Finding God in Silence


It was just a normal Sunday—we walked into Mass at 9:32, hoping we didn’t careen into Father and the procession in our scramble to get my toddler, my husband, and myself into the church. What greeted us was unexpected, to say the least.

Father was giving some pointers about today’s Mass, none of which registered as we shepherded my son into the pew. Once seated though, things clicked into place—the vestments were different, the placement of certain items had changed, and Father was discussing the large swaths of silence in today’s Mass along and the Latin missals in the back.

Surprise! Tridentine is the order of the day.

My first instinct was the run—I had a three year old that, on a good day, could almost make it through a Novus Ordo Mass. I had less ability to corral him due to a run in with a see saw the day before (suffice it to say, See Saw – 1, Alexis – 0), and I myself had never been to a Tridentine Mass before. If I was lost, how on earth was I going to guide my son?

I spent the first 10 minutes of Mass mad. Awful, I know; but I thought of all the reasons I should leave, and couldn’t think of a reason to stay. Finally, the silence broke through. Having never been to a Tridentine Mass before, I wasn’t prepared for the silence.

And you know what? It’s terrifying to be alone with the Lord for that long, because when you’re listening, things get real. It brought to mind that passage from 1 Kings: God was not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire; God was in the gentle whisper of air. I had grown too comfortable and used to my weekly routine, and in the sudden silence I came face to face with the awful presence of God.

It was the same feeling I had more years ago than I like to think, when I was going from church to church in the dark streets of Rome on Holy Thursday. Somewhere between Santa Cecilia and San Crisogono the darkness and the stillness of the city began to resonate until I was in front of the tabernacle in San Crisogono and totally, wholly aware of God.

I realized toward the end that my son had only had one incident in 2 hours where he needed to go to the back of the church. I realized that the chant was beautiful and that even though I couldn’t follow the Mass as closely, I could still worship. I realized that, in my concern to fit everything into a neat, tidy box labeled “Sunday Morning Mass” I was missing the point. I realized that, every so often, even I need a sharp hint, a quick jolt to the senses, as if there is a whisper in my brain that says “Be still, and know that I am God.”

image: Interior of San Crisogono, Rome/Wikimedia Commons.

Alexis Rohlfing


Alexis Rohlfing currently lives in New Hampshire, though she’s still a California girl at heart. She graduated from Thomas More College in New Hampshire and has been working and raising a family ever since.

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  • devo56

    Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since
    our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could
    express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been
    surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—
    Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and
    virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and
    impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already
    made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of
    Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough,

    c.s. Lewis The Screwtape Letters, Letter 22 (Page 46).

    I wish you well, moments of silence are rare with the little ones but suffer the little ones unto you because they grow up so quickly, ” and she [Mary] cherished all these things in her heart.”

  • JMC

    And that, in a nutshell, is why it was called “hearing” Mass back then. Your participation was in the private prayers you offered while the priest was offering the unbloody Sacrifice. Usually people silently prayed the Rosary; some had missals with special prayers to be offered during particular times during the Mass. That was until 1965, when Novus Ordo came to my parish. I was eleven years old. In my adult years, the Tridentine Mass remained as a beautiful memory, and I hungered for that beauty, for that sense of the sacred that just didn’t seem to be there in the Novus Ordo, even one that was reverently offered, without the curious practices introduced in some places. (Liturgical dancers? Seriously?) Because of that, two years ago, when I experienced my first Tridentine Mass in over forty years, the beauty of it, the sheer holiness, actually brought me to tears.
    I always wondered why it was that most of my peers couldn’t function without music or TV or some kind of noise going on in the background; when I was in the military, my roommates insisted on having the stereo blaring 24 hours a day. I had one who literally could not sleep if the TV was turned off. She left it on one night until she was sound asleep; at that point, unable to get to sleep myself because of the noise, I got up and turned it off. She was immediately awake and demanding to know why I had turned off the TV. I have to wonder if it isn’t because too many of them are actually afraid of that encounter, even though they don’t recognize it when it happens. They only know they find it unpleasant and will do anything to drown it out. I feel sorry for them; they don’t know what they’re missing.