attention in spite of your repeated attempts to correct them." It's tempting to turn and politely whisper, "Excuse me, would you mind continuing your conversation after Mass?"
At this point, one of three things will happen, noted Sciba in a satirical commentary entitled "Five Ways to Shush the Church Chatter" at the Truth and Charity website (truthandcharity.net). Sciba teaches theology at Loyola College Preparatory High School in Shreveport, La., but also, as a layman, has served on a parish staff.
There is a slim chance, he noted, that the chatterers will feel guilty and fall silent. Then again, some will ignore your request and keep right on talking. Most offenders will simply be quiet for several seconds, then resume right where they left off.