Over time it is easy to forget or become complacent about things in our lives that once were of great importance and how we think about or are part of the parish community of faith is no exception. Our busyness, distractions and mood can all impact this. We are sharing articles over the next few weeks to answer some questions and raise awareness about how we all can share in a very intentional way in our celebration of Mass and faith together. Our fourth question is:
Silence: “How important is silence at Mass?”
If you were visiting a Monastery, you’d have a good idea of what to expect. You’d turn your cellphone off, tip-toe through the entrance, and you might even hold your breath to make sure not to break the silence! But in a regular church – is silence really that important? YES! In fact, its a necessary condition for deep, contemplative prayer, and a very important component of the liturgy.
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7
Pope Francis once said: “Catholics should spend their time before Mass in silence, preparing to meet with Jesus instead of engaging in chitchat.” He continued “Perhaps we come from days of toil, of joy, of sorrow and we want to tell the Lord, to invoke his help, to ask that he be near us; we have family members and friends who are ill or who are going through difficult trial. This silence is not just an absence of words but a time to listen to other voices: that of our heart and, above all, the voice of the Holy Spirit.”
As Mass continues, we are invited again into silence several times: as we recall and repent of our sins, as we reflect after each reading, after the homily, after Communion, and before the final blessing. The silence in the liturgy punctuates a rich and profound time of prayer with opportunities to reflect on the reality of our experience.
The Mass has ended, go in peace (or stay and pray)
The conclusion of the Mass should present another opportunity for silent reflection. However, a noisy exit, jingling of car keys, and conversations about lunch plans or grocery lists can make it very difficult for those who wish to stay and pray quietly. Sure – after Mass is a great time to catch up with friends and build community, but we should respect those who wish to stay to pray in silence.
Playing your part in the silence
If a family member starts a conversation before Mass, try whispering “OK if we talk later, so I can spend this quiet time before Mass?” If someone nearby speaks to you, try to answer with a smile, a gesture or nod of the head. If there’s a legitimate need to – then of course you should speak, but when you can stay silent without drawing undue attention to your choice to do so, then you preserve the silence, and the other person might think about doing the same!
If your child makes the occasional noise – don’t feel self-conscious, most people understand and are genuinely happy to see children at Mass! However, if it is continual and disruptive noise or a tantrum, it is a good idea for one parent to quietly take your child to the cry room, then return once the child calms down.
And why not extend your feeling of peace for a few extra moments by setting a rule to not discuss lunch plans or grocery lists until you’re outside the church! And if you bump into friends or family members at the back of the church, instead of chatting there, why not invite them to join you down in the café – the ideal place to gather together and continue the conversation after Mass!
Ask yourself and your family members: What can I do (or not do) to create and maintain silence at Mass?