Sunday, November 23, 2008
The Scandal of Silence
I didn't grow up prior to Vatican II, but I did grow up learning that when one enters a church, one is silent, for one is in the very presence of God.
The Holy of Holies.
The ONLY proper behavior in such august presence is for mortal flesh to remain silent in recollection; for we are there to meet God Himself, and who are we to speak to Him? It was a lesson of humility, even before I knew the word, a lesson in proper manners, proper etiquette (for if someone is praying, we don't want to disturb them), and a lesson in speaking in hushed tones.
I'll never forget those early days of entering a church, Mom helping me remove my coat and giving last minute instructions including reminders to be silent in our entrance. Any interruption inside was met with a firm finger to the lips, a universal signal of mothers to their children to HUSH!
After Mass, sometimes Mom would bring us to the altar, where she would point out the tabernacle. Once she asked Father if we might approach, and as we did, we knew from her own behavior what a holy place this was. We knew never to play on the altar, to never scream or run around the area, and certainly never to touch those things which we did not have permission to touch.
All of this, over time, instilled in us the necessity of silence. It was about proper behavior even though we didn't properly understand why, or who would even WANT to be silent for any period of time at all!
Even in my time away from the practice of my faith, whenever I entered the church...any church, in fact, I knew to be quiet. In Mexico, when touring churches, automatically I fell silent, both in awe and in recognizing I was in a holy place. Mom taught me well: even when I wasn't a practicing Catholic, I knew how to behave.
It seems not everyone benefitted from the same upbringing. For example, just today I entered my church to hear the singing group warming up and singing portions of their songs. Now, I've been in choir, and I know that it's not necessary to practice before Mass in the sanctuary itself. A side room works just fine. Maybe a brief warmup with the proper piano, but short and sweet is all that is necessary.
But no...we got the whole Mass in broken concert in the fifteen minutes before Mass actually began, and then a prelude of "How Great Thou Art", sung just fine, but very loudly and intrusively.
I'm not against preludes, but there was NO silence at any point between the time I entered this morning to the time I left.
ALL NOISE, ALL THE TIME!
You'd think the Catholic Church was getting into popular radio. So many of us enter early wanting to pray the rosary, or Morning Prayer, or just remain silent in recollection before Mass...but no. We go early in hopes of having even a few moments, before the noisy crowds come cawing in, chatting, hobnobbing like a bunch of crows fighting over some sumptious piece of carrion.
My particular parish has a very large "gathering space" (I shudder at the term, actually), and after Mass, we regularly have coffee and donuts or what-have-you. Not to mention TONS of other wonderful social community events. It is quite the vibrant place.
The great irony is that although we have these things, the only people not receiving the spiritual care we all need are those of us who KNOW that the Lord deserves our awed silence before and after Mass.
The heretical "lateral theology" of Mass being "for the people" and about the people" has become so widespread that there is very little honor being given to God. Symptoms: short confession lines, long communion lines. Talking in the church before and after Mass. People genuflecting to the altar...but walking past the tabernacle without a second glance. People acknowledging every single person in their vision...but not acknowledging Christ who longs for their attention.
And there seems to be this weird unmitigated and completely irrational fear on the part of these "lateral theology" sorts and their leaders, the music directors and liturgists. What is WITH the obsessive-compulsive reaction to erase any possible moment of silence?
We're not watching TV!
Why is silence so scandalous?
Is it because when there is silence, we finally find ourselves in that original solitude before God...and in the danger we might recognize ourselves as we ARE and not as we imagine ourselves to be? Is it because we are so dependant upon the culture of dependence that if some Haugen-Haas propaganda isn't being thrown at us we don't know what to do with ourselves?
Is it because we are so lost in a crowd that can be reverently silent that we must disrupt it at all costs for fear we might start asking questions about the problematic morals of our culture and our secular leaders, and in those questions, convict ourselves of our own societal guilt?
Is it because silence fosters the ability to actually THINK and we might be scandalized by the fact that some of the things happening around us are the very same things that lead to the siege of Jerusalem?
Is it because the lack of silence allows us to keep our heads in the sand and not consider the voice of God echoing in our hearts, or the law that is written upon our hearts and imprinted upon our souls?
Bring back the silence. Enforce it. We have ushers. We have the ability to make nice signs, and we have a wonderful PA system that someone can utilize at the beginning of Mass and at the end of Mass (for a few weeks) to ask parishioners to remember sacred silence, if not for ourselves than for those who DO wish to pray.
I'm constantly amazed by the lateral theology crowd that is all about doing stuff for others...but when it comes to God, and someone wanting to spend time with God...the attitude is that the interlude must be filled with socializing.
Prayer is not even honored in our own churches. We are bullied into singing, we are bullied into applauding, and we are bullied away from the reverence due Christ in order to misplace that reverence on the altar of self-esteem of whoever-might-be-in-the-spotlight.
Silence is sacred and reveals the sacred to those who are willing to listen. Can't we please have a single place in this world where we can come to kneel in silent awe before Our Lord and not be disrupted by the spirit of the age?
Hymn: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
2. King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.
3. Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
4. At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!