Silence in the Liturgy, Part 1 - Spiritual Reflection

In late 2011, the Catholic Church introduced a new version of the “Roman Missal.” This is the book that we use during Mass which contains the prayers, prefaces, chants and other parts of the Mass. (It does not contain the Sacred Scripture readings. That book is called the “Lectionary” and the new version of the Lectionary was introduced in 2002).

Since we are now probably more or less comfortable with the prayers and format of the new Roman Missal, I’d like to pen a few articles about aspects of the Missal about which people have asked.


In The Spirit of the Liturgy, (published in 2000) Pope Benedict XVI wrote that, “We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy.” This was always the case but, until the recent revision of the Roman Missal, it did not seem to be emphasized as much. He goes on to say, “We respond, by singing and praying, to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence.

It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us. Such stillness will not be just a pause, in which a thousand thoughts and desires assault us, but a time of recollection, giving us an inward peace, allowing us to draw breath and rediscover the one thing necessary, which we have forgotten. That is why silence cannot be simply “made”, organized as if it were one activity among many. It is no accident that on all sides people are seeking techniques of meditation, a spirituality for emptying the mind. One of man’s deepest needs is making its presence felt, a need that is manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy. For silence to be fruitful, as we have already said, it must not be just a pause in the action of the liturgy. No, it must be an integral part of the liturgical event. [The Spirit of the Liturgy, (SF, CA: Ignatius, 2000), p. 209 or see passage on “Silence” by Pope Benedict XVI here]


In another article about silence in the Mass, one author wrote, “Silence, especially on television, is a rare thing in contemporary culture. Rarely in the world do we encounter a silent moment. Media blares and, more than that, we are a people who talk a lot. In some ways, our culture seems uncomfortable with silence. But I learned, on Sept. 11, 2001, the power of silence. In a loud, chaotic, confusing world, a silent moment, amplifies reality. In silence, without distraction, we see what is real—what is truly before us. We are given the time to better comprehend the true meaning of things.

This is the reason the Church calls for silence, and a great deal of silence, during the liturgy of the Mass. Silence is a proper response to a reality which words cannot express—in the case of the Mass, to the reality of God’s presence.

Silence amplifies the magnitude of what we were watching and the reality of what we experience.

Next week I shall continue with the topic of silence and look at the how the “logistical” placement of silence in the liturgy enhances the worship experience.


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