The silence that draws one close to God

Rules and guidelines for the “proper etiquette” of contemplation

Giacomo Galeazzi
Vatican City

During mass, it is always best to  observe silence: if one must speak, they must do so quietly. The rule of silence is in force in the church and  sacristy before and after the celebration of mass. According to Romano Guardini, Pope Benedict XVI’s theological advisor, “liturgical life begins with silence; without it everything is useless and pointless: the theme of silence is very serious, very important and very sadly overlooked. Silence is the first prerequisite of any sacred action.”

The “Institutio generalis missalis romani” includes a reference to what precedes the Mass: “even before the celebration it is good to observe silence in church, in the sacristy, the vestry and in the rooms attached to the church, so that everyone can prepare devoutly and in the right way for the sacred celebration.” In religious functions, the “quality” faithful  stands out because he is disciplined and respectful of the rules. He knows when to remain seated, bow, kneel, and exit the pew, like the back of his hand .

And most of all, he is punctual: it is rude to arrive after the celebration has started. At the entrance of the Church he makes the sign of the cross with holy water and, when the celebrant invites the faithful to exchange the sign of peace, he offers his right hand only to those around him, without leaving his place and wandering off too much. At the time of communion: whoever receives the consecrated host in the hand, should pick it up gently with the fingers of his right hand and bring it to his mouth. During hymn singing, even if one is not in tune, it is good to take part in singing to demonstrate active participation.

To pray and sing, one must add their voice to that of others, without shouting. Whoever is off-key should at least be in time. Candles, then, are not lit just for the sake of it, but only if one is inclined to pray. “Since the origins of the Church, there has been testimonials that show how the Eucharistic Celebration necessarily requires prior preparation, not only by the priest celebrant, but by all the faithful,” Fr. Juan José Silvestre explains, Professor of liturgy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and Advisor to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, as well as to the Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.

Therefore, it is helpful for everyone to observe silence: both the celebrant (“who in this preparatory moment should remember that he is putting himself at the disposal of Christ, who died for all, so that those who live may live no longer for themselves but for Him who died and rose for them”), and the faithful who, “before mass starts, must prepare themselves for the meeting with their Lord.” Because “Christ does not gather them merely to talk to them about his imminent passion, death and resurrection; rather, his Paschal mystery is truly present in the Holy Mass, so that they can participate in Him.”

In this line, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes: “the assembly must prepare to meet their Lord, and to be well-disposed. This preparation of hearts is the common work of the Holy Spirit and of the assembly, in particular of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken the faith, conversion of heart and adherence to the will of the Father. These regulations are the prerequisite for the reception of other graces offered during the celebration and for the fruits of the new life which are intended to be subsequently produced.” Fr. Juan José Silvestre states: “In this context of preparation for the celebration, the Ministers have an essential role and silence occupies a prominent place.

Silence that is not a simple pause, in which a thousand thoughts and desires assail us, but rather a contemplation that gives us inner peace, which allows us to catch our breath and reveals what is true.” Silence is part of the celebration. “Above all, because it fosters a climate of prayer that should characterize any liturgical action,” he points out. “The celebration is prayer, dialogue with God, and silence is the privileged place of God’s revelation.”

“Their time in the desert, and the silence that is spontaneously evoked by this image, mark the entire relationship between Israel and its Lord.” In addition, “the sacristy and the nave of the Church, in the moments preceding the celebration, should be that deserted place in which Jesus retires before major events: the desert is a place of silence, of solitude; it supposes a distancing of oneself, abandoning for a moment the daily occupations, noise, superficiality.” And as Cardinal Ratzinger reminded the Pope, when preaching the spiritual exercises to John Paul II, “all great things start in the desert, in silence, in poverty. You cannot participate in the mission of Jesus, the mission of the Gospel, without participating in the desert experience, its poverty, its hunger. Let’s ask the Lord to lead us, that He may let us find that profound silence that dwells in his word.”

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1 Response to The silence that draws one close to God

  1. annem040359 says:

    This is my first real posting since I got both my power and heat back on Saturday of last week. Great presentation, but please try to tell that to many members of my hometown parish.


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