“Silence is so lacking in this world which is often too noisy, which is not favorable to recollection and listening to the voice of God. In this time of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate interior recollection so as to receive and keep Jesus in our lives.”
Pope Benedict XVI
December 18, 2005
When is the last time you heard a priest tell his parishioners to get more noise into their lives, during Advent or Lent? Have you ever heard it?
On the contrary, it is generally acknowledged that we’ve an abundance of noise and stimulation in our modern lives. Children are not immune from the constant noise that streams out at us, all day long. This issue was addressed at the beginning of July by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, who said at a retreat for young people:
“Today there is so much noise, with social media, we don’t understand the value of silence…. We go away from it, from ourselves. In silence though, we encounter ourselves, and God. There is a desire for silence, desire for spirituality, [amid] the problems of society. If we take time in silence we find the answer to this desire.”
It is imperative that each of us carve out time for silence in general and quiet prayer time in particular. I write “in general” because a week does not go by but that someone publishes an article about the need for simplicity, or how our brains need time away from electronic busyness, or the deleterious effects of multi-tasking on our productivity. Secular and spiritual authors alike beseech, beg, cajole, and implore us to ‘power down’ with regularity. Certainly, then, quiet time in prayer is essential. I will be so bold as to suggest that the prayer we do at Mass, or driving in the car, or in a family rosary is not enough because of the lack of retreat from the world. Not counting for a moment the ones who might be carried away spiritually in a rapturous prayer whilst waiting in line at the supermarket, our fruitful prayer is going to come during quiet times of reflection. This is true for children and adults. Specifics on fostering quiet time with children will appear in future posts.
Pope Benedict XVI had this to say about silence in the liturgy:
"We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. 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. . . “The Spirit of the LiturgySF, CA; Ignatius; 2000
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal mentions the importance of silence during Mass. In a search of the PDF version of the GIRM, “sacred silence” shows up in three sections; “silence” in thirteen sections; the word “quiet” appears in twenty-one sections. That should tell us something!
Allow me a moment of personal sharing. I have a very strong preference for quiet Masses. My soul luxuriates in silence. I find it less peaceful when I attend Mass in which there is very little silence, when we go from song to reading to song to vocal prayer to song to “meditation music” after Communion song or songs. One of the (many) things I appreciate about Holy Week is when we are asked to maintain Sacred Silence.
Obviously, not everyone will share this with me. I imagine those who can sing do enjoy lifting voice in prayerful song. However, what the Pope has shared applies to all Catholics. We need to reclaim silence in the liturgy.
Yes, I write that even as a mother who has dealt with more incidents of noisy kids during Mass that I can count. In fact, I’ve had anxious moments in which I have hoped the post-communion reflection time would go more quickly, when I sense a toddler gearing up for action. Nevertheless, I feel strongly about instilling in my children an appreciation of quiet time.
I share the following quotes, for your reflection on the topic of silence. Take time with these quotes. Pray with them. Sit in silence with them.
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As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the song of God, the incarnate Word . . . God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence.
Verbum Domini, 21
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In addressing a Carthusian monastery, Pope Benedict the XVI called their charism of silence “a precious gift for the Church and the world.” He said:
“Some people are no longer able to stay in silence. Most young people, who are already born in this state, seem to fill every empty moment with music and images, almost afraid to feel, in fact, this void. . . Retiring into silence and solitude, man, so to speak, is ‘exposed’ to reality in his nakedness.” Thus, one can understand “the fullness, the presence of God, of the most real Reality that there is, and that is beyond the dimension of the senses.”
Serra San Bruno, Italy, October 9, 2011
Pope Benedict: modern life needs silence
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In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when your realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
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If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God.
BXVI, January 24, 2012
Message for the 46th World Communications Day
Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization
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But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
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Neither is there any need for wings to go to find [God]. All one need do is go into solitude and look at him within oneself.
St Teresa of Avila
Way of Perfection 28.2