Periods of Silence in Liturgy

Periods of Silence in Liturgy
a brief note by Fred Schaeffer, OFS


On January 10th, in his General Audience, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, talked about silence. He said: "Silence is not reduced to the absence of words, but rather it is the willingness to listen to other voices: that of our heart and, above all, the voice of the Holy Spirit."


Pope Francis continued, "In the liturgy, the nature of the sacred silence depends on the moment in which it takes place: “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 they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts” (ibid., 45*). So, before the initial prayer, silence helps us to gather ourselves and to think of why we are here. Here, then, there is the importance of listening to our heart to then open it to the Lord. Perhaps we come from days of weariness, of joy, of pain, and we want to say so to the Lord, to invoke His help, to ask Him to be close to us; we have relatives or friends who are ill or who are going through difficult times; we wish to entrust to God the fate of the Church and the world. And this is why we need this brief silence before the priest, gathering the intentions of each person, expresses in a loud voice to God, on behalf of all, the common prayer that concludes the rites of introduction, making the “collection” of individual intentions. I strongly recommend that priests observe this moment of silence and not to be hasty: “Let us pray”, and then silence. I recommend this to priests. Without this silence, we risk neglecting the recollection of the soul."


Pope Francis is right. The periods of silence need not be long but even short silences allow us to assimilate what we just heard in a preceding homily or reading and mentally ask ourselves ‘how does this apply to me?’ Listen to your heart.


I’ve written before on the lack of silence before Holy Mass begins. When I was in Religious life, there was emphasis on silence before the beginning of Mass. Monks call this “Statio,” it’s an intentional moment of silence where the soul can prepare for the celebration that is about to begin. Usually, monks line up in a hall or corridor before entering chapel or church and that is where Statio takes place.


In a Parish church setting, there is no such intentional period of silence. In fact, people are whispering (some rather loudly) about mundane items that have nothing to do with what is about to take place. I am getting on in years. My brain functions slower than when I was 25. When a Liturgy allows little time to think about what’s happening, I come out of church and wonder, what just happened? What did I learn? It’s hard to answer such a question because I’ve had no time to reflect on a homily or reading. These short silences should help form a mental picture of specific parts of a Liturgy.


The celebrant or a deacon often stands at the door to wish us well. Years ago, I used to comment about the homily, be it the fine presentation or content. Now I am less likely to do so, because by the end of the Mass I’ve already forgotten what was said.


Peace and All Good,

Fred Schaeffer, OFS
D18-004    1/11/2018


*Note: ibid 45 in the Pope’s statement refers to the Church’s General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM) “45. Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. Its nature, however, depends on the moment when it occurs in the different parts of the celebration. For in the Penitential Act and again after the invitation to pray, individuals recollect themselves; whereas after a reading or after the Homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise God in their hearts and pray to him.
Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas,
so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.”



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