The young man ascends the mountain. He climbs over boulders and navigates his way around cliffs. When he reaches the top of the mountain he basks in the beauty of God’s breathtaking creation. He sits in a silent stillness. In that silent stillness, he talks to God.
The cries of the infant awaken the mother. It is 3:00 a.m. Outside and inside there is only darkness and a dead silence save the rhythmic ticking of the clock. She tends to her baby and rocks him back to sleep. Grasping her baby’s tiny hand, she marvels at its perfection. Her baby’s beauty inspires in her a thankful heart toward her Creator. There in the silence the mother feels the touch of God.
The old man enters the church on First Friday for Mass. After Mass, the priest kneels down before the Blessed Sacrament and leads the people in Benediction. After Benediction, the old man stays kneeling alone in a deafening silence. He stares toward the golden monstrance and basks in that silence. It is in that silence that he feels the presence of God.
Holy Mother church has such respect for silence that she refers to the silence that happens during Mass as “sacred” silence. “Sacred” means to be set apart for a holy purpose. Silence becomes holy during Mass because silence at Mass is particularly set apart for God and worship. Sacred silence during Mass is a gift.
Silence is commended by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) not just during Mass, but before Mass begins. And this pre-Mass silence is commended not only within the church but in all areas adjacent to it (including the sacristy and vesting room). [GIRM 45] This is why we teach lay people to approach the Sacristy with reverence rather than bursting into the Sacristy with back-slapping tales of this or that adventure. There is nothing wrong with telling back-slapping tales. But the moments allocated for pre-Mass silence are not the time for this. This time is holy and set apart for God alone.
The gift of Pre-Mass silence enables us to focus our minds and hearts on God and collect ourselves for the mystery we are about to receive. It gives us the freedom we need to experience interior reflection. This silence provides time to interiorly thank God, praise God, tell God we are sorry, and ask Him for what we need. Without pre-Mass silence it becomes difficult to devoutly pray the Mass. GIRM 45 tells us that sacred silence is observed before Mass that “all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout in fitting manner.”
The GIRM also calls for silence after Communion. After Communion the soul enters into a unique and intimate union with Christ. Saint Ignatius of Antioch tells us that the Eucharist “provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ.” [Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church #294] This intimate union immediately following Communion when Christ is especially present to us is a time to silently “pray” to and “praise” God in our hearts. [GIRM 45] This unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist does not last forever. This presence only “continues in the Eucharist as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.” [CCCC #285]
Silence is necessary for contemplative prayer to happen after Communion. As the Catechism tells us “Contemplative prayer is silence, the ‘symbol of the world to come’ or ‘silent love.’… In this silence, unbearable to the ‘outer’ man, the Father speaks to us…” (CCC 2717)
“Draw near to God and He will Draw near to you” (Luke 4:8). In order to draw near to God we first must still the beeping, buzzing, banging, blinking world we live in and give Him our attention. Be still and know that I am God, says the Lord in Psalm 46:10. May we recognize the purpose, sanctity and sacredness of silence. May we find a new and holy hush in our churches, in our homes and in our hearts.