From a Zenit article about the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments is preparing a booklet to help priests celebrate the Mass properly and the faithful to participate better.
The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments criticized existing abuses such as showmanship, and praised moments of silence “that are action,” which enable the priest and the faithful to talk with Jesus Christ and which exclude the predominance of words that often becomes showmanship on the part of the priest. The correct attitude is the one “indicated by Saint John the Baptist, when he says he must decrease and the Messiah must increase.”
The cardinal criticized the effort to make the Mass “entertaining” with certain songs – instead of focusing on the mystery – in an attempt to overcome “boredom” by transforming the Mass into a show.
Wow silence, what a concept. I would love to have more prayerful silence during the Mass. Often it seems we go overboard with trying to create a soundtrack for the Mass where every moment has to be filled with sound. I am probably more guilty than the majority in filling my day with sound from music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other media. Yet I can still feel that the Mass becomes cluttered with sound in that there is no room to just breath and pray. While actual sacred music can be a great help in prayer, the same is true regarding silence. We don’t have to have a hymn at every point of the Mass or transitional music to fill in all gaps. There is certainly a both/and for music and silence.
From the Pope’s 7 March 2012 General Audience which has a lot to say about silence.
In the preceding series of Catecheses I have spoken of Jesus’ prayer and I would not like to conclude this reflection without briefly considering the topic of Jesus’ silence, so important in his relationship with God.
In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, I spoke of the role that silence plays in Jesus’ life, especially on Golgotha: “here we find ourselves before ‘the word of the cross’ (cf. 1 Cor 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has ‘spoken’ exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us” (n. 12). Before this silence of the Cross, St Maximus the Confessor puts this phrase on the lips of the Mother of God: “Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks, lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move!” (Life of Mary, n. 89: Testi mariani del primo millennio, 2, Rome, 1989, p. 253).
The Cross of Christ does not only demonstrate Jesus’ silence as his last word to the Father but reveals that God also speaks through silence: “the silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the Incarnate Word. Hanging from the wood of the cross, he lamented the suffering caused by that silence: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46). Advancing in obedience to his very last breath, in the obscurity of death, Jesus called upon the Father. He commended himself to him at the moment of passage, through death, to eternal life: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Lk 23:46)” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, n. 21).
Jesus’ experience on the cross profoundly reveals the situation of the person praying and the culmination of his prayer: having heard and recognized the word of God, we must also come to terms with the silence of God, an important expression of the same divine Word.
The dynamic of words and silence which marks Jesus’ prayer throughout his earthly existence, especially on the cross, also touches our own prayer life in two directions.
The first is the one that concerns the acceptance of the word of God. Inward and outward silence are necessary if we are to be able to hear this word. And in our time this point is particularly difficult for us. In fact, ours is an era that does not encourage recollection; indeed, one sometimes gets the impression that people are frightened of being cut off, even for an instant, from the torrent of words and images that mark and fill the day.
It was for this reason that in the above mentioned Exhortation Verbum Domini I recalled our need to learn the value of silence: “Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence” (n. 66). This principle — that without silence one does not hear, does not listen, does not receive a word — applies especially to personal prayer as well as to our liturgies: to facilitate authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and of non-verbal reception.
St Augustine’s observation is still valid: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt “when the word of God increases, the words of men fail” (cf. Sermo 288, 5: pl 38, 1307;Sermo 120, 2: pl 38, 677). The Gospels often present Jesus, especially at times of crucial decisions, withdrawing to lonely places, away from the crowds and even from the disciples in order to pray in silence and to live his filial relationship with God. Silence can carve out an inner space in our very depths to enable God to dwell there, so that his word will remain within us and love for him take root in our minds and hearts and inspire our life. Hence the first direction: relearning silence, openness to listening, which opens us to the other, to the word of God.
However, there is also a second important connection between silence and prayer. Indeed it is not only our silence that disposes us to listen to the word of God; in our prayers we often find we are confronted by God’s silence, we feel, as it were, let down, it seems to us that God neither listens nor responds. Yet God’s silence, as happened to Jesus, does not indicate his absence. Christians know well that the Lord is present and listens, even in the darkness of pain, rejection and loneliness.
Jesus reassures his disciples and each one of us that God is well acquainted with our needs at every moment of our life. He teaches the disciples: “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:7-8): an attentive, silent and open heart is more important than many words. God knows us in our inmost depths, better than we ourselves, and loves us; and knowing this must suffice.
In the Bible Job’s experience is particularly significant in this regard. In a short time this man lost everything: relatives, possessions, friends and health. It truly seems that God’s attitude to him was one of abandonment, of total silence. Yet in his relationship with God, Job speaks to God, cries out to God; in his prayers, in spite of all, he keeps his faith intact, and in the end, discovers the value of his experience and of God’s silence. And thus he can finally conclude, addressing the Creator: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5): almost all of us know God only through hearsay and the more open we are to his silence and to our own silence, the more we truly begin to know him.
This total trust that opens us to the profound encounter with God developed in silence. St Francis Xavier prayed to the Lord saying: I do not love you because you can give me paradise or condemn me to hell, but because you are my God. I love you because You are You.
As we reach the end of the reflections on Jesus’ prayer, certain teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church spring to mind: “The drama of prayer is fully revealed to us in the Word who became flesh and dwells among us. To seek to understand his prayer through what his witnesses proclaim to us in the Gospel is to approach the holy Lord Jesus as Moses approached the burning bush: first to contemplate him in prayer, then to hear how he teaches us to pray, in order to know how he hears our prayer” (n. 2598).