9. What are the Appropriate Times for Silence?
scripture usually makes mention of vocal prayer and communal hymns
when the people of God gather together for worship (e.g., Eph 5:19),
there are also various allusions to silence being appropriate at
certain times associated with prayer (e.g., Ps 4:5, 1 Sam 1:13, 1 Cor 14:15). Reference to silence during the liturgy is also explicitly mentioned in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (no. 30), in the context of communal activities to foster active participation.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM)
mentions several locations where silence is appropriate (no. 45), but
also suggests that silence plays at least three different roles during
the liturgy depending on when it is observed.
Silence helps “recollection,” particularly before the act of penitence
at the beginning of Mass and after the invitations (“Let us pray”) to
the major presidential prayers.
Silence helps “reflection and meditation,” especially after each of the scriptural readings or after the homily.
Silence helps “personal prayer” to our God, especially after Communion.
The Introduction to the Lectionary (no. 28) and the 2002 GIRM
(no. 56) also note that “any sort of haste that hinders recollection
must be clearly avoided.” Thus, it is particularly appropriate to
include silence during the liturgy of the word, so that “by the
encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the
heart and response may be prepared through prayer.” Thus, in addition
to silence “after” the readings, it is also appropriate to include a
moment of silence “before” the first reading is proclaimed.
One other appropriate place for silence in the course of the Mass is
during the general intercessions (“prayers of the faithful”). Although
most often the assembly joins in prayer for the announced intention by
an audible response (such as “Lord, hear our prayer”), it is also
permitted to respond by prayerful silence (GIRM
no. 71). In many places, this silent “response” is the way the assembly
participates in prayer during the solemn intercessions of Good Friday.
Quiet, reflective time for true reflection and prayer is not the same as
the quiet necessary in a classroom to enable a teacher to speak and be
heard. A period of prayer-filled silence before a reading is not
merely a courtesy to the reader, deacon, or priest who will proclaim
God’s word, enabling that word to be heard more easily. Periods of
liturgical silence are meant to be communal acts in which the assembly
gathered together permits God’s whisper to be heard in the midst of the
multiple voices that cry to us, as individuals and as the body of
Christ, to gain our attention and allegiance. Through this communal,
liturgical silence, each worshiper is better able to open his or her
being to God’s life and love.
We live in a very “noisy” world. As a society, we have become so
accustomed to (and even addicted to) the blare of radios, televisions,
CDs, horns, and cell phones that it is very difficult for some people
to become comfortable with silence and to focus on personal thoughts
and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the only place that
silence is socially acceptable is in a place of worship, when
individuals come early, before a service begins, to be alone with their
God and to listen quietly to the whispering of the Lord as if in a
gentle breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:12).
Silence enables our loving God to speak to us, individually and
communally, in “words” of love, words that speak to our hearts, words
that invite us to draw nearer to him.
Multiple sounds surround us and many voices cry out to us. Communal
periods of reverential silence help to center us at various times in
the liturgy. These times of silence assist our loving God in
communicating his life and love to the people gathered together in