HILE AUTHORS for Views from the Choir Loft are often found speaking about music, we are no less committed to the necessary counterpart of music and the companion of prayer: silence. As Saint Faustina Kowalska says in her autobiography: “In order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one’s soul and to keep silence.” She says in the same Diary: “Silence is so powerful a language that it reaches the throne of the living God. Silence is His language, though secret, yet living and powerful.” Through music and speech we speak to God, but during silence He speaks to us, and how vital it is that we give him occasions to speak!
Even though she is mainly referring to the silence the sisters were supposed to keep during most of the day, I think this has some relevance to the silence we need sometimes at Mass. What the proportion should be of speech, song, and silence is hard to say, although we have a fairly good sense of when there is too little silence for recollection. Amidst clamor, it is difficult to focus on listening interiorly.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal speaks clearly of the importance of silence during the sacred liturgy:
Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts. Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.
In his commentary on silence in the Mass, liturgist Fr. Edward McNamara says:
To this we would add that silence should also be observed after Mass until one is outside the Church building, both for respect toward the Blessed Sacrament, and toward those members of the faithful who wish to prolong their thanksgiving after Mass.
Would that so simple a support of piety, decorum, and respect for others could be patiently explained and encouraged far and wide by the clergy! It is amazing how, across the United States, congregations burst into chatter the moment the priest exits the church. For all the problems there may have been in the 1950s, this sort of behavior was not even conceivable.
Similarly, for the priest to take some minutes to recollect himself before Mass, especially by praying the traditional vesting prayers (which used to be required and which is now being recommended anew by a growing number of priests and bishops), seems only sensible in view of the great mystery about to be celebrated and the importance of a reverent and recollected frame of mind if he is to obtain as many and as great graces from the celebration as he can, and lead the people into the same green pastures.
The New Evangelization is a bold project, but it will not succeed, it cannot even get off the ground, unless we recover a strong sense of the sacred and refocus, with utmost reverence, on the sublime mystery of the Holy Eucharist present in every tabernacle of the world. Otherwise, we will spend our days making and hearing empty talk and missing the demanding silence where the mystery of God can impress itself upon our souls.