The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence
In her ‘Family Faith’ column last week, Selina Venier spoke about her new year’s resolution to ‘appreciate silence’ and her realisation that ‘silence is the most beautiful, engaging, and transforming sound around’.
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.
It seems that the call of Vatican II for full and active participation has been interpreted as meaning that any gaps in the liturgy should be filled up with words and action. The Vatican Documents however make it clear that being silent together at Mass is an aspect of our active participation.
‘Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church.’ (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #45).
‘The dialogue between God and his people taking place through the Holy Spirit demands short intervals of silence, suited to the assembly, as an opportunity to take the word of God to heart and to prepare a response in prayer’. (Lectionary for Mass: Introduction #28).
The sort of silence intended here is not something passive. The collective silence of the assembly at worship is a deliberate, conscious activity, not just a space where nothing is happening. It is a response to the call of the psalmist: ‘Be still and know that I am God’.
The rubrics (instructions written in red) of the current Order of Mass indicate where silences should be observed. According to the General Instruction, the ‘Let us pray’ of the opening prayer (collect) is followed by a brief silence so that the people may realise they are in God’s presence and call their own petitions to mind.
The introduction to the Lectionary states that proper moments for silence during the Liturgy of the Word are the time before the readings begin as well as after the first and second readings and after the homily. 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 prayers of intercession can be rightly called ‘prayers 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 general intercessions from the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday offer a model for every Sunday.
The General Instruction also suggests that the priest and people may spend some time in silent prayer after communion and the singing of the communion hymn.
As my fellow columnist indicated, our culture is unaccustomed to, and therefore often uncomfortable with, silence. People not used to silence may find quiet periods during Mass disconcerting. They may even spend the time wondering who lost their place or missed their cue!
By giving careful preparation and explanation beforehand, and by having worship leaders who invite the assembly into quiet time through their words and actions, we can help people learn, or rediscover, the art of reflection and, like Selina, come to realise that ‘silence is the most beautiful, engaging, and transforming sound around’.


Elizabeth Harrington