Entering into the Liturgy through Silence

By: Father Aaron Johanneck

(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

As the Second Vatican Council explains, at the heart of the Sacred Liturgy is the Paschal Mystery—that is, the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ.  In the liturgy, not only are these saving events of the life of Christ remembered and celebrated; they are sacramentally—and really—made present.  Through His Paschal Mystery, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself totally to the Father out of love for us to save us from sin and to restore us to relationship with God, the Most Holy Trinity.


In last month’s article, we discussed how the Sacred Liturgy, especially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the sacrifice of Christ and also the sacrifice of the whole Church.  Through baptism we are united to Christ, grafted onto His Mystical Body, and so are able to be united to His sacrifice and to offer our own sacrifices in union with Him.  This is the core of full, conscious, and active participation.


Now, we might ask, how do we dispose ourselves to enter deeply into the liturgy in this way?  Essential to this is silence.


The Church speaks of the necessity of silence when it comes to the liturgy.  She teaches that at certain points silence is the appropriate way to participate (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 30).  As Pope St. John Paul II put it in an Ad limina address to some of the bishops of United States in 1998, “Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert and passive.  Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness, and listening: indeed, it demands it.”


Silence is also necessary as we prepare to participate in the liturgy.  Pope Francis spoke of this in a recent Wednesday audience address.  He is currently in the midst of a catechesis on the Mass.  In his catechesis of November 15, he spoke about the Mass as prayer: the loftiest and most sublime prayer.  As with all prayer, silence is essential.  As the Holy Father explained,


“Praying, as every true dialogue, is also knowing how to be in silence — in dialogues there are moments of silence — in silence together with Jesus. When we go to Mass, perhaps we arrive five minutes early and begin to chat with the person next to us. But this is not the moment for small talk; it is the moment of silence to prepare ourselves for the dialogue. It is the moment for recollection within the heart, to prepare ourselves for the encounter with Jesus. Silence is so important! Remember what I said last week: we are not going to a spectacle, we are going to the encounter with the Lord, and silence prepares us and accompanies us. Pausing in silence with Jesus.”


If we want our participation in the liturgy to be more than “going through the motions,” then we need to take time for silence.  Silence allows us to become aware of God’s presence and allows the reality of what the Mass is and what happens at Mass to sink in more deeply.  Silence disposes us to receive all of the graces available to us in the liturgy and allows us to have a more profound encounter with Christ.  Silence allows us to enter into the sacrifice of the Mass more deeply and allows it to have real, transforming power in our lives. 


The liturgy takes on more meaning for us and touches us more powerfully and profoundly, ultimately deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ, as we learn the art of silence.