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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.


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, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Lord Most High!


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Adoro...well said :)...or as I tell every one of my students...God listens to you 24/7, give him a chance to speak now.

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered the joy of the traditional Latin Mass - and one of the things which attracts me is the periods of silence (and resultant wonder at the miracle taking place!).

Adoro said...

Joe ~ exactly! And thanks, once again.

Jim ~ I have yet to attend a TLM. There are a couple in my area, but they're about 45 minutes + away, in the middle of a Sunday, and as Sundays are big study days for me, well...I haven't gone. There is a parish 20-30 min away with a Mass at 10 am starting in Advent, so I hope to go to that one. I've been to the Latin Novus Ordo, and found it so beautiful it literally made me spiritually high for a couple weeks! LOL! It's also the first place I received Holy Communion on the tongue...a practice I've continued as much as possible.

But I look forward to my first TLM. The only thing I fear; I don't want to become one of those angry rad-trads, and unfortunately, the TLM has a bad rep of being inhabited by such uncharitability. As does the Latin Novus Ordo locally.

I do love the Mass in any form, and without leftist music directors and liturginazis, it's just fine. But enter their "authority", it turns into a visual of heaven (the Mass itself) versus Hell (the music).

* sigh *

No wonder Satan doesn't like silence. In silence we are convicted and we turn away from Hell.

Mark said...

Thanks for another excellent and profound post.

Hidden One said...

Ah, for silence!

And my favourite hymn!


Mrs Doyle said...


The great thing with the EF is that you actually need to strain to hear the audible words so that you can work out where you are - imagine that!
Concentrating so hard on a few very profound words. They mean so much more then.

I hope you get to go soon Adoro.

It's relatively easy to stop yourself getting friendly with the 'radical's', it's exactly the same as avoiding the happy clappers!

Good Thunder said...

AMEN AMEN AMEN! A nice practice is trying to carry this silence into your daily life as well- God whispers ALL the time. Nuns have really got it made.
I agree with Mrs Doyle as well, you can avoid being a rad trad- but you would be good for them too! I like the rad trad term- I've used 'liturgical snob' for a long time.
Bless you!

Melody K said...

You are right about the need for silence. And also right about "bullying". I rememeber a good deal of liturgical bullying in the years right after Vatican II (and much of it since, too). Unfortunately some of the worst offenders were priests (not all, but some). And the sad part is that Vatican II never mandated a loss of silence and reverence. But it's amazing how some people can take a personal agenda and make it into a Mission From God. However I really think we are turning a corner. The newest version of the GIRM mandates periods of silence, especially at certain times. I don't know, maybe the older version did, too. But pastors and people are starting to pay attention. I have noticed a lessening of noise before Mass in our parish and others. Our pastor has said that people have requested "more prayer time at Communion, please." We can all help by setting a good example. And those of us on liturgy and music committees can help to raise consciousness of the need for sacred silence.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I KNOW!The lack of silence in Church has been one of my peeves for years. I'm talking about the constant need to fill any silence (when it's called for) by noise of some kind. In my parish, the lead musician MUST tinkle away on the piano during any silent moment. Give it a rest! Give my ears a rest! I hope the Lord has a strong hearing aid on so he can actually hear my praying over all the din!

Speaking of TLM. Plans are underfoot to attend the first EF at St. Agnes.I think it will be this Sunday at 10. I'm checking on that. Let me know if you think you can go.

Adoro said...

I would like to go, but I really wouldn't be able to socialize after...too much studying to do for my finals. So let me know the plans, I'll try to be there!

EC Gefroh said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this!!

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I probably will not be able to stay after either. Let me call my Dad today and see if he's up for it. We always go to a Mass but he may not be ready to go back to the Mass of his "youth". He always surprises me though! :-)

Andy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy said...

The EF mass starts in December at St. Agnes, 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month. I believe that means the first EF Sunday mass there would be Dec. 7th, 10:00AM.

I was at St. Agnes last weekend and as they announced this, someone in the pew behind me said, "YES!" :)

Adoro said...

My understanding was that they are inagurating it with the First Sunday in Advent, which is November 30th....this weekend. Check this post out:

(Although she thought it was replacing the isn't, and she is now aware of that.)

Adoro said...

the-rooster: Proof positive it begins THIS weekend, November 30th, the 1st Sunday of Advent:

And then alternating weeks. So if that means 1st and 3rd, then the TLM will be offered twice in a row. :-)

Andy said...

Some coolness is that at the first couple of EF masses there, they are going to have someone to guide the congregation to "do the right thing at the right time". So if you want to learn what we do as a congregation, no time like the present to visit St. Agnes!

uncle jim said...

our parish, for longer than we've been here, has an annual "40 hours" eucharistic devotion starting with the first sunday of advent. it is that time again.

additionally we have eucharistic devotion many other times through the year.

Lynne said...

I'm printing this out for the pastors in the surrounding parishes. Every single one of them should put this in their bulletin and/or talk about it during the homily.

(/rant off)