The Liturgy of the Word: Silence

In the Liturgy of the Word, we are speaking, or being spoken to, but the General Instruction of the Roman Missal mentions the importance of something else: “The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favor meditation, … In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate…; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared” (n. 56).

Silence enables us to meditate on what we’re saying and what we’re hearing, and it’s an important part of the Liturgy of the Word.

Silence

Moments of silence occur throughout the Liturgy of the Word, and not just because pages are being turned, books being switched, or lectors and celebrants changing places. It can be that moment where we steal a glance at our watch, fidget in the pew because things seem to be taking so long, start thinking of what’s coming up after Mass, and so on. It’s meant to be much more than that.

A pregnant pause, not an awkward moment

If the silence in some moment of the liturgy, not just the Liturgy of the Word, starts to weigh on us it’s because we see it as an awkward moment where something seems off instead of a pregnant pause that’s giving space for some new insight to be born in our heart. We want to fill that space with something, but we forget that we are either about to have it filled (by the prayer or reading about to be recited) or have just received something with which to fill it (prayer, God’s Word, an insight by the preacher, etc.).

That pregnant pause gives birth to something from within us or to enables something to sink in us more profoundly. It only becomes awkward when we realize it’s derailed our train of thought with something that has nothing to do with prayer or contemplation.

A meditative moment

Not all prayer consists of texts either recited mentally or out loud. Contemplation and meditation are moments of prayer when in silence we chew on something, speak to Our Lord about it, explore its contours and features, size up what God thinks about it and whether we agree or not. Silence fosters meditation, even during the liturgy. Otherwise, we’re just carried along with the stream of prayers, responses, gestures, etc. and many things we could have drawn from those things run the risk of being swept away.

Silence helps us to meditate and to “Find the Plug” in order and put our heart and mind into the liturgy we’re not only attending, but praying. The great mystics feast on even a few words from a prayer or Sacred Scripture; the liturgy provides us with a feast, and we need time to chew in order to aid its proper digestion.

A recollected life

A moment of silence during liturgical prayer reminds us how importance silence and recollection are for a healthy life. How often do we go out to find public spaces filled with noise: every store has some music mix floating out of the speakers, every elevator full of muzak, every street full of cars honking and trucks rumbling by.

Exterior noise can foster and contribute to interior noise, but noise can also be generated interiorly without pinning the blame on muzak: we worry about so many things, and they wear us out when Our Lord reminds us that only one thing is necessary (see Luke 10:38–42). If exterior noise can influence interior silence, interior silence can help ward us against both interior and exterior noise, so that Our Lord can speak to us in the depths of our heart.

His voice is still and small (see 1 Kings 19:9–13). If we foster inner silence and recollection, we’ll hear God’s Word to us more clearly.

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