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Silence and the Meaning of the Mass

Robert Cardinal Sarah’s recent book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise explores a number of themes both theological and spiritual, all centering around the unhappy role that noise has come to play in our culture and more specifically in the Church. His observations are most trenchant in regard to the liturgy, which should come as no great surprise, given his role as head of the Vatican Congregation devoted to liturgy and sacraments. As I read the sections of his book dealing with the importance of silence during Mass, I often found myself nodding vigorously.

I came of age in the period immediately following the Second Vatican Council, when an enormous stress was placed, quite legitimately, on the conciliar call for “full, conscious, and active participation” in the Mass. That famous phrase, derived from the ground-breaking work of the theologians of the liturgical movement of the early and mid twentieth century, was a clarion call to the laity to assume their rightful role as real actors in the liturgy and not mere spectators. But in its practical application this came too often to imply that the laity must be continually stimulated into action during the Mass: processing, standing, singing, responding, clapping, etc. It was as though the directors and leaders of the liturgy felt they must be constantly grabbing the congregation by the shoulders and shaking them into conscious participation.

Silence, accordingly, tended to be construed as the enemy, for it would lull the people into inattention and boredom. Hardly anyone in the post-conciliar liturgical establishment appreciated that silence could be a sign of heightened, even enraptured, attention on the part of the congregation, a deeply contemplative entry into the mystery of the Mass. And what several decades of this in turn has produced, especially among the young today, is the impression that the Mass is a sort of religiously-themed jamboree, during which our fellowship is celebrated and at which lots and lots of sound is indispensable. I will confess that during many years as a priest, and now as a bishop, I have often wondered whether our hyper-stimulated congregations know exactly what they are participating in. They know that they are active, but active precisely in what?

Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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