I just sent in a column for The Wanderer. Here is the first part of what I offered this week.
In his General Audience of 10 August, Pope Benedict spoke about monastic silence, beauty and prayer. He said,
Silence is the environmental condition that most favors contemplation, listening to God and meditation. The very fact of experiencing silence and allowing ourselves to be “filled,” so to speak, with silence, disposes us to prayer. The great prophet, Elijah, on Mount Horeb – that is, Sinai – experienced strong winds, then an earthquake, and finally flashes of fire, but he did not recognize the voice of God in them; instead, he recognized it in a light breeze (cfr. 1 Rev 19:11-13). God speaks in silence, but we need to know how to listen.
Great for monks and cloistered sisters, right? If silence is good for them, if silence and beauty is are necessary for their prayer, isolated as they are from the busy, noisy, often ugly outside world, how much more necessary is it that our local parish churches, especially in urban settings, be places of beauty and of silence, helpful for refreshing the souls of those who live an active life of many cares?
Some people can go on retreats in a remote place, such as a monastery, from time to time. But every time we go to a parish church, to be refreshed and fed, wreathed in mystery of the Presence of God, God truly present in the Eucharist reserved in our tabernacles, we should find the beauty that reflects truth and silence which stills the mind and heart and permits active listening.
In his Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis 40, Pope Benedict wrote about the “art of celebrating” Holy Mass, ars celebrandi. He spoke of the furnishings of a church and the need for silence during our liturgical worship.
Equally important for a correct ars celebrandi is an attentiveness to the various kinds of language that the liturgy employs: words and music, gestures and silence, movement, the liturgical colours of the vestments. By its very nature the liturgy operates on different levels of communication which enable it to engage the whole human person. The simplicity of its gestures and the sobriety of its orderly sequence of signs communicate and inspire more than any contrived and inappropriate additions.
Our liturgical English for Holy Mass will be dramatically improving quite soon (at the time of this writing, 3 months and 13 days). Other issues remain to be addressed.
Too often we see our churches filled with things unworthy of the place, or overly busy with potted plants and various tchotchkes which have accrued to clutter the eyescape and therefore mindscape. Our spaces are filled with aural litter, in the form of oblivious yakking and ditties amplified to ear-bleed levels. One of the things people might rightly complain about is the constant relentless unceasing sustained continuous unshakable obdurate nonstop noise during Mass.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in Letter 22 the senior-management devil writes in disgust to his apprentice Wormwood about the effects of a holy, calm, and happy Christian household:
The whole house and garden is one vast obscenity. It bears a sickening resemblance to the description one human writer made of Heaven; “the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence”. 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, or anything like it. Research is in progress. Meanwhile you, disgusting little —— [Here the MS. breaks off and is resumed in a different hand.] In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary. …
Screwtape explains that, to distract us humans from what is truly important, they our enemies should create so much noise in our lives that we cannot hear the voice of God.
The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is particularly susceptible to this, it seems. Even during simple Masses it seems there is someone constantly talking.
In recent years we have heard and read in liturgical circles more and more pleas for liturgical silence.
The older, traditional, Extraordinary Form can help us review how we celebrate the Ordinary Form in this regard.
Most younger priests and bishops are keenly aware of what our Holy Father Pope Benedict has been writing about and teaching by example. If we as Catholics can keep our heads above the coming waves over the next decade or so, we will see a tidal change in our liturgical worship and active participation, even if we have become what the Pope has called a “creative minority”, even if our numbers and locations are reduced in number. “Creative minorities” exert disproportionate influence. If we Catholics are clear about who we are, what we believe, and who our true King is, we can have a great and beneficial impact in the public square in the future.
The key to our future, is the revitalization of our liturgical worship.