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Monday, November 15, 2010

The Value of Silence

While the section on liturgy in Verbum Domini may seem small, it contains a wealth of insight from Pope Benedict XVI.   One aspect in particular that I find rather refreshing is the Holy Father's view on silence.

b) The word and silence
In their interventions, a good number of Synod Fathers insisted on the importance of silence in relation to the word of God and its reception in the lives of the faithful.[231] The word, in fact, can only be spoken and heard in silence, outward and inward. Ours is not an age which fosters recollection; at times one has the impression that people are afraid of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the mass media. For this reason, it is necessary nowadays that the People of God be educated in the value of silence. Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence.[232] Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt.[233]

The importance of all this is particularly evident in the Liturgy of the Word, “which should be celebrated in a way that favours meditation”.[234] Silence, when called for, should be considered “a part of the celebration”.[235] Hence I encourage Pastors to foster moments of recollection whereby, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the word of God can find a welcome in our hearts.
Silence in the liturgy is something that is treated, at times, like an after-thought.  There are times when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass seems to go "boom-boom-boom-boom", one part right after the other, especially between the homily and the Creed.   We don't give the Word of God that has just been proclaimed and then preached the opportunity to settle down, to take root and to ponder. 

I cannot help but think of St. Luke's account of the Annunciation.  After Mary gives her ascent to the Archangel Gabriel, St. Luke tells us that:

And the angel departed from her.
St. Gabriel left young Mary to ponder what had just happened to her in silence.  This silent pondering would also carry throughout the infancy narrative.  First, after the shepherds had deparated from the manger:

But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.
And then, after she and St. Joseph found the Child Jesus in the Temple:

And his mother kept all these words in her heart.
Mary was not merely pondering words in silence.  She was pondering the Word who took flesh in her womb, her Son, Jesus.

I am not suggesting that we spend several minutes in silence.  Maybe one or two minutes (at the very most) would be suffice.  It's just that we seem to want to rush into things rather quickly.  We could do well to learn the art of pondering in silence from the Blessed Mother.  We need to reflect on the Word that is Christ, Himself.   It's as though we were sipping fine wine.  One does not merely gulp down a glass of vintage merlot.  One drinks the wine a sip at a time, savoring the flavor and letting the rich aroma permeate the senses. 

Silence is also the language of God.  Recall that the Lord did not manifest himself to Elijah in a thunderous wind or roaring fire.  He manifested Himself to the prophet in a tiny whispering sound.   We need to let God into our hearts.  It's very hard for Him to communicate to us if we have a bunch of noise in the way.  We need to let Him get a word in edgewise. 

Silence is also the language of love.  Two people who love each other can be in each other's company and not say very many words.  Just being in each other's presence can convey a message that goes beyond words.  As Blessed John Henry Newman so famously said, "Heart speaks unto heart."

We need to recapture sacred silence in our liturgies.  We need to learn that special language of God used so fluently by the Blessed Mother so that, like her, we can ponder the Word of God in our hearts and in our souls. 


  1. On my way into work today I was thinking about how daily prayer has become difficult for me, and my ability to concentrate on anything but my computer screen is deteriorating. Of course I know that technology can be a terrible distraction from prayer---how ironic that it took a blog to remind me! Thanks for this!

  2. You're welcome, Gina. I, too, struggle with silence, especially during adoration. But, it's good to read these words from the Holy Father because, at least, we can learn the importance of silence.