You’ve heard the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Well, for the entire history of the Church, silence has been greatly treasured as an essential condition for union with God. Prayer and communion with God is impossible if the interior life is flooded with noise. But today’s post-Christian society has erected countless barriers to keep silence away. Much of the anxiety and restlessness in our world stems from widespread discomfort with interior stillness. The crisis in faith we currently see today in so many forms can be linked to a ubiquitous hostility to silence.
It’s not a stretch to say that, even within the Church’s liturgical life, silence has taken a backseat to unchecked chatter and a misguided insistence that doing something is the only form of true “participation” in liturgy. Periods of quiet are often seen as awkward moments that must be filled with activity and noise in order to keep the parishioners’ attention, like little children who need their favorite toy. Every gap needs to be filled with something. As in a show or performance, the people must be entertained!
The neglect of Church traditions in favor of modern trends is a common lament on Cream City Catholic. The role of silence can be listed as one of the many traditions that has been undercut over the past four decades. But there are encouraging signs.
Thankfully, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, has been aggressively pushing for the rehabilitation of silence in the liturgy. His outstanding book, God or Nothing, repeatedly comes back to the theme of silence, and its absence in contemporary society and Church life. More recently, Cardinal Sarah wrote an excellent essay for L’Osservatore Romano entitled, “Silence in the Liturgy“. In this article, he relies on Scripture, Church documents, doctors of the Church and contemporary liturgists like Monsignors Guido Marini and Nicola Bux, to underscore the essential role silence must play in our own spiritual lives and, more specifically, in liturgy. Here’s an excerpt.
Many Catholics rightly complain about the absence of silence in some forms of the celebration of our Roman liturgy. It seemed to us important, therefore, in this short essay, to recall the meaning of silence as a Christian ascetical value, and therefore as a necessary condition for deep, contemplative prayer, without forgetting the fact that times of silence are officially prescribed during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, so as to highlight the importance of silence for a high-quality liturgical renewal. . . .
How sad it is—it’s almost a sacrilege—to hear sometimes priests and bishops chattering uninterruptedly in the sacristy, and even during the entrance procession, instead of recollecting themselves and contemplating in silence the mystery of the death of Christ on the Cross that they are getting ready to celebrate, which ought to inspire them with nothing but fear and trembling!
Please read the rest of this thoughtful article and share it with friends.
Silence is a treasure. Pursuing it is a counter-cultural choice and way of life. We need to embrace many things that the world today sees as odd or even unhealthy. Popular culture is pushing constant noise; many think we have to follow suit and clutter the liturgy with noise. But a liturgy that rejects silence in favor of chatter and activity will be a weak one, ill-suited to encourage Catholics to live counter-culturally in this afflicted world.