Friday, October 19, 2007

Words, words, words or how do you get silence into the liturgy?



The absence of silence in the Mass has always been something that has troubled me. It is so often words, words, words. Artificial silences, I mean the type of thing that I have introduced at various times, recommended by modern liturgists, seem to be periods of waiting, silence filled with distraction rather than something which is prayerful.

At various times I have tried an extended period of time, often a few seconds at various times in the Mass after, “...let us call to mind our sins.” Obviously a brief period for reflection is necessary. I have tried silence in between, “Let us pray,” and the collect, again a very brief period is appropriate, I have tried to get readers to pause for a slightly longer period at the end of the reading, before saying, “This is the word of the Lord”, there is obviously a need to let the words sink in before saying that rather staccato sentence which for me cuts off both the reading and meditation on it. I do the same after the Gospel. During the Bidding Prayers, I try to get the readers merely to read the intention, then stop, I mutter quick silent Gloria Patri then come in with the “Lord in your mercy” or a sung “Te rogamus audi nos” or whatever, that doesn’t seem to be too bad. I avoid Bidding Prayers, except on a Sunday just to reduce the number of words. The offertory prayers I often try to do silently, especially during Lent and Advent, but invariably I forget. I used to have an extended period of silence after Holy Communion but for many people silence after communion really becomes a meditation on the Real Absence rather than an act of Communion, I used wait for the first cough or shuffle before saying the Post Communion, I very soon got the impression that everyone else was waiting too, for me. I became the focus of their wait, not the Lord.

Obviously adopting a prayerful tone of voice and trying to encourage that amongst readers helps, at least in create a sense of prayerfulness but often with readers or even concelebrants ideas of prayerfulness vary, some can just be dull, others put on that irritating primary school teacher voice.

I preach, briefly every day, but I often think not preaching might actually create a more prayerful atmosphere, despite what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, I might think seriously again about not preaching during Lent and Advent. Preaching can just overlay the Mass with yet more words, yet more ideas, even if it is “good” homily I am not sure that it should be a priest words or ideas that are taken forward to the Eucharist rather the Word of God itself.

The Pope, in 2002 book The Spirit of the Liturgy, he says that silence must be “... a silence with content, not just the absences of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us. Such stillness will be not just a pause, in which a thousand thoughts and desires assault us, but a time of stillness giving us inner peace, allowing us to draw breath and rediscover the one thing necessary, which we have forgotten. That is why silence cannot be simply “made” ...”. In my experince people are seeking that silence and stillness in their lives.

"...[I]t must be an integral part of the liturgical event”
His solution is the return to silence in the Eucharistic Prayer, he says (page 215)

"German liturgists have explicitly stated that, of all things, the Eucharistic Prayer, the high point of the Mass, is in crisis. Since the reform of the liturgy, an attempt has been made to meet the crisis by incessantly inventing new Eucharistic Prayers, and in the process we have sunk farther and farther into banality. Multiplying words is no help--that is all too evident. . . .It is no accident that in Jerusalem, from a very early time, parts of the Canon were prayed in silence and that in the West the silent Canon--overlaid in part with meditative singing--became the norm. To dismiss all this as the result of misunderstandings is just too easy. It really is not true that reciting the whole Eucharistic Prayer out loud and without interruptions is a prerequisite for the participation of everyone in this central act of the Mass. . ..

I am not convinced that this is quite what the GIRM expects, though it happens at the London Oratory.I do not want to flout the liturgical laws knowlingly, I think if I experimented with the sotto voce canon there would be letters to the Bishop or at least muttering amongst brother clergy. I know I have experimented with saying the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin, which removes the prayer from immediate comprehension for most, which I had hoped at least gave people a sense that it is a time for “their” communal prayer. I think Latin works well for this, and my congregation at least is happy to accept sung Latin, at most Sunday Masses, at least the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (Missa Simplex) are sung, if people don’t understand, at least they have the sense that they are crying out “Holy” or “have mercy”, just the same as they know the “Alleluia” is a cry of joy even if they can’t give an accurate translation of the Hebrew. At the Sung Sunday Mass, we add the Kyrie, Goria and Creed. However, spoken Latin for many people seems to be so alien that it is an intrusion and a distraction and a piece of priestly imposition.

The Pope goes on to say, “Anyone who has experienced a church united in the silent praying of the Canon will know what a really filled silence is. It is at once a loud and penetrating cry to God and a Spirit-filled act of prayer. Here everyone does pray the Canon together, albeit in a bond with the special task of the priestly ministry."

It seems well worth trying to introduce silence into the Eucharistic Prayer, I was struck by being present at Mass where the priest actually lowered his voice to a whisper for the words of consecration, it seemed to invite intimacy, I have tried to experiment with removing the microphone from the altar and therefore at least not every word is amplified, and some are partly hidden when for example the priest prays when bowing profoundly.
Encouraged by Summorum Pontificum I have been experimenting a bit, not mixing up usages, that would not be what the Pope is about, but at least not speaking the Eucharist in such proclamatory tone as I might have done in the past.
For us who do not say the TLM we are called to learn something from the it, the obvious thing is it silence, stillness and peace, and sense of the Divine Presence.

8 comments:

Benfan said...

Father you are so right about that silence after communion. It always feels artificial maybe its because the priest sits there as if taking a little rest. It has never really worked for me. If I'm brutally honest the only reason I come to Mass is for the consecration the high point being the raising of the host and Chalice and the little bells. The rest I could happily leave. I know I'm supposed to "celebrate community" too but I have to say its not why I come. If it was a choice of gathering together without Mass as an alternative to going on your own to a Mass with just you and the priest, I'd go for the Mass without hesistation. Could it be possible to add more silence during the consecration - pausing while you kneel for a while etc. This might help and for me it is the only effective place to place silence because it is the only place I have a natural sense of otherness???.

gemoftheocean said...

"The Pope goes on to say, “Anyone who has experienced a church united in the silent praying of the Canon will know what a really filled silence is. It is at once a loud and penetrating cry to God and a Spirit-filled act of prayer. Here everyone does pray the Canon together, albeit in a bond with the special task of the priestly ministry.""

His "church" undoubtedly consists of a congregation of clerics who are all on the same page, rather than your average Sunday congregation. I'd love a show of hands in the pope's "ideal church" of all the people who REALLY didn't have their attention wander.

Figures. Only a German would think this necessary! Maybe in an ideal universe, but dead silence right here invites the congregation to go off into mental la-la land precisely when they should be thinking about the most important prayer they will hear all week.

I think these western so-called liturgists have entirely forgotten the "ceaseless prayer" of the eastern rite. For instance when the congregation divides up to do the psalms one half ends and the other half rides right in just before the 1st side has stopped. It is deliberate and SUPPOSED to be the way it's done. It reflects a Johannine Theology. I don't want Mass said in some "secret language" -- [Now if it's "understood" that the unchangeable parts of the Mass will be said in Latin, well and good for those so inclined who are willing to learn the universal language - which might well help in a multilingual parish] I think it does make sense to have those brief few seconds of silence i.e. before "the word of the Lord" and those other few places you mentioned. I think you are right that you don't need a sermon every day at the weekday Mass. Just do one if you have something to say about that particular reading or maybe you want to say something about the feast day in question. I don't like when I go to a church where the choir sings through the offertory. My thought is "Shut up, we've gotten down to brass tacks and you duffuses are singing about taking our bread." [Or whatever] There are ENTIRE congregations who have NO CLUE what those prayers are, because they've taken the missalettes out and it's been years since the priest said them out loud. You may just as well be mumbling off Vesti La Giubba. To me, putting up an artificial barrier to the Mass would be like a man using a prophylactic. Don't worry too much about the people finding "bits of silence" during the Mass. Mass isn't a private devotion. So double "feh" on his silent consecration. And people do grab what moments of silence are built in. Don't forget that while you may be busy with the mechanics of distributing Communion, most people should be taking that time for reflection. So they do get some, even if you don't. And rather than the "absence" post Communion, if anything while people are kneeling post Communion, or sitting if the celebrant sits post Communion that is a time where they should be personally FILLED with the Eucharist, given they've just received it! Far more than "absent" it is extremely present.

Yes I wish they would stop dinking around with Eucharistic prayers too. Had I been "in charge" I would have kept the 1st Eucharistic prayer and that would be it! What too often happens is father opts for #2 or #3 -- stripping the commuion of saints aspect out, and #1 virtually never gets said.

To me, far better than artificial silences would be to offer Benediction, and then a silent holy hour after a Mass.

gemoftheocean said...

--PS You can still be Cardinal ArchBishop. ;-D

mike said...

Since no one has yet pointed out the irony of writing / typing words about silence, the need for it, and its benefits, I will.

Instead, I point to Cnytr's blog post .:{St. Peter Martyr vrs. Heresy -- shh!}:., which has an image of Fra Angelico's fresco, Peter Martyr Enjoins Silence. The Saint also has a knife in his back and a wound on his forehead, referring to his martyrdom.

Another such image of the Saint is in A. K. M. Adam's blog post Another Peter Martyr.

Henry said...

Yes. How about disconnecting the speakers, they are not necessary in a small church. That still leaves the induction loop working for people who need it.

Print off copies of the Canon and remind people to follow it. As long as the bell is sounded at the right places people will be roughly in the right place.

That way the Canon becomes an extended silent group prayer. It seems the natural thing to do.

Anonymous said...

The Liturgy of the Word is almost as important as the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I think that the homily, if it unpacks the readings and applies them to our lives and not about father's football team or what happened in the parish/country this week can carry one to the Liturgy of the Eucharist where one receives the food for our souls to give us the strength to apply the scriptures to our lives.

Coming from the Tridentine Mass to the Novus Ordo I was accutely aware of the loss of silence which enables me to emmerse myself in the Mass. Having said that though I do recognise that the Novus Ordo encourages us to offer the Sacrifice as a community rather than as an individual. Perhaps the best answer is a combination of the two.

jack perry said...

One of the most effective silences I have ever seen in the 1971 missal occurred at the end of Mass. Instead of singing a recessional hymn, or a hymn of sending forth, or whatever the phrase du jour is, the clergy, altar servers, and a lector simply paraded out in silence in silence. This silent procession, with the crucifix at its head, was awesome. The parish was accustomed to it, and everyone stood still and waited respectfully. Compare this to most parishes, where large numbers walk out during the first two verses, and Father gnashes his teeth and scolds on occasion that we stay from the first verse of the entrance hymn to the last verse of the exit hymn, or recessional, or hymn of sending forth, or...

(Ironically, this parish omitted a recessional at a time when many American parishes sang a recessional and ignored the Gloria. As we all know, the Missal requires a recessional and has no instructions about singing the Gloria, right? er...)

This seems a good way to inject silence into the Mass: do something in silence, and do it consistently in silence, so that the people become accusomted to it. The preparation of the gifts is a good occasion. The people will watch, and they may feel uncomfortable at first, but after a while it will be routine. Of course, it would help if someone would tell them beforehand to offer themselves prayerfully to God at this time.

It would also help to have prayerful hymns, rather than the stuff we usually sing.

DMJ said...

Does the GIRM require the Canon to be audible to the people? My understanding was that the priest may pronounce the whole Canon audibly...
Br. Daniel Mary Jeffries O.P.