The Silence In Our Worship Series
Contributed by W Pat Cunningham on Jul 30, 2011 (message contributor)
Summary: Both verbal and nonverbal communication between lovers is crucial; in the same way, the Bride and Bridegroom communicate in worship.
Monday of 18th Week in Course
Spirit of the Liturgy
The miracle of Jesus walking on water is found in all the Gospels except Luke’s. Only Matthew gives the incident in all its fullness, including Peter’s hesitant walk. There is something of a liturgical dialogue in that incident. Peter exclaims “help, Lord,” which could have been some variant of the word “Hosanna,” and Jesus reaches down and rescues Him. That is what happens in our Liturgy. The Word of God comes to us, we respond with an acclamation (which means “shout,”) and Jesus rescues us by giving us His own self, Body, Blood, soul, divinity. The human voice has prominence, then, in the form of the priest’s prayer, the oratio, in which “the priest, in the name of the whole community, speaks through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father.” The human voice proclaims the prophecy, the letters, and the Gospel, and the reflection on the Gospel called the homily. But the structure is not complete with these proclamations. The Bridegroom speaks to the Bride, the Church, but then the Church, in the assembled people, respond to Christ with acclamations. “The responsive acclamation confirms the arrival of the Word and makes the process of revelation, of God’s giving of himself in the Word, at last complete. The Amen, the Alleluia, and the et cum spiritu tuo. . . are all part of this.”
“God, the Revealer, did not want to stay as . . .God alone, Christ alone. . .he wanted to create a Body for himself, to find a Bride–he sought a response. It was really for her that the Word went forth.”
If we have spoken about the Word we hear and respond to, we must also consider the place of silence in the liturgy. “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.”
Here the Holy Father refers to last week’s Gospel on the feast of St. Martha. The one thing necessary is union with God, which is not a mere superficial recollection of God, but a union like that of husband and wife. I mean husband and wife married and growing together with each other for forty or fifty years. After that time of togetherness, they can just look at each other and know what the other is thinking. It’s a positive silence that is communicative. It is the front door to the mystical union the saints write about.
The Holy Father recognizes that this kind of silent union is one of the things modern humans are looking for. “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.”
He continues by telling us that silence must be “an integral part of the liturgical event. He says that, in practice, silence after the homily “has not proved to be satisfactory: it seems artificial, with the congregation just waiting. . .what is more, the homily often leaves questions. . .in people’s minds rather than an invitation to meet the Lord.”
More helpful “and spiritually appropriate is the silence after Communion. . .the moment for an interior conversation with the Lord who has given himself to us. . .without which the external reception of the Sacrament becomes mere ritual and therefore unfruitful.” He encourages priests to make real this silence after Communion and to give the faithful some guidance for interior prayer. I would encourage all of us to use that time to pray that the Jesus we have taken into our hearts really change us into people of faith, hope and charity. Remember that communion is not a reward for being good, but a remedy for our weakness and venial sin, a food for spiritual growth.