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Be still and know that I am God
Another important aspect of the liturgy that the Archbishop referred to in his letter to the clergy is the interplay between sound and silence: “Our liturgy tends to have become wordy and noisy, with silence often minimal or absent.”
What some people say they still miss from the days of the “old” Mass is the prayerful silence which gave them a sense of the presence of God.
Silence during worship is another key element of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) which is yet to be fully implemented. It is sometimes overlooked that being silent together at Mass is an aspect of our active participation. The collective silence of the assembly at worship is a deliberate, conscious activity, not just a space where nothing is happening.
The General Instruction indicates where silence should be observed and its nature and purpose at these different times:
“Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church … so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.” (GIRM 45)
Practical strategies for implementing this include having the cantor lead a practice of the psalm refrain several minutes before Mass and then inviting the assembly to spend the remaining time in silent prayer, and placing notices in the parish bulletin asking people to respect those who are praying in the church by keeping noise levels to a minimum immediately before and after Mass.
The invitation “Let us pray” before the collect (opening prayer) is followed by a brief silence so that the assembly may call their own petitions to mind.
Silence between elements of the Liturgy of the Word is important because “by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared.“ (GIRM 56)
If we believe that God is speaking to us in the readings and that we are nourished at the table of the word, we must take time to listen to the voice of God and to digest its meaning for our lives.
The Universal Prayer can be rightly called “prayer of the faithful” only if the petitions are announced then followed by a pause when the faithful can indeed make the prayer their own. The Solemn Intercessions at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday offer a model for every Sunday.
The period of silence after Communion is intended for people to “praise God in their hearts and pray to him.” (GIRM 45) Too often this time is taken up by a so-called “Thanksgiving hymn” or announcements. This important time of silence must be respected by everyone – collectors, special ministers, musicians included – and modelled by the presider and others on the sanctuary.
When periods of silence are being introduced into the liturgy it is important to inform the assembly well in advance, give reasons for making the change and suggest that these times be used for giving thanks to God and asking for the strength to be Christ in our world of family, work and community in the days ahead.