Where has all the silence gone?

When was the last time you encountered complete silence? This question came to me this past Sunday as I sat in church waiting for the Eucharistic celebration to begin. As I sat there wanting to pray, I couldn’t. I couldn’t seem to find a moment of silence to help me focus and prepare for Mass. All around me was chatter. Don’t get me wrong, I too am a culprit in all this. I am notorious for talking during Mass (usually giving commentary) and it’s very easy for me to join in the conversation as people are talking: before, during, or after Mass.

In the back of my mind, I could hear Sr. Frances (my 1st grade teacher) and my parents telling me to stop talking and to listen or to pray. Over the years, I began to heed their advice and practicing silence. My practice and real attempt of entering into complete silence began when I entered the novitiate in 2002. I struggled with silence. I struggled because when I was younger, I was led to believe I had to be actively speaking to God in prayer. After about two weeks, I ran out of things to say and wasn’t sure what to do with the silence. This was not a good feeling only two weeks into a two-year novitiate. Over time, my Norbertine confreres helped me realize it wasn’t just about asking for something or telling God something, but listening to God and becoming aware of what God was stirring-up within me. I had to practice this – just like I had to practice the piano. Very soon, it was easier (not easy though) for me to engage the silence during the liturgy of the hours or at Mass. All these practices were reinforced during my time studying at St. John’s.

I don’t want to take this out of context, but the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says,

Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in the adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner (45).

This seems pretty serious since it names places like the sacristy and vesting room. In my experience this particular instruction has not caught on or been taken very seriously. More and more, I find it is the norm to chat before Mass. When did this become the norm? I have heard the argument by some that this is a time for the parish to gather and “catch-up” or “build community.” I love these ideas, but isn’t this the function of a gathering space or socials after Mass. I am afraid we are losing (or have already lost) our sense of the sacred. I don’t want to sound all stuffy, but I do think we need to reclaim some silence in our churches as we prepare to joyfully celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Silence is important in the life of a Christian. It is the time we can set everything aside and rest in the presence of the Almighty. Silence can be uncomfortable, challenging, and life-giving. Whether we’re in a group or alone, we encounter the Risen Lord in silence. Silence is still a mystery to me; I am drawn into it and hurled from it to act. It sometimes bears immediate fruit and yet, at other times I seem to wallow in its desert.  I am sure someone wiser than me has written on the importance of silence and spoken eloquently about its function in the liturgy and our prayer life.

In the liturgy, silence invites us to offer our personal petitions and also reflect on and embrace God’s word. Silence before the celebration helps prepare our hearts and minds to receive the living God in word and sacrament. The celebration of the Eucharist demands more of us than the commonplace activities of our daily life, especially everyday chatter.

Sr. Frances used to tell us that we were supposed to pray before Mass to prepare ourselves for Jesus. At 30, I think I am beginning to finally hear her wisdom. Our lives are filled with noise and I know my life gets overloaded rather quickly. I cherish the little silence I now practice and I certainly pine for more opportunities to enter into silence.

I think it’s about time for us to reclaim the gift of silence. Let’s help our assemblies practice silence, respect those who seek silence, and welcome the gifts God offers us in the silence. I have a hunch, that if we accept the GIRM’s invitation to practice silence that our celebration of the Eucharist will be transformed.

Timothy Johnston

52 comments

  1. Silence certainly is a rare commodity! Unfortunately, if it’s not pre-Liturgy chatter, then it’s usually a group of people shouting the Rosary. I find both to be rather distracting preludes to Eucharist – to the point where I usually slip in just before Mass simply to avoid a rising temper!

  2. Some of the biggest abusers of silence before Mass are instrumentalists and choirs. When I arrive early enough to spend some time in prayer before Mass, I am often interrupted by a solo performance.

    Now that I think of it, music during and immediately after Communion is very disruptive of prayer also.

    Cardinal Francis Arinze has spoken on this many times:

    ‘He also called for an end to adding details to and subtracting them from the approved rites of the Mass and for an end to soft background music during Mass and other times when people were trying to pray in church.’

    “This is doubtless well intentioned, but it is a mistake,” said the cardinal. “People enter churches to pray, not to be entertained.”

  3. I’m sympathetic to this, but more to the practice of silence during Mass. At some point, worshipers have to be comfortable going into silence. If silence during Mass is fruitful, does it matter if such silence is first encountered before Mass or before the first reading?

    Given the fragmentation of life today, I’m sympathetic to people giving in to a *holy* urge to chatter before Mass. It may be the only time people gather outside of their neighborhoods to exchange with their Catholic friends.

    That said, it might be that the place to begin is with liturgical ministers, especially musicians. If we were to indulge in silence as part of our preparation, or the end of useless chatter, maybe it sets a tone. Another point of contact with silence is the ushers/hospitality folks greeting at the doors in silence: a smile, a nod, a bow, a wordless handing out of a bulletin.

    And lastly, because in some churches, this is the most difficult to change, I find that carpeted naves tend to encourage chatter because the sound doesn’t carry. When people think their voices carry, some (though not all) become convinced they shouldn’t speak so loudly.

    1. Todd’s right – we musicians can be a noisy bunch. However, we also have the skills to draw people into silence.

      If we have a visiting gang for a baptism (First Communions can be worse) I’ll sometimes go through an item with the assembly, not necessarily because we need to but in an attempt to bring them from social chatter to pre-Mass quiet.

      Hm! Sometimes this is initiated by the parish asking me, “Can you do something to shut them up!”

  4. I would venture that silence is a victim of the cult of productivity and practicality. If people converse in the church immediately before and after Mass, they can imagine they’ve maximized productivity; the pressure to shorten or eliminate silences during the Mass gets people out faster.

    While providing a place for people to chat *after* Mass can be relatively easy in many places, a solution is often lacking *before* Mass because people who get to Mass ahead of time tend to want to stake a claim to their preferred seating, and do so by staying put.

    I am curious how one would distinguish holy chatter from non-holy chatter.

    I should note that I am not a person who is comfortable with interior silence; neurologically, my brain just does not have a Pause button (as a synaesthete, basically, any inputs will activate cross-sensory connections (especially words and sounds, even acoustical silence) automatically and involuntarily – it’s a gift, and a burden that I cannot shut off by force of will, and I am far from alone), so my contemplation comes not in emptying the mind but in trying to be mindful of the Other (both indirectly in creation and directly), which is not quite the same thing.

  5. Custom plays a great part in this and is not easy to change.

    Some churches, especially older ones and those with older populations, have kept their traditions of silence before Mass better than others. In these it is relatively easy to pray before Mass.

    The behavior of greeters, ushers, music ministers, servers, all the people getting ready for Mass is very noisy and very visually distracting. Changing all this would be difficult, and I am not sure that the resulting silence would automatically promote prayer, especially among younger people. One is more likely to get silence like in a waiting room, where most people don’t talk but a few do.

    The lack of silence or really anything meaningful before Mass promotes arriving just in time. That means that a fair number of people arrive late.

    My suggestion is to have some form of prayerful music, either choral or instrumental, or even a prayer service, beginning about ten to fifteen minutes before Mass and ending several minutes before Mass with silence. Something like when going to a symphony, so that everyone should be in their places and quiet when the tune up is over, and the house lights dim.

    When I have to arrive early, e.g. like at Christmas and Easter, to get a place, I bring my Boze head phones and a CD of music to create such a prayerful atmosphere.

    1. I think there are factors in play that are difficult to pin down though…. the EF parish where I attend Mass (when able) is absolutley silent before Mass,,, literally not a sound.

      Masses I have attended at for instance, John Cantius in Chicago are also “filled with silence”, before Mass, during Mass and after Mass. I have heard that this is the case at most “traditional” parishes, whatever that might mean. And I have also heard that the opposite is the case at most mainstream parishes (whatever THAT might mean!). What makes them different? I think the question is worth asking…

  6. This is something I find interesting. When I was a Methodist growing up, pre-service chatter was pretty much the norm, but then when I started going to Episcopal churches, I was shocked to find that most people in the nave kept silent before the start of the liturgy or, if they had to say something to someone, usually kept it a whisper. And these weren’t even ultra-high Anglo-Catholic parishes but fairly middle-of-road ones.

    So is this chatter before mass at a lot of Catholic parishes usually at normal speaking volume or just a constant whispering chatter? Also are there any differences in level of chatter among parishes with different cultural makeups? I wonder how much of the idea that a prayerful atmosphere requires silence is culturally determined. Or even temperamentally. As an introvert, a lot of noise really does prevent me from settling into a prayerful state, but given that we “innies” are such a minority, I wonder if for a lot of people some level of sound might actually be an aid to prayer. (Of course, even for them I’d imagine that music would be much more helpful than constant chatter.)

    As far as practical measures, has anyone experienced any that actually seem to get people quiet?

  7. My previous parish had pre-Mass quiet specifically at the Easter Vigil (when the lights of the church were off). But at other times, there was usually chatter or piano music being played.

    1. Mentioning the Vigil reminds me of the profound silence my parish in Missouri practiced from the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper until the Alleluia at the vigil. When I moved I was rather disappointed that people came to liturgy on Good Friday and talked right up to the time when the presider entered the worship space. This year, people talked at the end of the Holy Thursday celebration as we walked with the Blessed Sacrament to the chapel. Inside the chapel kids were running around, screaming, etc. It was impossible to pray and enter into the solemnity of Triduum. Yes, it can be difficult to be reverent and/or silent, but it’s not impossible. How do we help young people experience the beauty of silence? How do we model it and help them practice it?

  8. I imagine this won’t be received particularly well on this blog, but try assisting at an Extraordinary Form Low Mass. The silence can be profoundly beautiful.

  9. I think silence comes naturally if we are aware of the august mystery that is being made present during Holy Mass.

    Does anybody bother to keep silence before a picnic?

  10. Ask your pastor to move the tabernacle back in to the sanctuary. No Catholic would engage in idle chatter in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

    1. “No Catholic would engage in idle chatter in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”

      Wouldn’t that be lovely. Robert, the places in which I’ve experienced the most talking before Mass have the tabernacle front and center. It’s strange, I know! My brief stint teaching high school revealed to me that the majority of my students, who claimed to be “good” Catholics, didn’t even believe Jesus was present in the sacrament. My first year teaching I was very sad by this and struggled to teach about the Eucharist, but most importantly live a Eucharistic life.

  11. the parish where I serve as music director has a high level of chatter before mass. It is even the custom to play recorded music on the sound system if the musicians are not rehearsing. Reading the comments above, I was moved to resolve that when our “season” begins again in a month or so, we will begin to model silence and prayer before and during mass.
    As for encouraging silence among the assembly… the culture of my parish is very community-oriented and I believe they treasure the visiting time.

    I’m interested in your feedback: what if I replaced a prep of gifts song with silence? what if we announced ahead of time that during Lent, reverent silence should be observed in the church before mass? What do you all think of these seasonal, or one-off attempts at silence? Do you think this strategy might gradually foster a long-term shift toward more reverence, silence, and prayer at mass?

    Thanks for your input. I had given up on the possibility of praying before mass, but this post and your comments have refreshed my outlook on the issue.

    1. I think the primary placement of silence is not as an alternative to the antiphons and songs the Missal envisions in certain spots. Rather, it’s to envision the action more spaciously (yes, that means it might “take longer” in terms of minutes; often, the single biggest obstacle to good change in liturgy is the iron-handed rule of the clock to work back from a total time and deciding how to worship within that time; this is especially true where parking lots are involved).

      Regarding your reference to Lent: Advent or Lent might be a good time to ride what might be a more cooperative mood to reintroduce silence in this manner, but I would in no uncertain terms try to limit it to penitential seasons, lest people make the false equation of silence with penance.

      (Americans could use more opportunities to become acquainted with joyful silence…the kind of silence that is dumbstruck at the prospect of encountering a beloved.)

      As as sidebar regarding using recorded music to provide a sound blanket: that is precisely what happens in waiting rooms and elevators and on telephone assistance lines: those associations alone should be enough for everyone who is using recorded music at church in this way to seriously reconsider such use.

  12. In response to Timothy’s excellent post and other comments above, I would want to add

    (1) All this is a compelling argument for building churches with substantial narthexes, where people can gather and get reacquainted. And for adding gathering spaces to existing churches that don’t have them.

    (2) Silence needs to be created. It doesn’t just happen. There are different ways of doing this in liturgy.

    (3) Anyone who has experienced the long silences (5 minutes and more) at Taizé will know how true (2) above is. And the astonishing thing about those silences is that it is not the absence of something, it’s very definitely the presence… You can sense several thousand people all doing the same thing: praying silently together, to the point where you can almost reach out and touch the prayer.

    (4) Pace Ray in post #2, music during Communion is not disruptive — certainly not of liturgical prayer, but perhaps disruptive of private prayer. But private prayer is precisely what should not be happening at that point. It’s not ‘Me and Jesus’, it’s ‘We and Jesus’, com-union. Hence GIRM’s splendid comment in the second sentence of para 86 about the nature of the Communion song, which tells us much about the nature of Communion itself. And if it’s done well, it too will create a postcommunion silence that is deep and nourishing.

    (5) New GIRM para 56 is also eloquent. (It was taken over in toto from para 28 of GILM (1981), by the way.)

  13. Introducing people to silence in the liturgy is a great challenge – we surround ourselves all day with radio in the car or ipods etc…so to break the hold of constant sound is important. Within the liturgy there are a number of moments where a lengthy silence is important – after each reading, after the homily, after the reception of Holy Communion. By beginning with these communal experiences during the liturgy – its only a short step to being silent before Mass too. Start small and build it up from there.

  14. Being intentional about the silence seems to be the key in some places, and so is effectively communicating that intention. At the parish where I am now, there is a line that goes right at the top of the first page of the bulletin: “Before we worship, we speak to God; after worship, we speak to each other. Please keep a respectful silence to foster a prayerful environment.”

    At another parish I used to attend, a small church plant meeting in an old warehouse with no gathering space besides the worship area, the priest would begin by welcoming people but would then state, “Here at St. Alexis’ it’s our custom to maintain a period of silence before our worship begins.” There would then be several minutes of silence prior to the opening music.

  15. Thanks Timothy, that is troubling indeed. Still, I think we need only look to our own tradition to find the answer to the chatter problem and we don’t need to pretend that our people are different in any significant way than we were a few decades ago. My guess is a series of exhortations by the pastor for a few Sundays before the Mass would be more than enough to revive an already ingrained habit in our people. He may have to risk seeming zealous about it for a short while and that is probably where the real problem would be found. His example is the most important thing.

  16. Two obstacles to silence and prayer at the beginning of the Liturgy are making announcements before the Entrance Hymn, and having a personal welcome by the presider at the end of the Entrance Hymn.

    Both of these seem to give the message that the meeting place is the house of the pastor and the pastoral staff and the rest of us are guests. Neither do much to promote either a prayerful relationship to God, or a more sociable relationship to other people at Mass.

    A large narthex is a great asset for socializing, and can be done in a way that connects socializing to the liturgy without disrupting the worship space.

    One local parish greatly enlarged its narthex and glassed the multi-story wall between it and the nave. That provides visual access but not auditory access between the two. One can see the ministers gathering in the narthex but not hear them. Everything done in the narthex is done within the larger context of the altar. During the Mass, parents can take their children to the narthex if necessary. After Mass, coffee and donuts are served in the narthex. (This parish also has a coatroom. The customary bolt for the cars after Mass has been attenuated.)

    Another parish built a large circular narthex around its baptismal pool, a great symbol of our common origin. A lot of room for socializing before and after Mass. The room could also be easily used for a variety of spiritual activities such as prayer services or small group meetings.

  17. I like the post on silence, however, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with your conclusions on silence as you’ve posted forth. Now don’t get me wrong, I value silence as well, the time to listen to God is extremely important and each person needs to find their own time to do this, but.
    A) “I’m afraid we’re beginning to lose our sense of the sacred.” You wrote this in context to chattering which occurs before Mass. Now in making this statement, you are proposing an image of God, which may or may not be there. This image influences certain practices which are recommended (e.g. your reference to the GIRM) but Is sacredness something which only comes through silence? This becomes a problem because very easily love of God becomes separated from love of neighbor, it means our liturgy can extend outward and include the community of love in the world.
    B) Ritually, this motif of silence is used to bring down an image of God who is angry and wants passive worship and service. However, this favors the people who lead the ritual and does not seek to recognize the gifts of others because all in order to have favor must fit the image of God given by the ritual leaders (e.g. the presider)
    Solution: we have to nuance silence a bit. Silence must take place in the context of observing the beauty of the conversation around us but also the presence for which we prepare at Mass, because both are part of how God works in being.

    1. Silence (on the part of the listeners) enables the listeners to better hear what is being spoken, and the Hebrew and Latin (and Greek, maybe?) concept of “to obey” is bound up in “to hear”. (This is present even in English, to some extent. When a mother tells her son not to have any cookies before dinner, and the boy does anyway, doesn’t she usually ask, “Didn’t you hear me?” She’s not questioning his auditory capabilities, but his ability to act on what he has heard: to obey it.)

      God has manifest Himself amid noise (e.g. to the Israelites at Sinai) but also in silence (e.g. to Elijah on Horeb/Sinai). Silence is the state of the soul waiting for God. (cf. Ps. 62) “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab. 2:20; cf. Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 2:13) Heck, there’s even silence in Heaven (at least for a half-hour, cf. Rev. 8:1).

      There is a time for silence in the liturgy and a time for sound. Silence is never meant as a “pause” in the liturgy. In order for silence in the liturgy to be fruitful, it must be spiritual. Liturgical silence should not signify coldness or indifference to your neighbor; it should not divorce love of God from love of others. Silence should signify reflection, attentiveness, and composure.

      I’m confused by what “our liturgy can extend outward and include the community of love in the world” means. Could you explain a bit further?

    2. Adam,

      Thanks for this different perspective. Yes, it does go beyond the rubrics but it is important to do so. Below you responded:

      “I’m not really a liturgist so the documents are unfamiliar to me, my own particular interest is in ritual studies, philosophy, and sacramental theology and their interaction in the use (and misuse) of language, and how that affects people in worship.”

      As a social scientist I make a distinction between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches. Many topics, e.g. liturgy, Christian spirituality, are inherently multidisciplinary since they can be looked at from many perspectives without any attempt to integrate those perspectives.

      One can try to integrate disciplinary knowledge through an interdisciplinary approach. Sandra Schneiders proposed to treat Christian Spirituality as an interdisciplinary study with Biblical Study and the History of Christianity as the constitutive disciplines that would organize all the other disciplinary knowledge.

      Most of us probably have the beginnings of an interdisciplinary approach since we use our own basic discipline(s) to organize the material that we process.

      The announcement for this blog was basically multidisciplinary, and the overall spirit has been consistent with that. Occasionally, however, someone will speak in such a way that rubrics or some other aspect that helps them organize their liturgical knowledge should hold a similarly normative place for others.

  18. Adam,

    Silence is a characteristic of the Roman rite & is proper to it, in contrast to the Byzantine. It is actually spelled out in the rubrics, therefore, it’s not optional.

  19. Robert,

    Since when does commendable mean mandatory (goes back above to read quote from GIRM 45)? If we were to go to other parts of the world in the Roman rite, silence wouldn’t be anywhere near as valued (particularly Africa and Latin America), since from my understanding their rites are far more active because of the inculturations to the Mass in those areas, but still in a worshipping and respectful manner, it’s just different. This means the people in power here (in certain places) have a reason for implementing silence in the liturgy.
    And I’m not saying no silence, however, your own silence should not depend on everyone else’s and your own meditation can reflect on the beauty of community that you see from those who are interacting. There’s need for both.
    If you have more citation I would love more citations, because I’m not really a liturgist so the documents are unfamiliar to me, my own particular interest is in ritual studies, philosophy, and sacramental theology and their interaction in the use (and misuse) of language, and how that affects people in worship. And I think it’s at least a worthy question to throw out there what enforced silence does to people’s image of God, and does it separate love of God and neighbor? I’d love a discussion but I feel like you’re giving me a shallow answer because I don’t know the rules. However, I want to transcend the rules for rules’ sake and find where God is in this discussion, that’s how the Church becomes…

    1. GIRM 45 begins “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.” Also see GIRM 56.

      Moments of silence by all in the rubrics include: after the introduction to the Penitential Act, after “Let us pray”, recommended silences before and after the readings, as a possible response to each intention in the Prayer of the Faithful, and certain prayers of the priest which are to be spoken inaudibly. (And it is unfortunate when priests pray those inaudible prayers aloud, but that’s for another time…)

      As for love of God and love of neighbor, I do not think there is a necessary negative impact on the latter because of silence, as I said in a previous comment.

  20. Timothy,
    I’m very appreciative of your post on silence. I, too, long for silence to be incorporated in the liturgy. Having spent four years at St. John’s and prayed with the monks (who do silence well — the Collegeville pause, we would call it!), silence became a rythmn, a natural flow. When I left St. John’s and moved to Chicago and became involved once more with parish liturgy, I was a little disconcerted by how chaotic or fast paced it can sometimes be. I’m finally getting into rythmn again — but it did take me a while! I have to make a conscious effort to integrate silence in my personal prayer. I’m sometimes very thankful for my very long morning commute!

    1. You are not alone in your thankfulness.

      Some years ago a study found that a major reason why people do NOT car pool is the silence they treasure on the way to and from work.

      For many people it is the only time they have to “center” themselves before the overload of their job during the day and their family life in the evening.

  21. Liturgical silence is part of the Roman tradition. The Fathers at Vatican II were quite precise: “one should also observe a period of sacred silence at an appropriate time” (SC 30).

    “Let us become always more clearly conscious that the liturgy also implies silence. To God who speaks we respond singing and praying, but the greatest mystery, which goes beyond all words, calls us also to be silent. It must undoubtedly be a full silence, more than an absence of words and action. We expect from the liturgy that it provide for us the positive silence in which we find ourselves.” (Ratzinger, Introduction to The Spirit of the Liturgy).

    Remember that the a rubric just before the Preface says that the priest “may” say the Canon in a clear voice. “May” is permissive. It gives him permission to. But that also would imply that he can opt to say it sotto voce clearly preserving an ancient Roman practice. The Words of Institution, however, must be said more clearly.

    1. What rubric is that, Robert? I cannot find it.

      The GIRM is clear that the whole Eucharistic Prayer is a “presidential prayer” (GIRM 30) and that (in the Ordinary Form) “[t]he nature of the ‘presidential’ texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen with attention.” (GIRM 32)

  22. If you cannot find the rubric on silence, you are not looking in the right place. It indeed is in GIRM 45. But, the first paragraph of this instruction is specific that ‘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 we have heard, then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in our hearts. ‘ The quote Timothy cites is the second paragraph of this instruction.
    I have to agree the abuse of this comes a lot from the choir, as people are too consumed with finding the pages in the hymnal for the next hymn to be sung. At our parish,though, with our liturgical changes in 2003, a call to silence has been institued with hand bells and the singing of preludes more often as well as postludes. The times I get upset about this is when conversations take place during the homily, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and most especially during the Consecration. We have to do something to internally silence ourselves before coming to Mass. I like to pray Morning Prayer from my breviary as well as to read the Sunday readings. Then I come to Mass, I am entering the church in internal silence, and then, only then can I have external silence, as Benedict XVI stated in his document Sacramentum Caritatis.

  23. The rubric may be found in the 1974 OM (the rubrics in red)

    “In all Masses the priest may say the eucharistic prayer in an audible voice. In sung Masses he may sing
    those parts of the eucharistic prayer which may be sung in concelebrated Mass.”

    Just like a bell “may” be rung at the elevation.

      1. Robert is referring to the OM rather than the GIRM. I don’t have the Latin 1974 OM before me, but I do have the new Latin missal. It omits the part that the priest “may” say the prayer aloud, but retains the part about singing and concelebration. So the point is that the authorities have intentionally done away with the “may” rubric which Robert likes. The Roman authorities who drafted the text of the OM obviously no longer think it is optional to speak the Eucharistic prayer aloud.
        awr

      2. Fr Ruff

        And that clarifying edit in the OM harmonizes with the directions in the GIRM that were very difficult to square with the idea of a silent Canon.

      3. I know he is referring to the OM rather than the GIRM, but (in theory) the two should agree with one another. I neglected to be specific in my question, but I also wanted to see the lLatin of the OM from that time.

  24. The Mass is a communal celebration of a meal…we get many things backwards, such as the servants (Communion ministers) “eating” before the guests…the host (celebrant) also “eats” before the guests. There is no cause for silence during a meal unless it is a naturally occurring momentary break in the conversation.

    Unfortunately, the Church has never brought to the fore the riches of the spiritual life for use by the laity…we can all be active contemplatives. The silence should occur in our own prayer life, not at a communal celebration of a meal.

    What kind of host would demand that guests be silent while they celebrate such a momentous occasion (other than a quick toast or two)?

    1. Silence can certainly be a communal and active experience. I am sure anyone who has prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in community can speak to this. I am not advocating complete silence and passivity during the liturgy. The Eucharist demands more of us than every day socials (meals, drinks with friends, etc). You are right that the silence of our own prayer life should lead us to the community’s worship of God.

      I can image times where the Church is silenced in the awesome presence of God in profound adoration. I can also imagine times of great rejoicing and thanksgiving. The Eucharistic liturgy provides for both of these scenarios.

    2. +JMJ+ (I’m doing this now to see if it helps remind me of the need for charity. I don’t wish to write anything uncharitable under the invocation of the Holy Family.)

      I don’t know if you’re pulling my leg, or if someone with a dishonest intention has posted this comment under your name, but these are the sorts of remarks that I find to be completely uninformed by the teaching and discipline of the Church. I would certainly appreciate it if someone on the editorial board of the blog would address this impoverished perspective on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

      To say (unqualified) that the Mass is “a communal celebration of a meal” expresses the sort of “closed-circle” mentality which a lot of us “reform2” folks are so highly reactive to. What of the sacrifice? What of the worship? What of the prayer? If it’s just “a meal”, why is there all this symbolism and mystery? Why have Catholic and Orthodox Christians been celebrating this Divine Liturgy with such sobriety and solemnity all this time?

      I think the reason why silence and the order in which people receive Communion seems foreign to you is because your perception of the Mass is faulty, not because the silence is out of place or the order is wrong.

    3. +JMJ+

      I should add that, in addition to being divorced from the teaching and discipline of the Church, this simplistic view of the Mass and the Eucharist is disconnected from her tradition as well.

      I assume you are aware that the regulators of the liturgy are firmly opposed to the order of Communion you have suggested here. Have you read Fr. McNamara’s explanation of the Church’s reason? Here’s an excerpt:

      The priest receives first, not because of a human protocol but in virtue of the dignity and nature of his ministry. He acts in the person of Christ, for the purpose of the integrity of the sacrament and for presiding the people gathered together: “Thus when priests join in the act of Christ the Priest, they offer themselves entirely to God, and when they are nourished with the body of Christ they profoundly share in the love of him who gives himself as food to the faithful ( Presbyterorum Ordinis, No. 13).”

      1. The priest receives first, not because of a human protocol but in virtue of the dignity and nature of his ministry. He acts in the person of Christ, for the purpose of the integrity of the sacrament and for presiding the people gathered together

        With respect, Jeffrey, this doesn’t stand up at all. If you want to equate the presiding priest with Christ, I’m quite sure that Jesus didn’t wolf down his own food first and then give some to his friends. He made sure that all were served when he shared the bread and wine among them, and then either ate and drank at the same time as them or waited until they had finished. His ministry of service in washing his disciples’ feet makes it impossible to believe in any other kind of behaviour.

        Emperors and monarchs may well behave in a different way. We know that by convention no one can start eating until the Queen picks up her cutlery. But Jesus’s message was one of overturning all that sort of thing. “You are not to lord it over others….”

      2. I think the more salient issue is that the Eucharistic liturgy is not merely a re-presentation of the Last Supper – or of Calvary (the other pole people swing to here), for that matter – but of the entire Paschal Mystery and very importantly a foretaste of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb upon the completion and fulfillment of God’s new creation. That’s why trying to make it “look like” a regular meal is just an idea that hasn’t been thought through enough.

      3. +JMJ+

        Recognizing the function of the priest as a vicar of the High Priest, Jesus, it does make sense for the priest to consume the sacrifice before offering it to the congregation.

        I don’t perceive this as something being “lorded over” me.

        I’m curious if there’s a similar movement to re-think (or it seems, un-think) these apparently universal liturgical traditions among the other Catholic Rites. Are there Byzantine Catholics protesting the manner in which their priests receive Communion? Are there Syriacs doing so?

  25. We should be suspicious of all sentences beginning ‘The Mass is a(n) …’ The Mass is sui generis. When we use words like ‘meal’, ‘banquet’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘offering’, we are transferring these general terms to a new context, and extending their meaning accordingly. To simplify slightly, we are using them figuratively, metaphorically. The correct use of the term ‘sacrifice’ has to be understood against long arguments within the Bible about the nature of sacrifice in the religion of Christ’s Father, and the radical transformations of the idea attested to in Hebrews.

    The interesting questions are then about the boundaries between the extended meaning and the normal one. I once heard a priest described as ‘having more power in his hands than destroyed Hiroshima’. Clearly that’s inappropriate. ‘Christ at his table, host to the twelve’ is a perfectly reasonable line in a hymn commonly sung in the UK, and no-one in their right mind would denounce it as heretical. But what about ‘you don’t do the washing-up when the guests are still at the meal’, or ‘the host serves himself last’, as justifications for ablutions after Mass, or priestly communion at the end? The controversies about practice here are controversies about just how far we may apply the meal-metaphor. And this kind of indeterminacy is intrinsic to figurative speech.

    1. +JMJ+

      The “washing up” and “host eats last” justifications are the result of exalting the “meal-metaphor” above whatever other metaphors or descriptions one might also use.

      If it’s a meal, why are the Hosts for those who could not be in attendance placed in precious pyxes? Why not doggie-bags? Why does only the priest have so many “napkins”? What meal is served one-at-a-time like is done at Mass? Shouldn’t we follow one of the Protestant models where each person receives a little piece of bread and plastic cup of juice/wine and goes back to their places and we all eat simultaneously?

      I find this mentality about the Eucharist to be the sign of a great failure in catechesis, and perhaps also a sign of a great failure of the Ordinary Form of the Mass (as it is celebrated in some places) to accurately reflect the Church’s beliefs about the Eucharist and the Mass in general.

      1. I was not saying ‘it’s a meal’, but rather suggesting that the truth-conditions for that kind of language (or any language about more or less anything in revealed theology) are not a straightforward matter. I think the language of ‘reflect accurately’, implying thath the human mind and human language can somehow depict (another metaphor–you can’t avoid them) the reality involved , is just a mistake. We name the mystery; we don’t comprehend it. If you and I disagree at all (and in this exchange I don’t think we necessarily do), it’s not about meal-language, but about questions of appropriate procedure when we celebrate.

      2. +JMJ+

        Fr. Endean, I don’t know how much we agree (or disagree) on this matter. To clarify myself, I was not speaking specifically to you with my “if it’s a meal…” questions, but continuing on from your mention of the effects of (over)using the “meal-metaphor”.

        Re-reading your earlier comment, I’m not sure people who advocate the Eucharist as “a meal” are adequately “transferring these general terms to a new context, and extending their meaning accordingly.” Some do, I am sure, but not all, or else we would not have people advocating a guests-first, silence-is-absurd approach to Holy Communion.

        As to “name vs. comprehend”, I agree that we do not completely understand the mystery. However, I recall the recent words of our editor:

        “In Christianity, ‘mystery’ is that which is fully revealed, utterly close to us, fully accessible to us, but inexhaustible in meaning. We can never understand it fully and we will always discover more, though it is made completely available to us. This contrasts with other meanings of ‘mystery’ as ‘hidden, far removed, inaccessible, unknowable, mysterious, exotic,’ etc.”

        When the Church teaches (e.g. in the Catechism) that the Eucharist is a sacrifice and the marriage banquet of the Lamb, that is (to me, at least) “accurate” language. It may not be utterly complete in and of itself, but it is accurate. It explains these terms, too, which is important.

      3. Now you’re being very silly, Jeffrey. You know as well as the rest of us that the Mass is both sacrifice and meal. You can’t switch off one just to suit the purposes of your argument.

        What has been said about the meal aspect of the Mass is in a sense ratified in the sacrificial meaning of what we do together. But attempting to elevate the Mass to some kind of ontologically superior life form that has nothing to do with the actual lives of the humans who take part in it will not get you very far in the real world, whether anthropological or theological.

        No question of over-exalting one metaphor over another. You just need to have all the metaphors in balance.

        Otherwise, if you don’t believe that the Mass is a meal as well as a sacrifice, then I’m afraid you can’t call yourself an orthodox Catholic.

      4. +JMJ+

        Sebastian, I do agree that the Mass is both a sacrifice and a meal, but my concern is the unqualified use of the word “meal” (as well as the unqualified use of the word “sacrifice”).

        I think it would be appropriate to compare the Mass to other meals in the same way the ordained priesthood is compared to the baptismal priesthood: the Mass differs in degree and essence. The Mass does have things in common with our “actual lives”, but I think it elevates those things. For example, the priest “gets dressed” and “washes his hands”, things that we do in our actual lives. But in the Mass, these actions take on a different character. These actions before and during and after the Mass have prayers associated with them to keep the higher, divine perspective in sight.

        I could say that the Mass is a “sacrificial meal”, but I would rather say it is a “sacrificial banquet”, the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” I very much like the recent comparison of the Eucharist to the todah offering. In that analysis, it makes perfect sense that, being a sacrifice, it is also eaten. Ritual sacrifices in Judaism are, for the most part, about eating part of the thing sacrificed.

  26. But, what does this discussion of the sacrament of the Eucharist have to do with the topic of where has all the silence gone? As an aside,Fr. Anthony, when I was on retreat at St. Andrew’s Abbey ( the Benedictine monastery in Cleveland,Ohio) as well as the Abbey of Gethsemane(an O.S.C.0. ,Trappist monastery in Kentucky) people who go to Mass in those settings, do a much bettter job from my observations on being more reverent and silent during the celebration of the Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours than the average Catholic in a local Catholic Church.

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