Of liturgical silence and gigantic centipedes

Here is a great point for our reflection on our obligation to revitalize our liturgical worship of God.

Unless we revitalize our liturgical worship, no other aspect of a New Evangelization will have any lasting effect.

Dan Burke wrote at the National Catholic Register:

The Devil’s War On Silence in Mass

A consistent thread in the resulting dialogue from my post “The Devil’s War On Silence” was on the common problem of the disturbing absence of silence in Mass. This is clearly a challenge that is very familiar to the majority of faithful Catholics.
Frequently, the noise assaults us right when we enter the church — from the choir, the parishioners and other sources. This despite the fact that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) clearly outlines the critical importance and specific instructions for the place of sacred silence in the Mass:
“Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times,” the GIRM says. “Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts.

Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” (#45)

Why Silence?

The most important portion of this instruction is contained clearly and elegantly in the last line, and it’s worthy of repetition: We need silence “so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” Here we have the wisdom of the Church, as the Holy Spirit leads us to eschew all human priorities outside of God and to draw our hearts to the reality of this sacred encounter. The Mass finds its ultimate purpose in the condescension of God to meet with us and nourish us — and for us to respond in a manner worthy of this gift of all gifts.

It stands to reason that our behavior at Mass will be proportionally devout to the degree we believe this meeting of heaven an earth is actually happening. In contrast, those that see the Mass as a kind of religious social gathering — and harbor disbelief or lack proper instruction — will see no need for such formality, and will act accordingly.

What Is the Answer?

Those who do know the proper reality should lead by example and teach it in a way that is focused first on the reality of God present, and then on how we should respond. This cannot be done in a spirit of condescending traditionalism that worships tradition (as did the Pharisees). Instead, it must be done in a spirit of love that recognizes the power of liturgical tradition to aid and order the heart of the believer toward offering just praise to our most merciful and deserving God.
Those who are not called or able to teach (Note: almost no one in the Church falls into this category) should emulate the behavior they desire, but without the negativity often flowing freely from those who worship at the altar of traditionalism. Yes, we must live out our love for God in our reverent worship and love those who have yet to know the benefit of sound formation or maturity. For those who turn others away from God by their bad attitudes will be judged by a higher standard than those who know far less or who have yet to effectively live out what they know. Need convincing? Take a look at Matthew 18:21-25 for a glimpse at Jesus’ perspective on the wrong approach to this kind of situation.

So What Does the Devil Have to Do With All of This?


You can read the rest there.

In his Spirit in the Liturgy, Joseph Card. Ratzinger wrote of liturgical silence:

We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us. Such stillness will not be just a pause, in which a thousand thoughts and desires assault us, but a time of recollection, giving us an inward peace, allowing us to draw breath and rediscover the one thing necessary, which we have forgotten. That is why silence cannot be simply “made”, organized as if it were one activity among many. It is no accident that on all sides people are seeking techniques of meditation, a spirituality for emptying the mind. One of man’s deepest needs is making its presence felt, a need that is manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy. For silence to be fruitful, as we have already said, it must not be just a pause in the action of the liturgy. No, it must be an integral part of the liturgical event.

There is an old adage in theatre: Everything is nothing.   If the whole set is red, you stop looking at it.  If the volume is nothing but loud, you stop listening.  If there is constant noise, sound, something to hear and process, you tune out.

However, there is a greater purpose to silence in liturgical worship.  There is apophatic dimension of worship which must be fostered.  We need to be able to experience mystery between the signs, just as Moses had a glimpse of God through the crack in the rock.

Meanwhile, remember what Screwtape said about silence and noise:

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.]

This is what Screwtape in his rage accidentally transforms himself into a giant centipede.  Nasty.

If the Mass you attend regularly has little or no silence…  you need to make a change.  A Mass that has no silence in it, that is constantly at you to pay attention to something in an invasive way, to force you into the wrong sort of “active participation”, is sort of like a giant demonic centipede crawling its way into your head.

BTW… did you know that John Cleese did an audiobook reading of The Screwtape Letters?  Marvelous.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, The Drill and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. shoofoolatte says:

    Glad to hear you mention the apophatic dimension of prayer, Fr. Z. I so appreciate the Centering Prayer groups that are flourishing in the Catholic parishes of the US, thanks mainly to the work of Trappist monk, Thomas Keating. [LOL! Noooo…. that new age stuff has little to nothing to do with what I mean. Furthermore, I think you have purposely tried to derail this. Nice try.] I agree, more silence in our liturgies so that we can rest in the place that is deeper than words.

  2. acardnal says:

    I don’t think Fr. Z was discussing Centering Prayer or recommending it. [Exactly. And let’s close this rabbit hole.] He was writing about liturgical worship.

    Centering Prayer as practiced in a large number of parishes is dangerous and borders on the New Age and Eastern religious practices. It is NOT in the tradition of Christian prayer. He doesn’t recommend it. Practitioners should be wary. I post a quote from the late Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM, who was an expert on contemplative prayer. I recommend his book the Fire Within and Prayer Primer.

    “Contemplative intimacy does not come about by techniques — neither oriental nor occidental. Centering-prayer does not bring about contemplative prayer. It can’t; it’s a technique. Emptying the mind is just not the way to go. It’s abnormal to empty the mind; the mind is made to be filled. It’s only when we are really open to the Spirit, a deepening conversion and so on, that God begins to give the kind of communion with Himself that we cannot produce. When we get to prayer and are living with a deeper conversion, God begins to give us at prayer-time a loving awareness of Himself and that grows. It’s not something a technique can produce. No technique of any type can produce that. It has to be given by God and then received that is why it is called infused contemplation. When we are ready for it by deep conversion, He is given. They cause each other.”
    –Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM; “Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer” dvd, Disc 4, Segment 1,

  3. acardnal says:

    Clarification: when I wrote above, “he doesn’t recommend it”, I was referring to Fr. Dubay.

  4. acardnal says:

    Fr. Dubay often quoted Psalm 1, verse 1-2 as an example of how God wants us to pray:

    Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
    nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
    but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

    No mention of emptying one’s mind here but rather filling it with God’s Word.

  5. pelerin says:

    ‘Even before the celebration itself’
    I recently watched a short video on the internet on a town I had visited some years ago. It showed a new church (built in a style which I can only describe as German blockhaus) and the Priest interviewed said that the layout was very good for encouraging people to chat before Mass!

  6. sejoga says:

    The worst thing in the world is when I’ve gone into modern parishes to pray and they have those massive decorative running-water fonts. It totally kills the prayerfulness of the church space to hear that fish-tank / leaky-toilet sound droning on in the background (not that most of them are particular prayerful spaces to begin with).

    I feel like our whole world has killed silence, but it’s especially vexing in a church.

  7. Late for heaven says:

    Yes, John Cleese as Screwtape is brilliant. I get chills when he croons: “I think they will give you to me–or a piece of you.”

  8. Kerry says:

    Does anyone know what is the above arthropod ? I am certain it is not a centipede, and believe they related to pill bugs. We have them in the basement of our 1894 house. I call them ‘land shrimp’, and I won’t allow the cats down them to eat them. (Land shrimp vomit on the floors, bleeh!)

  9. James C says:

    Love that John Cleese recording. He’s the perfect Screwtape!

    I’m currently in Campania, Italy, and I was very thankful for the silence before and after Mass today—it was a blessed reprieve from the sappy screeching during! What is it about Italian parish music? But silence after Mass is critical if you want to hear God’s voice after you’ve just received Him in communion.

    The chummy chatting can wait till you are outside.

  10. Giuseppe says:

    Many music teachers preach say something like – most people can play the notes, to make meaningful music, you have to observe the rests. This applies to liturgy.

  11. Kerry says:

    Well, I see it is indeed a centipede, a house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata. Land shrimp indeed!

  12. PA mom says:

    I experienced a silent offertory procession recently during Mass. It was wonderful. The kids were calmer, I was able to look around for the ushers without worrying about where I was in a song. The whole effect left me much more focused for what was next.

    We are very fortunate to have a quiet Church before Mass.

  13. Mike says:

    We now have our Cantor “invite” us to introduce each other in the minute or two before Mass begins. If I said anything to our pastor, he would look at me as if I had two heads.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    A person who is not comfortable in silence is neither comfortable with God, nor with one’s own nothingness.

    Silence highlights humility and one’s own limitations, and the enormity of God.

  15. jacobi says:

    During the Mass I attended this morning there was an open clash of understanding. The priest, to his credit, insisted on periods of silence. The congregation were clearly uncomfortable, particularly at the end of Mass when chaos broke out with all and sundry chatting and laughing in the pews and aisles, backs to the tabernacle. Recognition of the continuing Real Presence in the tabernacle, simply did not exist.

    Such is the degree to which the understanding of the Mass has sunk in present day Catholicism. It occurred to me that Protestants would treat their symbolic bread and wine with greater respect than we treat the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.

    There is one answer. Priests must once again preach Catholicism directly, each Sunday, from the pulpit, to the Faithful.

  16. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    A good reflection on the importance of silence. Many of my students told me that actually fear silence, that they must have always sound around them, or else they feel that their world is closing in on them. I know people who can’t even sleep in silence! Yet it is in silence that we first hear Him.

    Silence is a Quaker virtue, found in Quaker worship; it once was also a Catholic virtue, and needs to be Catholic again. Nothing upsets me more than all the noise in church after Mass (in the Ordinary Form). Not so the Extraordinary Form!

    One thing that I love about Venice is the silence (once one gets away from the Piazza San Marco). Because there are no cars, one can here one’s foot fall, hear rain on the ground, etc.

    I remember Robert Hughes saying that Gregorian Chant arose out of a world of silence; modernity seems to be a conspiracy to promote constant noise.

  17. benedetta says:

    I was raised to kneel and pray upon entering a pew and I have found that this helps to set the tone for myself and my family straight off and once entering into sacred silence of the church I am much less inclined to chat with the people sitting next to me. Since attending the Extraordinary Form, I no longer have to do battle with the lack of silence prevalent in many Catholic churches before and after the Mass. I just assume that along with genuflecting and other practices people just have not been raised to respect silence in the church and that this is behind what has become loud chatter before and after Mass. And sometimes during unfortunately. On the other hand sometimes I have been totally astounded in the past to encounter elderly Catholics having loud conversations before and after the Mass. So I suppose it’s not about the time period in which one was raised completely. I will say that I have been edified by the way that Catholics who attend the Extraordinary Form always kneel to pray in thanksgiving after Mass before getting up and heading out of the church. I am grateful for the silence and simplicity of prayer at the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me immensely and I feel so much more restored to face the week having had that time with the Lord. I will add too that in my case I am very fortunate to have regular time after the Mass to visit with friends and family. Perhaps if a pastor makes an effort to help congregations regain this treasure that prepares us to receive the Lord and to be thankful for Him afterwards, he could at the same time encourage people to catch up on their friendships at the parish center after the Mass.

    I also think that we in our current culture are so very less inclined to listen generally and we find it hard to keep from talking all the time even when the time doesn’t call for it. Further I think there is a general lack of understanding not just among Catholics but across the wider culture about appropriate behavior, time and place etc — symphony conductors across the world are plagued by chatter and cell phone ringing in the concert hall. Children in classrooms do not know how to be an attentive student in the classroom or how to be a good audience in a lecture or performance. Given all this a rediscovery of what some of my generation may regard as quaint customs of yesteryear could really elevate the quality of life.

    Finally I think, consistent with what Fr. Z has been saying all along, with the lack of reverence at Mass we forget that we are to pray the Mass. As congregants in the ordinary form we are being talked at, performed to, sung to, so much business and interaction, announced things, etc, that we attend primed for all this and leave with our energy dissipated. The places where it’s a big meal and we’re all gathered round do in fact promote this atmosphere vociferously. And you can’t blame people for perceiving that if all this activity and performance is going on why should we too not commentate all the way through? I feel sad for Catholics who endure this every week as I think they are being deprived of what is their right, in our times the need for prayer is so great.

    That said there are priests who discourage the notion that we are to pray in the church at all. Some will quote the verse “When you pray go into your room…” as if the Mass is just a great banquet hall all the time. That’s a serious problem.

  18. Imrahil says:

    I don’t know how welcome a reference to popular culture will be (which I impose on no one),

    but there’s some rather emotional and not untrue section on Noise in Michael Ende’s Momo or the strange story of the time-thieves &c.

    If I were better with my memory, I’d give a quote, but it’s a bit of time I read that book.

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1st — Gregorian chant did not arise out of a “world of silence.” The city of Rome during the Empire was fairly noisy all the time; the freight wagons came in at night and in the early morning when the streets weren’t as full of people. Medieval churches often had markets in the churchyard, people living in sanctuary in the churchyard, animals and businessmen wandering in and out to get out of the rain or the wind…. [No. I don’t think so. Compared to the modern world, the unmechanized world of yore was indeed relatively silent, just as the night was very much darker.]

    Those unknown people who came up with the Gregorian chants were also going against worldly culture.

    2nd – It is polite to greet our previously-ignored neighbors at church. Which is why we should greet Our Lord in the Tabernacle, the unseen angels attending Mass, and the unseen saints of the “cloud of witness.”

  20. OrthodoxChick says:

    I’m so grateful that I was able to attend the EF today. I love the silence. I read all of the prayers and readings to myself and now that I’m becoming more familiar with this form of the Mass, I find that I can concentrate on silently praying the prayers I’m reading without fussing about where I am in the Mass, am I keeping up with Fr., etc. Today, in this very silence, and because of it, I noticed that certain lines in the prayers were calling me to re-pray them slower and more deliberately. And these were different lines than had grabbed me at the prior EF I had attended. The silence allowed me to notice that God is focusing me one different aspects of the Mass, and particularly, on the Most Holy Trinity, in this way. The prayers in the EF address the Most Holy Trinity so much clearer and more beautifully than anything I’ve read so far. It says a lot about the EF that one can literally read and pray the same prayers week after week and be called interiorly to focus on something different every time. That has never happened to me in 44 years of N.O. attendance.

  21. Elizium23 says:

    sejoga, you are kidding, right? Flowing water is white noise that tends to drown out unwanted noise, and to me it is an incredibly welcome and comforting noise to have in the background. In fact, I believe that the Holy See recommends (no link or document from the top of my head) that holy water fonts be constructed with running water for various reasons. Not the least of which is that the Temple in Jerusalem had an extensive and sophisticated system of running water and sewers (thus the Scripture, “I saw water flowing from the right side of the Temple”) and Catholic Churches are the Temples of the New Covenant. What else is there to water the Tree of Life (the Crucifix) but flowing waters (Psalm 1)?

    No, this is a modern “innovation” which I welcome heartily. There is nothing uglier than a pitiful wash-basin of stagnant water with a cover on it that is moved out of the way when it is not convenient. We should take a cue from the Mormons in this regard, with their grandiose baptismal font supported by the twelve oxen mentioned in Sacred Scripture.

  22. joan ellen says:

    Thank you Fr. Z for these words: “Here is a great point for our reflection on our obligation to revitalize our liturgical worship of God.”
    “Unless we revitalize our liturgical worship, no other aspect of a New Evangelization will have any lasting effect.”

    Thank you acardnal. ” It is NOT in the tradition of Christian prayer.” Just last week I was asked to join a group of women in prayers after Mass. I was not sure, since it is a more liberal parish, so decided to stay just to see if I wanted to join in their prayers. Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and great attention to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. One of the best things to happen to that parish in years…besides their new pastor. Now I know the question to ask myself…is/are the prayer(s) in the tradition of Christian prayer?

    Supertradmum, thank you for these words: “A person who is not comfortable in silence is neither comfortable with God, nor with one’s own nothingness.”

    “Silence highlights humility and one’s own limitations, and the enormity of God.” I will try to think of these words when I am tempted to leave without giving a silent thanksgiving after Mass…EF or OF.

    Orthodox Chick: I love these words…”Today, in this very silence, and because of it, I noticed that certain lines in the prayers were calling me to re-pray them slower and more deliberately.” Thanks.

  23. lana says:

    In my parish the congregation is perfectly quiet before Mass. It is the EM’s, lectors, sacristan and choir that make all the noise.

  24. av8er says:

    I second Jacobi’s comment that the priests should teach this. There is no other way that the average pew sitter will learn the depth of every thing that goes on in Mass. My reversion from the “cafeteria” came from a priest who challenged us to find out why we do what we do and believe what we believe. Too bad I had to move.
    It does not cease to amaze me the depth and beauty of our faith. Dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator serves no one. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

  25. Andkaras says:

    Silence is why we mothers many times will get up at 5 a.m. despite still being tired . Silence is why some of us parishioners sit so far apart from each other at some masses.Silence is golden . It is so rare that at our first EF mass this past summer my daughter whispered to me,” Mom what’s wrong?” She thought something had gone wrong. like someone had forgotten their lines or something. Oh and that bug, It is a cave centipede. our basements are like caves sometimes. In real caves they eat injured or slow creatures and critters like baby bats who lose their grip and fall to the cave floor. They are incredibly fast .

  26. Flowing water is white noise that tends to drown out unwanted noise, and to me it is an incredibly welcome and comforting noise to have in the background.

    Wait till you’re over 40.

  27. Priam1184 says:

    One idea: ditch the hymn played during the reception of Holy Communion. It becomes almost impossible to contemplate the audacious majesty of the act of walking up to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ when someone is blaring ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ at the top of their lungs. Just sayin’…

  28. pelerin says:

    The commenter Elizium says he welcomes the sound of running water in church. He obviously does not have young children! I remember taking my children to a museum where there was a running water display but it was not working. We were told that it had to be stopped as too many children had wet themselves in front of it!

    For those of us of a certain age the sound of running water would send us running too. Phillipa Martyr’s comment made me smile but she is so right. I have never been in a church where there was running water but if I were to find one I would have to leave pronto!

  29. Mariana2 says:

    A chapel veil screens you nicely from would-be chatters.

  30. wmeyer says:

    Mariana, for some of us, the chapel veil is not appropriate. ;)

    I recently wrote to the music director of our parish, as the choir from the 8:45 Mass had developed the habit of standing around chattering and carrying on until only minutes before the 10:45 Mass. He thanked me for my letter, and the very next week, and weeks since, the magpies have been absent. It is a pleasant change when someone gives proper consideration to a proper request. Quite different to my last parish.

  31. teejay329 says:

    Thumbs up to the chapel veil.
    And, not to derail the subject of silence…Fr. Z forgive me if this is not appropriate…
    Got the opportunity to attend a production of the “Screwtape Letters.” It was put on by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts (a Christian acting troupe.) It was quite powerful. The actor who played Screwtape (it basically was a one-man show, aside from the little demon who played his assistant) took some questions afterward and commented on how difficult it was to exist in an industry that is mainly secular and pagan. The venue was a large facility that had many other events going on. My friends and I stood outside before the start and (successfully, I might add) tried to pick out the folks attending this production versus others. The entire evening was quite powerful. It it still touring and playing in many cities. They are planning to put on a production on “The Great Divorce” soon.

  32. lana says:

    OrthodoxChick, I hear you completely about being able to slowly pray the missal at your own pace. That is to me one of the big drawing points of the EF. Also, the Latin just sounds so much more like what you are saying than English. Knowing the Novus Ordo, I can easily pray along in Latin and know what I am praying. And all the repetitions of ‘Through Our Lord Jesus Christ….’ and the other repetitions gives you more time to absorb what you just read.

    And I find that if the OF is said slowly enough, you can get some of the same effect, because you are able to pray along instead of just listening along. It also helps to do the
    readings beforehand, and even in a fast OF it helps me a lot to say a silent Amen after each clause.

  33. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Following up on Suburbanbanshee’s comments:

    Presumably Gregorian (and other) chant in east and west is in continuity with Jewish chant, Temple, synagogue, and domestic.

    St. Augustine remarks on his surprise at finding St. Ambrose reading silently, rather than out loud (but I cannot recall the further details of discussions of this, and (probably) reading practices in antiquity).

    I have been in churches built in the middle ages where, at the appointed moment, people are invited to a service in the choir, which is then more or less sealed off, while touristic/pilgrim perambulation (not excluding talk) continues in the rest of the church. I wonder if this is what it was often like, in earlier ages, too?

    I was astonished at some of the examples of late mediaeval piety during the celebration which Huizinga gives in The Waning of the Middle Ages. Was this among what Trent and Pius V were tackling?

    OrthodoChick’s heartening comment ends, “That has never happened to me in 44 years of N.O. attendance.” Happily something like her experience happens to me not infrequently in N.O. attendance (but there are N.O. celebrations and N.O. celebrations).

    Following up on Kerry’s comments,

    I like some of Wikipedia’s details about Scutigera coleoptrata. “House centipedes feed on spiders, bed bugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, ants, and other household arthropods” – later reinforced with “It should be noted that they are a non-toxic, safe method of pest control, as house centipedes prey on other arthropods.” A bit sad about the spiders, who (when all goes well) eat moquitos and flies, and even wasps. The last of which, we are told Scutigera also does: “For wasps, they retreat after applying the venom to give it time to take effect.” Finally, “Bites (stings) are extremely uncommon, and the forcipules of most house centipedes are not strong enough to penetrate human skin.” I hope that is accurate! (Encountering them suddenly, or seeing them on the ceiling above your bed as you settle in can be a bit disquieting…)

  34. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I enjoy the Cleese Screwtape (though it sometimes seems more uneven than I expected). There are a couple samples on YouTube of Andy Serkis as Screwtape that bode well for that version, though I have not heard it all, yet. Nor have I yet steeled myself enough to try the 1979 encounter of Cleese and Malcolm Muggeridge, among others, variously loaded on YouTube…

  35. ocleirbj says:

    I do miss the practice of my former church, of the congregation kneeling down as one after the recessional for a moment of silent prayer, where no one moves until the organist begins the postlude. If there were a specific prayer of thanksgiving in the Mass itself, I don’t think this would bother me as much. I wonder why there isn’t one in the NO? Is there one in the EF?

    On the other hand, we have a wonderful Filipino choir that sings twice a month, full of harmony and fervour. They tame their enthusiasm during the liturgy itself, where their love of God and respect for the proprieties is obvious, but as soon as the recessional is over, they visibly relax, give themselves a little shake, start to clap and burst out into songs of joyful praise that are a delight to hear. They are so full of faith and joy that I can’t bring myself even to think a complaint, and I walk out of the sanctuary greatly blessed, every time.

    Now that the tragedy of destruction and death has fallen upon their homeland, I believe and pray that God’s grace will sustain these dear people and those they love throughout this bitter trial: for “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”

  36. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Presumably Gregorian (and other) chant in east and west is in continuity with Jewish chant, Temple, synagogue, and domestic.”

    Not really. The very earliest chanting done by the post-Resurrection disciples, was, obviously, straight Jewish chant-like singing, because they tried to stay within the Synagogues, but they were quickly thrown out and scattered. There were two major areas of musical development : Rome and Constantinople. From Rome, we go the musical scales. After the Christian persecutions started in Rome, Christians dispersed, primarily to the East and the scales of Rome became melded to the short melody-types common in the East to for a sort of hybrid music that would become Chant. Wikipedia is mostly correct in this:

    “Singing has been part of the Christian liturgy since the earliest days of the Church. Until the mid-1990s, it was widely accepted that the psalmody of ancient Jewish worship significantly influenced and contributed to early Christian ritual and chant. This view is no longer generally accepted by scholars, due to analysis that shows that most early Christian hymns did not have Psalms for texts, and that the Psalms were not sung in synagogues for centuries after the Destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70.[3] However, early Christian rites did incorporate elements of Jewish worship that survived in later chant tradition.”

    This is only partially correct, in that the earliest Christian chant and hymns were free-form compositions, but, gradually, for the sake of uniformity, the free-form compositions were replaced by Psalms. Gregory the Great, while not writing any chant, himself, was responsible for mandating that the Psalms form the basis for the prayers of the Divine Office. The Psalm tradition is known by the end of the third-century in the Roman churches, so, it doesn’t matter that the Jewish synagogues did not sing Psalms.

    Chant was not formed in silence. It was formed in blood. While I can’t give you silence, I can give you that Chant was formed in peace: that tranquility that flows from God’s right order. It is not the words or the melody that gives Chant its power. Its power comes from the genetic memory and the supernatural communion of those who died with those melodies on their lips.

    The Chicken

  37. dans0622 says:

    Kerry, the little creeps are also called “money bugs” by Koreans who tend to treat them with surprising kindness. I don’t share that view but they do eat spiders. So, they have that going for them.

  38. Heather F says:

    Does the EF never have babies in attendance? It’s pretty rare to get true silence when there are little ones around. I’m not talking about continuous wailing, just the usual baby noises that babies make.

    I get as annoyed as anybody when adults chat full voice in the pews, but frankly I love the low level murmur of little ones in church, even the occasional squawk. I grew up in a mainline protestant denomination where even my parents tended to be a couple of decades younger than the average, and the audible presence of so many babies and children that I am treated to now is a wonderful sign to me of life in the Church.

    The worst violation of prayerful silence I’ve experienced wasn’t at Mass, it was a monthly evening Holy Hour introduced at our parish a few months ago. I went to the first one but haven’t been back since. There were exactly four minutes for “silent prayer” given, which was accompanied by a guitar noodling along to no particular tune. The rest was mainly the lady and her guitarist emoting into the microphone telling us what we were all praying for, that we were all here because we need heeeeaaaling (well actually I was there mostly to pray for someone else in particular, thank you very much). Gimme a break… It was the only time I ever came out of a Holy Hour feeling worse than when I went into it.

  39. Heather: “Does the EF never have babies in attendance?”

    In my experience, babies are more ubiquitous at EF than at OF Masses. I’ve rarely attended an EF Sunday Mass without young children and babes in arms present. But perhaps at EF Mass we count the sound of babies not as noise but as the music of little angels (as I heard a priest once describe it).

    Seriously, I’ve sometimes wondered whether the fact that babies seem quieter at EF Mass — if indeed they are — is due to their being lulled by the Gregorian chant (or gassed by the incense?)

  40. Torpedo1 says:

    Just shared this on Facebook Fr. Z. You made my point better than I ever could have from a discussion I was having with a relative last week. I love the TLM and try to attend it when ever I can and one of the things I love most about it, in fact the the thing I do love most about it, is the silence. As I said to my sister after our first time attending it, “Well, the congregation finally shut up.”
    I didn’t mean that particular congregation at that particular parish, but I meant in general. The TLM has a greater emphasis on silence and so you can see it more readily.
    that being said, I can also see an emphasis on silence in the parishes who regularily perform the NOM, especially the ones who have allowed the fruits of perpetual adoration to blossom in their parish. At the parish my sister and her husband attend, silence is observed very well I think, and is only getting better. There are doors blocking the main part of the church from the rest of the building and when ever you go through them, you hear silence. the silence is especially noticeable before Mass, as people come in, kneel down and pray before everything gets started. Those who wish to socialize do it outside of the main church and you don’t hear it. It’s unspoken, but very much there. If you want to chit-chat, stay outside in the back of the building. Granted, there is still lots of noise immediately following Mass inside the church, but I appreciate that people generally try to leave before they really start up conversations about where they’re going to get breakfast. The difference is noticeable. It’s loud outside those doors.
    this is why I really hope the TLM will continue to have a gravitational pull on the NOM. I can see it already happening and I hope and pray it will continue.

  41. Priam1184 says:

    @The Chicken What is the evidence that has changed scholars tune on the use of the Psalms in the early Church? The life of Our Lord as passed down to us by the evangelists reveals his extensive use of the Psalms, citing them at many of the important events of his life and it is hard to believe that the apostles and their first followers wouldn’t have continued this practice. And moreover the Church separated completely from the synagogue after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 (we are trained now in this age of phony tolerance and the State of Israel to forget that both the early Church and the Jews viewed that moment as a watershed and a complete breaking apart of their relationship and that the Church saw it as a divine confirmation of its mission) so Jewish practices in the synagogue no longer had any influence on its own worship. I do however agree entirely with your last paragraph.

  42. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Masked Chicken, Thank you for the interesting matter! So I have (probably?) been coasting on an up-to-the-mid-90s-broad-scholarly consensus? I will echo Priam1184, ‘Tell me more!’ Would you especially recommend any particular online resources about this? (Or, for future reference, offline?)

    When you say, ” they were quickly thrown out and scattered”, how quickly, and universally do you mean? For example, is it not widely held that the Birkat haMinim was not added to the Amidah/Shmoneh Esreh until sometime after the destruction of the Temple? And David Flusser made the interesting case that at least in Rome in the time of Josephus and Clement there was no clear or decisive antipathy between Jews and Jewish and Gentile Christians. Is it contended that no chanting at all continued in the synagogues, or domestically? And would a cessation of Psalm-singing in the synagogues (whatever the extent of continuing contact) engender the same among the Christians? Like Priam1184, I find this improbable. And, however free Christian forms were, why would that be more likely to tend more to starting all over, than varying received traditions?

    Finally, why would not blood reaffirm what was received and handed on (with whatever formal liberties) – including keeping silence, as well as singing, when appropriate?

  43. I attend an OF Mass, but said facing God and with many large families. Our kids there tend to be rather rowdy, but it’s a sign of life, and I like to hear the babies singing.

    For the most part, the kids don’t run around, and if they do, it’s at the back of the church. (Note to parents: those little boots do look adorable on Junior, but they also sound like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are at the back of the church having a joint epileptic seizure. How about soft-soled slippers next time?)

    I attend EF sometimes/rarely, and I notice that parents tend to control their children more closely, and take the baby outside if it’s singing. This is more like it was when I was young; there was no mucking around in Mass, or you got a smack. I think it also shows more regard for those inside the church who want to concentrate in peace.

    Different strokes, that’s all. I am happy in either setting.

  44. LadyMarchmain says:

    Orthodox Chick, that is so beautiful, thank you!

    Chicken: this is a very interesting topic, thank you for posting about it. From my study of the matter, there isn’t really (and can’t be) real consensus since the facts are at such a great historical distance and the tradition was largely oral. The scholarly community swings first one way, then another. The major study on this was Werner’s “The Sacred Bridge”, and I think his arguments (in favor of a very direct connection between Jewish liturgical chant and Gregorian Chant) are quite convincing. We know there are some absolute coherences, some of the psalm chant settings are virtually identical, and then there are things like the Sanctus, which is liturgically similar to the Kadosh in the Jewish liturgy.

    I don’t think it can be quite accurate to say that the psalms were no longer chanted in the Diaspora, because they definitely are, and lots of them. I would say, though, that Jewish liturgical modes are very distinctive, and different from the modes of Gregorian chant. They are much closer to the Syriac and Maronite liturgical chants which share some of the middle eastern modes.

  45. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Lady Marchmain, Thank you for your contributions to this (sub)topic! Does it include questions (to use a textual-critical model or image) of branchings of a common tradition, such that behind ‘Syriac’, ‘Byzantine’, and ‘Gregorian’ developments (so to call them), there would seem to be a common (Apostolic) ‘stock’ in chant as well as in ‘text’? And would the pre-existence of different musical modal traditions and the effects of ‘interacting’ with them be one of the great transforming (but seldom simply obliterating and replacing) factors in the production of distinct ‘branches’?

    And what of the place (or places!) of sung sound and silence in liturgies? I am reminded of Andrew Louth’s remarks about different ideas of community through time affecting communal worship: “Our notion of community tends to mean ‘doing things together’. Applied to the liturgy, such an understanding of community produces the notion of worship which is becoming more and more prevalent in the Christian West. Christian worship is everyone doing everything together: we sing hymns, we repeat prayers together; if anything is said, then we all want to be able to hear it, so that we can all ‘take part’. It was not always like that […]. Some parts of the liturgy used to be silent, other things would be going on at the same time, there was no ‘single line’ in the liturgy that all should follow.” He contrasts a hierechical notion “where there are genuinely different roles, and the putting together of those different roles creates something new and different from all the parts that go to make it” (Denys the Areopagite (1989), p. 132). Yet there would seem ‘lines’ of words, song, silence which go together to make the ‘single braided line’ not ‘in’, but of, such a liturgy. Behind parts as well as whole there are presumably continuities of tradition.

  46. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Sorry: “hierarchical”!

  47. The Masked Chicken says:

    The earliest notated Gregorian Chant examples in the West that we have are from about 850 A. D. and how to interpret the markings are somewhat conjectural. We do have some earlier examples of Eastern Chant. Werner’s thesis in the Sacred Bridge simply is an example, in my opinion, of the manifestation of apophenia or pareidolia, which is the tendency to see patterns in unconnected data. The classic example is the famous, “Face on Mars,” photograph. We know from written sources that the early prayers in desert Father’s additions to the Divine Office (the Little Hours) were free-form prayer, presumably, accompanied by free-form singing, since it would have been almost impossible to put Jewish Cantillation to the free-form prayers, especially when one considers that, especially after Ptolemy and even moreso after Boethius, the Greek modal scale system was universally adopted in the West and the inflection points are not the same, I don’t suspect, as in the Jewish practice (I do not know much about Jewish scalar organization, however). In any case, they were not reciting the psalms. The practice was described in the writings of a woman (an early nun-like person) from the period, whose name escapes me.

    Because there was too much non-uniformity within the Church, with everyone making up prayer for their local community, eventually, the psalms were settled on as a standard. Perhaps, this has to do with the Church taking notice of the Jewish practice, but, likelier, it has to do with the fact that it is the only real music in the Bible and there happen to be enough of them to use throughout the year.

    Actually, the connection with Jewish music mentioned in the Wikipedia article was not held up until the 1990’s, as we were taught the Eastern transmission theory even from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. The idea was that the melodies came from Turkish sources which, in turn, came from India. The inflective singing matches Chant just as well from this source as it does from Jewish sources. We, simply, do not have enough original source material to decide the point.

    The other point that decides against the Jewish connection to Chant is the fact that the First Council of Jerusalem went out of its way not to impose any Jewish rituals on the Gentile communities. This would, presumably, include musical practices. In truth, there were probably no uniform musical practices for Chanting until the time of Gregory the Great, but definitely during the Carolingian Renaissance of Charlemagne.

    What may have change in the 1990’s is the attempt to perform some of the earliest known Chant from the Eastern tradition. The Oxyrhynchus Pappyus 1786 contains a hymn to the Trinity. It shows no trace of Jewish derivation. It is a free-form composition.


    The Chicken

    Some other sources for the novice:


  48. robtbrown says:

    Elizium23 says:
    In fact, I believe that the Holy See recommends (no link or document from the top of my head) that holy water fonts be constructed with running water for various reasons.

    It’s the Baptismal Font, not the Holy Water Font.

    I have to wonder about its relevance. The churches in Europe are old and empty, and some have Baptistries that are works of art and not to be . Most of the new churches there are being built are by the SSPX, and I doubt they’re much interested in such a directive. And the Third World doesn’t have the money for such a design.

    So it’s mostly a factor in the US, where demographic changes and priest shortage have produced the suburban mega-churches, whose design is so unreligious that the miniature water park at the entrance is hardly out of place.

  49. robtbrown says:

    should be: not to be changed

  50. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Masked Chicken, Thank you for all the further detail, including the links and your discussion!

    I have the Paniagua recording ( and another as well) of the hymn (fragment) in Oxyrhynchus 1786, but, idiotically enough, had never tried to see what more I could find about the hymn, online. So, thank you especially for leading me to the Wikipedia on it!

    What an appropriate hymn to mention in the context of this post, with the Greek word ‘sigato’, translated ‘let it be silent’, so prominent, and a musical notation apparently including a rest-sign. I see the edition mentioned in the article, in volume 15 of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, is available at the Internet Archive – complete with Professor H. Stuart Jones’s transcription in modern notation! The French vserion of the Wikipedia article even links to it. And the German, French, and Spanish versions of the Wikipedia article link to a source with two ‘Midi’ files where we can hear it. And the French and Spanish also link to an English language article which embeds a YouTube loading of the Paniagua performance. Double-checking on YouTube directly discovers not only a couple other loadings of the same, but one of a modern arrangement by Johann Kim.

    Quite a late-antique treat for this (EF calendar) Feast of Pope St. Martin I!

    (I may try to say some more about chant, after I have followed you other links…)

  51. LadyMarchmain says:

    Chicken, thank you for the further information! I was taught that Turkish source idea as well. Since it’s all speculative, I hope it is all right if I say that I am not sure I entirely agree. I also think I probably disagree with the idea that everyone in the church was making up their own individual prayers, or the conclusion that, because the First Council of Jerusalem decided not to impose any of the Mosaic Law on the gentile converts, that would have meant eliminating the liturgy. In the account of the Council in Acts, we read that the Council felt it was sufficient to make only a minimal requirement on the new converts because they had the expectation that the new converts would hear Moses [meaning the Five Books of Moses, or the Law] read in the Synagogue every week. (Acts 15: 21, Douay-Rheims) This suggests to me that the expectation was that the services of the early Church continued the traditional liturgical practice of having a reading from the Law and Prophets. A comparative structural analysis of the Mass and the Divine Liturgy of Chrysostom with traditional Jewish liturgy shows striking similarities, and since the liturgies of other religions (like Buddhism or Hinduism) do not in any way resemble them, and there is a historical connection, it seems like more than apophenia to me; rather, a logical historical progression. It would seem more likely than not that this would be the case.

    In terms of the psalms: I think it implausible to picture such a disruption in the tradition of praying the psalms! The earliest versions of the mass include them or seem to expect them. These were always part of the liturgy and I find it hard to imagine that everyone would suddenly stop reciting the psalms, improvise their own prayers, and then decide to put the psalms back. An oral liturgical tradition is very secure, and the recitation of the psalms, while we don’t have musical notation, had many prescribed practices. I believe there are recordings showing the melodic similarities the ancient Jewish chant of Psalm 112 or 114 and the Gregorian chant of the same psalm (virtually identical).

    But as you say, we simply don’t have enough information to know any of this for certain.

    Venerator, I like your image of the common stock and branches. To me that makes the most sense for the historical transmission of the Gospel and the fact that the Apostles surely taught the Scriptures and liturgy they knew when they oversaw the establishment of the churches.

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