Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Ten silent moments in the liturgy
by Father Jan Larson
(From the Dec. 2, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Silent moments during the liturgy are important because they allow us to take into our hearts the power of the liturgical rites. Silence allows for personal reflection, and reflection is a necessary component for any kind of prayer.
The first moment of silence in the liturgy ought to be the silence that precedes the beginning of the celebration, providing for a church that is devoid of the noises of friendly chatter or even the silent noise of ministers and others rushing about at the last minute. Here we have a chance to recollect our reasons for being where we are, and the magnitude of what is about to happen.
During the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass we are frequently asked to “call to mind our sins,” followed by a brief silence. “Call to mind” is an inadequate translation of the Latin original, which really means to “acknowledge” our sinfulness. Thus this silent moment is not for making an examination of conscience, but simply to admit to our personal and corporate sinfulness.
Another silent moment follows the priest’s invitation “Let us pray.” Though many priests don’t seem to know this, a time of silence is to follow this invitation, allowing us to pray in our hearts. Then the priest sums up our silent prayer in the spoken words of the opening prayer. Priests often skip this silent prayer time altogether, or allow only a microsecond of silence.
Moments of silence follow the readings and the psalm. These are not prolonged periods of silence, but just long enough to allow for some silent reflection. There are three Scriptural texts on Sundays, and one of them is the psalm, intended to be sung. Often the reader (or even the one who leads the singing of the psalm) will launch into the psalm immediately after the first reading is finished. But the responsorial psalm is not really intended as a response to the first reading. It used to be chanted alternately by each half of the assembly, one half responding to the other – whence comes its name. It is a distinct reading, and should be granted a few seconds of silence before it begins and after it ends. A period of silence is also observed after the homily.
Another opportunity for a brief moment of silence is just before the Eucharistic Prayer begins. The prayer over the gifts has been said, and it is appropriate that we not rush, in the same breath, into our great prayer of thanksgiving. We only need a few seconds here – just enough to recollect the realities in our lives for which we want to give thanks. Then when the Eucharistic Prayer is finished and we have sung our Amen, another few seconds of silence makes an appropriate transition to the Communion rite that will begin with the Lord’s Prayer.
The final period of silence comes at the end of the Communion rite, when all have received Communion. We have normally been standing while others have yet to receive Communion, in solidarity with them. When the Communion hymn is finished and the priest is seated, then people sit or kneel for a period of prayerful silence. It seems natural to thank God at this time for the gift of the Eucharist, but we might recall that the prayer after Communion that follows this silent period is characteristically not a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer that the transforming effects of Communion will take hold in our lives. We have already thanked God in the Eucharistic Prayer (“eucharist” means “thanksgiving”), and now we appropriately ask that we can accept the challenge to become what Jesus asks us to become.
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)