There are many times for silence written into the Mass: as part of the Penitential Rite, after the ‘Let us Pray’ before the Opening Prayer and of course after Holy Communion.
Times of silence are also written into the Liturgy of the Word and these are particularly important. There may be silence before the Liturgy of the Word begins, after the First and Second readings and after the Homily (General Instruction on the Roman Missal no 56).
I would like to put these times of silence into context. The Liturgy of the Word is not about giving instruction or catechesis or just drawing out moral lessons. It is about a dialogue.
The scriptural word that we hear is only half the story. What also matters is our genuine response to those words. What reaction really takes place within us? It does not matter what that reaction is. What matters is that it is honest! We may find ourselves thinking that what we have heard is encouraging, insightful or thought provoking but we may also think that it is irrelevant, or that it makes no sense, or even that it is backward or immoral. What matters is that we take our reaction seriously.
This is the dialogue that the word is seeking to bring about with us. It is seeking to get inside us and change us in some way.
Now for this to happen we need at least a little time to digest those words. This is where the silences come in. They do not need to be long but they do need to give enough time for the Word to land inside us and let us take notice of it and our reaction to it. So there is silence after the First and Second readings to allow this to happen and similarly after the Homily. These silences are one of the characteristics of the renewed liturgy. The Mass is not there just to be gotten through, or for us to satisfy our Sunday obligation, but to enable us to be engaged with the word of God especially in its highpoint in the words, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and to let his Spirit get to work within us.
I wonder if at least initially that silence before the Liturgy of the Word could also be an opportunity for a minister to remind the congregation of what we are about to enter into?
By Frank O’Loughlin
Main Image: Saints Peter and Paul by Daniele Crespi (1598-1630). Paolo e Federico Manusardi/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio