(I wrote this a while back and kept it in reserve, not sure it should see the light of day. This past Saturday evening, at one of the last two masses our retiring pastor would say at our parish, I was given the very gift of silence I yearned for in this post. I decided perhaps this was worth posting after all. And thank you, Father, for the gift of holy silence in that mass.)
One of the common features of Sunday mass, almost anywhere I go except for monasteries and convents, is the near absolute lack of silence. It is as though liturgists feel the need to fill every possible moment with something, lest the congregation lose interest. One can’t even go into church a few minutes early to prepare for mass without hearing the choir or the accompanist warming up…..it is one of the reasons I dearly love my daily masses: no music. Zip, zero, nada.
I find musical overload particularly galling after communion. Don’t get me wrong, I can meditate on and with music with the best of them—but when I do, it is the music (even music I like, mind you) that directs me, and therefore, limits me. If I really want to be able to enter into deep prayer, I don’t need someone else’s words echoing in my ears—I need to make room for God’s. He knows what I need to hear at that particular moment. Dan Schutte probably doesn’t.
When did we grow so afraid of silences?
At the time when I am preparing myself to receive my Eucharistic Lord, I am forced into hearing and/or singing some other person’s sentiments; given that the procession of the faithful is to be accompanied by a chant, that is unavoidable. But the reality is, because of the songs that are chosen with great regularity, when I return to my place, I find it almost impossible to make even an act of thanksgiving, because the words are so intrusive. And after everyone has received, there is generally yet another song—either a community hymn or a performance by the choir, that pushes that precious time of silence even farther out. By the time the songs are sung and the ablutions are complete, it’s a rare mass indeed when the moment of silence prescribed by the GIRM actually lasts a full sixty seconds.
I don’t think this inability to escape the tyranny of the music is a particular limitation of mine, by the way. A child of the sixties, the parent of noisy kids and a veteran of college dorms and medical school studies, I can concentrate over almost anything—but entering into prayer is not a matter of concentration; it’s more a matter of letting go of other distractions.
The reason I am usually given for this musical practice is that it fosters unity and community—that we as a community make an act of praise and worship in the hymns. I understand the concept, but at least one rather respected authority sees the reception of the Eucharist rather differently:
Receiving Communion means entering into communion with Jesus Christ…[and] a further point follows from this. What is given [is] the Resurrected One Himself–the person who shares Himself with us in His love, which runs right through the Cross. This means that receiving Communion is always a personal act…In Communion I enter into the Lord, who is communicating Himself to me…That is why the Liturgy changes over, before Communion, from the liturgical “we” to “I”…fellowship is created precisely by our each being ourself. (God Is Near Us, Joseph Ratzinger, underscore added)
It is a constant source of amazement to me that, at the very time when I am nearer Christ than any other—just before and after receiving Him in the Eucharist--so many liturgies distract me from spending time with Him and Him alone. I hear so often, from the pulpit and read in religious readings that if I am to hear the voice of God, I must listen in silence.
What better time to do that than when I have just received Him? Then, as our Pope Emeritus indicates, I can fully enter into community because by communion with Christ I am made more fully myself—both for the Church and for the world.