Silence, How Much and When

In the midst of the Coronavirus you may find yourself alone or in small groups of just your family far more often than normal. Does that necessarily mean we have more “silence”?

That depends on what you do with your time and what you mean by silence?

Obviously, if you have the TV, radio, or electronic device playing, then you aren’t having “silence”.

What if you are home alone and have nothing playing? Does that constitute “silence”? That depends on what your mean by “silence”. To explore this I turn to what Nicolas Diat wrote in The Power of Silence, ““Being quiet is a condition for silence, but is not silence.  Silence is a word, silence is a thought” (Sarah, The Power of Silence, 21).

The silence that we are concerned with in prayer is not simply physical sound. “Silence is not an absence.  On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences” (Sarah, The Power of Silence, 27). Spiritually, we seek “silence” as a way of finding God and his will for us. Thus, it is not just “silence”. It is sacred silence.

We live in a noisy world. “Our world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking, at a devastating speed and volume, in order to say nothing” (Sarah, The Power of Silence, 56).

To connect with God, we need to create an environment that makes sacred silence possible. It should be no surprise that, ““It is necessary to leave our interior turmoil in order to find God”  (Sarah, The Power of Silence, 23).

Now, I want to focus on the question of silence at Mass. (If you would like to hear more about silence and seeking God in general, you can find more in my video presentation, The Journey to Jesus.

As I write this we remain under shutdown from the Coronavirus. This means our experience of Mass is different right now. I hope you are able to watch Mass either on TV or online. It’s not the same but it is a true celebration where we can experience God. Are you embracing the experience or are you paying too much attention what is going on around you? Shut the door. Turn over the cell phone. Don’t spend the time talking with someone watching Mass with you. Focus of God and what He offers us.

Whether we are able to attend Mass in person or through TV or online, we can benefit from silence before Mass. We need to take a few minutes before Mass begins to take whatever is on our minds and hand it over to God. Can you get to church a few minutes early to do this? If you are watching Mass at home, can you stop what you are doing a few minutes before Mass begins to let go of distractions and your troubles? Do you really need to get more one thing done before Mass begins?

What about after Mass? How quickly do you leave church? Are you leaving before the priest? Are you on the heels of the priest as the recessional leaves? Do you leave the moment the recessional hymn is finished? Or do you take a quiet moment to say thank you to God for the grace you have received at Mass? (When you watch Mass on TV, how fast do you change the channel? When you watch Mass online, how quickly do you close your browser?)

Of course, there is silence during Mass. Do we appreciate the silence during Mass? Do we understand why we have silence during Mass? I have to admit that while I love silence in my own prayer, I struggle with silence of any length at Mass. It can seem awkward to have silence in groups. When we are with people, we expect to talk.

So, why do we have silence during Mass?

Sometimes we might think the silence is not intended. For instance, as the priest starts the Collect (opening prayer), he says, “Let us pray.” This is followed by silence as an altar server comes to the priest with the Roman Missal (the book with all the prayers for Mass). However, the silence has a purpose that has nothing to do with waiting for the altar server. It is a time for us to collect our thoughts as we seek to pray together. It is not just our own prayer. It is the prayer of our parish community, of the whole church.

The Penitential Rite also involves a short period of silence. The priest says, “Let us acknowledge our sins so as to prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries.” We are quiet from spoken words for a moment but in our hearts we are handing our sins over to God. Our venial sins are forgiven. What are your sins that you need God’s help to overcome?

After the Collect (opening prayer) there is silence as the lector moves to the ambo for the readings. There is silence between the readings and the psalm. Again, the silence is not just waiting for the next person to get in position. It is for us to open ourselves to God’s Word and to reflect on what we have heard.

After the homily, there is silence. It is a moment to take to heart what we have heard.

After Communion, there is again silence. During this silence, the priest may be purifying the sacred vessels but, again, the silence is not simply the congregation waiting for the priest and altar servers to clear the altar. It can be a time of sacred silence, reflecting on what we have received. This is true even when you watch Mass on TV or online as you make an Act of Spiritual Communion.

So, I encourage you to take these quiet moments as a moments of “sacred silence”, embracing what God offers us. Embracing the sacred silence can help us to better know God not just in that one moment, but in the whole Mass, in our whole lives.


Fr. Jeff

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