Cdl. Sarah: Silence in Liturgy Necessary

by Christine Niles  •  •  February 3, 2016   

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ROME ( - Cardinal Robert Sarah is stressing the necessity of silence during Mass. In a weekend column in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's newspaper, the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments explains the role and importance of silence in the sacred liturgy.

Cardinal Sarah contrasts virtuous, "mystical" silence with "reprehensible" silence, the silence of omission owing to "cowardice, selfishness or hardness heart."

Mystical silence should prevail at Mass as "an expression of awe of God." The soul that practices silence in the liturgy, he says, is the humble soul, one who "desires to leave room for others, and especially for the wholly Other, God."

On the other hand, the soul that cannot remain silent indicates a self-important soul, one who "wants to show off" or needs "to fill his inner emptiness" with noise. God, Cdl. Sarah notes, operates in silence, and comes to the soul in silence.

He counters the argument that silence is an act of passivity or idleness. On the contrary, it is work and involves active purification of the mind of all that distracts from God.

He notes that the Traditional Latin Mass employs moments of "absolute silence," and that Novus Ordo Masses must also do the same.

Although the Vatican II document "Sacrosanctum Concilium" promotes active participation of the laity during Mass, it also requires that the faithful observe times of "reverent silence." Sarah also cites the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, No. 45, which mandates quiet at certain times in the liturgy.

Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts. Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.

His Eminence makes clear no speeches or presentations from the laity should take place during Mass, nor should the Mass be made into a place for entertainment. "[W]e should avoid transforming the Church, which is the house of worship as God intends, into a dinner show where you go to applaud the actors based on their capacity to communicate ... ."

He refers to then-Cardinal Ratzinger's "Spirit of the Liturgy," which clarifies the role of silence during Mass:

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.

The ultimate purpose of this silence, Cdl. Sarah insists, is to "let God look at us and envelop us in the mystery of His majesty and His love."


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