A few weeks ago I was able to see Martin Scorsese’s film “Silence” which is based on the story of 17-century Jesuit missionaries in Japan. The protagonist, Fr. Rodrigues, struggles to discern God’s will amid complex and trying circumstances. He prays fervently, but experiences absence, a silent response from God. His faith tested to the extreme, he eventually becomes aware that God has been with him in many different ways throughout his journey, and comes to realize, “It was in the silence that I heard Your voice.”
Silence can be a bit of a foreign concept for us living in the 21st century, whether it be simply finding time in our day to sit in literal silence, or, perhaps even more difficult, being able to silence our own interior voice so that we might experience an awareness of God that Thomas Merton says, “goes beyond reason and simple faith.”
Hopefully we incorporate a good amount of silence into our daily prayer, and we teach our children to pray silently in addition to out loud (what a great gift in this day and age). The Liturgy is instructive here as well, as it provides multiple opportunities for the assembly to be silent and perhaps experience that awareness of God. At Saint Raphael we are trying to be more intentional observing these moments (which are specifically designated in the rubrics of the Mass), and I wanted to point out two in particular in the Introductory Rites.
After the greeting, the Priest invites us to prepare for the Penitential Act by saying, “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries,” or something similar. We then pause in silence to make an examination of conscience, to recall those things in our life that are separating us from God, and to prepare to be reconciled by the celebration of the Eucharist.
Not long after, usually following the singing of the Gloria, the Priest says, “Let us pray.” And we pray in silence for some time, before the Priest “collects” our individual prayers by reciting the aptly named Collect prayer of the day. I might suggest using this time of silence to call to mind that one prayer intention you have for the Mass. It might be for a deceased family member, or a struggling friend. It could be for a spouse or child. It might be for a particular injustice. It could even be for ourselves. Whatever it is, call it to mind, and let it be with God (i.e., don’t overthink it like some of us are apt to do!).
Our world is in dire need of people of silence, of prayer, of discernment, of contemplation, before action. May our observance of liturgical silences inspire a more profound celebration of the Eucharist, and instruct our daily lives as we navigate through a noisy and confusing time.
Submit your liturgical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
– Jeff Rice, Pastoral Associate of Liturgy & Music