Silence and Stillness

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan at 9:49 AM

This is new content in the second edition of Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People, from Chapter 1, "Preparing for Prayer".


Silence and Stillness

Do you listen to the radio as you drive to work?  Do you listen to music on an iPod as you run?  Do you turn the television on as soon as you get home?  Many of us live with constant background noise; silence is seen as a void waiting to be filled.  When was the last time you sat still for an hour or two?  Maybe it was while watching a movie or otherwise being entertained.
Silence and stillness are not burdens to be endured but treasures to be sought after.  The “still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:12) of God can often be drowned out by the constant noise and activity of the world.  Jesus surely hears the prayers we express in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts (cf. Catechism 2616), and it is in “this silence, unbearable to the ‘outer’ man, [that] the Father speaks to us His incarnate Word.” (Catechism 2717)  In contemplative or meditative prayer, the words of the psalmist ring true, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Ps. 62:1), and the words of God come in reply:  Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)
During the Mass, there are periods of silence – not just silence on the part of the congregation while the priest or someone else speaks or sings, but total silence among all those present.  It can be difficult, or even uncomfortable, to people who are used to constant action and ambient noise.  Just as uncomfortable is stillness, whether standing or sitting or kneeling.  We might often think “Did someone forget what to do?” or “What is the priest waiting for?”
Rarely do we think to ask ourselves in this silence and stillness, “Whose presence am I in?  What am I doing?”  God’s transcendence and majesty should give us pause:  “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab. 2:20)  Spend time before Mass in silence contemplating these things, and when there is silence during the Mass, put it to good use.