In his most recent post over at New Liturgical Movement, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski discusses the importance of silence within the liturgy, particularly during the Canon of the Mass. In his article “The Silence of the Canon Speaks More Loudly Than Words”, Dr. Kwasniewski notes:
“The traditional practice of the priest praying the Canon silently emphasizes that Christ does not come to us in words, but in the one unique Word which HE IS, and which—immanent, transcendent, and infinite as it is—no human tongue can ever express…
“How often have we experienced the Liturgy of the Word ballooning to an overwhelming size, losing all proportion with the pulsing heart of the liturgy, the offering of the sacrifice and the ensuing communion? In many Masses I’ve attended over the years, the time used by the opening greeting, the readings, and the homily was some 45 minutes, while somehow everything from the presentation of the gifts onwards was crammed into 15 minutes. In the rush to be done (now that the gregarious and intellectually engaging business of readings and preaching is over), either Eucharistic Prayer II or III is chosen—prayers that are utterly dwarfed by the preceding textual cornucopia, seeming like a pious afterthought…
“Accordingly, it makes sense that everything up to and especially the Creed should be sung or spoken out loud, whereas once we reach the Offertory and the Canon, a decisive shift is made to silence, to the loving contemplation of the voiceless and eternal source of meaning behind the words of Scripture and the Creed…In the midst of the silence of the Canon, suddenly the bells are rung and the priest elevates the High Priest into the sight of all, the Eucharistic God-Man suspended between man and God, the victim whose death reconciles man and God…This elevation speaks with a fullness that the silence of the Canon accentuates in the most dramatic manner possible.
“This profound silence at the very center of the Mass is just one among a thousand reasons why Christians hungry for the meat and drink of God find the appetite of their souls at once satisfied and provoked by the traditional Latin Mass…Thanks be to God that this silence is increasingly speaking to more and more souls—souls fed up with the stream of verbiage and noise so characteristic of modernity and, sadly, of many liturgies that echo it.”
As the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the supreme prayer of the Church, our ability to offer it well, far from simply being a matter of preference, actually becomes a necessity. If we are to have a substantial and effective prayer life, we must rediscover silence.
Many of us who regularly assist at the traditional Latin Mass have indeed discovered the profound silence which is intrinsic to the ancient rite. In its moments of silence, particularly during the Canon, the traditional liturgy conveys to us the mystery and truth of Our Lord’s real presence on the altar.
Writing in the Fall 2001 issue of Latin Mass Magazine, Fr. Chad Ripperger also highlighted the necessity for silence within the Mass and its role in fostering a prayer life for the faithful. Fr. Ripperger, much like Dr. Kwasniewski, noted how the ancient rite naturally facilitates this prayerfulness:
“St. Augustine said that no person can save his soul if he does not pray. Now it is a fact that mental prayer and prayer in general have collapsed among the laity (and the clergy, for that matter) in the past thirty years. It is my own impression that this development actually has to do with the ritual of the Mass. Now in the new rite, everything centers around vocal prayer, and the communal aspects of the prayer are heavily emphasized. This has led people to believe that only those forms of prayer that are vocal and communal have any real value…
“The ancient ritual, on the other hand, actually fosters a prayer life. The silence during the Mass actually teaches people that they must pray. Either one will get lost in distraction during the ancient ritual or one will pray. The silence and encouragement to pray during the Mass teach people to pray on their own. While, strictly speaking, they are not praying on their own insofar as they should be joining their prayers and sacrifices to the Sacrifice and prayer of the priest, these actions are done interiorly and mentally and so naturally dispose them toward that form of prayer. This is one of the reasons that, after the Mass is said according to the ancient ritual, people are naturally quieter and tend to pray afterwards. If everything is done vocally and out loud, then once the vocal stops, people think it is over. It is very difficult to get people who attend the new rite of Mass to make a proper thanksgiving by praying afterward because their appetites and faculties have habituated them toward talking out loud.”
In his 2001 Apostolic Letter “Novo Millennio Inuente”, Saint John Paul II called for our Christian communities to become “genuine schools of prayer”. Many Catholics have finally come to realize the necessary part that silence plays in facilitating these schools of prayer. And for many of us, that silence is being found at the traditional Latin Mass.
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.