LITURGY MATTERS: Never Underestimate the Importance of Silence

Throughout the liturgy there are many moments that call on us to be silent. Along with the many other signs in a liturgical celebration, silence is often one of the most overlooked and unobserved. Why is it so important? What is the silence calling us to?

From a purely psychological perspective silence can promote self-awareness. These moments can assist the brain to process feelings, experiences and thoughts and bring some clarity of what was experienced. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a classical music concert. Many of the pieces have many parts, known as movements. Movements can be as little as two but as many as deemed necessary by the composer to tell the story they are wanting people to experience. For example, The Planets, composed by Gustav Holst, is a suite of seven movements. In between each of those movements there is silence. This silence plays an important part in many classical music pieces, and it can be incredibly moving. A lot of the impact that comes from those moments of silence can be lost if it is not allowed to be experienced.

The same is true within the liturgy of the Church. Silence is one of the elements that allows us to be full, active, and conscious participants. Silence needs to be present. If fact, the liturgy writes it in. The silence can and should be profound.

Within the liturgy there are various kinds of silence. It is always intentional, purposeful, and integral to liturgy. Examples include: after each scripture reading; during the preparation of the gifts; accompanying the movement of liturgical ministers, particularly readers moving to and from the ambo; and most importantly where it is actually written into the liturgy as an integral element. For example, during the Collect after the presider says, ‘Let us pray’, the missal then states: “And all pray in silence with the priest for a while”. So why be silent?

Where it is explicitly written, it must be important. Silence is not the absence of sound; it is the process of experiencing something internal and allowing that experience to permeate our hearts. As many Church documents attest, these moments are times where we can realise the presence of God’s Holy Spirit and become united in prayer with God and each other. In silence we are praying, meditating, reflecting, calling to mind, praising, preparing to engage in dialogue with God who calls us to life and mission.

Liturgy rehearses us for life. The silence we experience in liturgy reminds us that silence is an essential element of human life and community. Where the world is in overdrive and deadlines are to be met, meetings abound, social media, television…the practice of silence can give you what you need to connect with God and the desires God has on your life, and with all the people you met.  

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Fiona Duque Image
Fiona Duque

Fiona is the Pastoral Ministries Officer - Worship and Prayer.

Formerly, she was the Ministry Coordinator and Religious Studies Coordinator at St Bede's Catholic College, Chisholm.