Sunday, 8 March 2015

Silence in Church, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Jn 2:13-25; Ex 20:1-17
As some of you know, earlier this year I was in Rome for a clergy conference. And a highlight of the event was being able to attend Holy Mass with Pope Francis, something I'd not yet been able to do with our new Pope. As we all know, he's a very popular figure, with a relaxed, extrovert and joyful personality, all of which is readily observable at his public audiences in the manner in which he greets and smiles to people as he comes down the aisle.
Now, I note this because his behaviour during Holy Mass is noticeably different: he is solemn and composed, and as he walked down the aisle his eyes were either fixed forward to the altar or down to the ground. He was doing something SOLEMN and SACRED and his behaviour made that clear.
In addition, before he came out at the start of Mass there was an announcement that the crowds were not to applaud him or clap –we were gathered to worship God, not to be a papal fan club.
I found the whole thing immensely edifying, but it made we wonder about how we behave in Church for Mass here in Shaftesbury.

I say this today because, as I mentioned when I preached on this six years ago, today's Gospel text is the only time we see Jesus get truly ANGRY. The Lord is sometimes saddened by those who refuse to believe in Him, but this is the ONLY time the Gospels record Him being truly angry. And WHY was He angry? Because the Temple, His “Father’s House”(Jn 2:16), “the House of Prayer for all the nations”(Isa 56:7, c.f Jer 7:11)”, was being abused by people mis-treating it, treating it for uses other than worship.
What of our church here, the temple of the new covenant? Catholic Churches are consecrated for sacred use, for worship. And yet, often our parish church seems to be treated more like a talking place, a place to chat. And let me point out that the General Instruction n.45 (c.f. Inaestimabile Donum n.17) explicitly states that churches should be silent for prayer before and after Holy Mass.
In contrast, people often complain to me that they are unable to pray in our church because of all the talking. They say to me, “Father, this is a church, if I can't pray in church then WHERE can I pray! It's not right”
So, can I point out: we have a porch and hall for meeting and chatting. Please keep the church for prayer, but DO chat and meet in the hall and porch.

On a less specific, and hopefully less critical note, can I shift this slightly and say, if “the house of prayer” is so valued by the Lord, then surely TIMES of prayer also need to be valued in our lives. Our Faith calls on us to dedicate PLACES to prayer; we also need to dedicate TIMES to it.
In Lent we are especially called to pray, but this can also be a good time to reconsider the place of prayer in our lives the rest of the year too.
To consider: what sort of a regular pattern, a regular plan of prayer do I have?
Do I have a brief morning prayer, one I say when I wake?
Do I have a routine for praying before I sleep?
Do I thank God for the good things I've received? And tell Him I’m sorry for my daily sins.

To sum that up. Pope Francis is a joyful man, but he is solemn and focussed when saying Holy Mass. We might even say that He has joy in his heart BECAUSE he is focussed properly in his prayers and at Mass.
For us too, if we are attentive to our prayers, attentive to Mass, if we treat His church as a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Isa 56:7, c.f. Jer 7:11), then the Mass, that re-connection with the Divine that the Mass can give, will bring joy to the rest of our lives too.


Silence in Church Please:
Before Mass: “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.” (GRIM, n45, 2000AD)
After Mass: “The faithful are to be recommended not to omit to make proper thanksgiving after Communion. They may do this during the celebration with a period of silence... or also after the celebration, if possible by staying behind to pray for a suitable time.” (Inaestimabile Donum n.17)


Note also:
Bishop's Pastoral Letter
by Bishop Hugh Gilbert
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We live in a noisy world. Our towns and cities are full of noise. There is noise in the skies and on the roads. There is noise in our homes, and even in our churches. And most of all there is noise in our minds and hearts.
The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote: ‘The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: “Create silence! Bring people to silence!” The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were trumpeted forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore, create silence!’
‘Create silence!’ There’s a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.
There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, ‘To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else.’ For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God’s, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.
‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.’ So the carol goes. For all the noise, rush and rowdiness of contemporary Christmasses, we all know there is a link between Advent and silence, Christmas and silence. Our cribs are silent places. Who can imagine Mary as a noisy person? In the Gospels, St Joseph never says a word; he simply obeys the words brought him by angels. And when John the Baptist later comes out with words of fire, it is after years of silence in the desert. Add to this the silence of our long northern nights, and the silence that follows the snow. Isn’t all this asking us to still ourselves?
A passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom describes the night of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt as a night full of silence. It is used by the liturgy of the night of Jesus’ birth:
‘When a deep silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, leapt from heaven’s royal throne’ (Wis 18:14-15).
‘Holy night, silent night!’ So we sing. The outward silence of Christmas night invites us to make silence within us. Then the Word can leap into us as well, as a wise man wrote: ‘If deep silence has a hold on what is inside us, then into us too the all-powerful Word will slip quietly from the Father’s throne.’
This is the Word who proceeds from the silence of the Father. He became an infant, and ‘infant’ means literally ‘one who doesn’t speak.’ The child Jesus would have cried – for air and drink and food – but he didn’t speak. ‘Let him who has ears to hear, hear what this loving and mysterious silence of the eternal Word says to us.’ We need to listen to this quietness of Jesus, and allow it to make its home in our minds and hearts.
‘Create silence!’ How much we need this! The world needs places, oases, sanctuaries, of silence.
And here comes a difficult question: what has happened to silence in our churches? Many people ask this. When the late Canon Duncan Stone, as a young priest in the 1940s, visited a parish in the Highlands, he was struck to often find thirty or forty people kneeling there in silent prayer. Now often there is talking up to the very beginning of Mass, and it starts again immediately afterwards. But what is a church for, and why do we go there? We go to meet the Lord and the Lord comes to meet us. ‘The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him!’ said the prophet Habakkuk. Surely the silent sacramental presence of the Lord in the tabernacle should lead us to silence? We need to focus ourselves and put aside distractions before the Mass begins. We want to prepare to hear the word of the Lord in the readings and homily. Surely we need a quiet mind to connect to the great Eucharistic Prayer? And when we receive Holy Communion, surely we want to listen to what the Lord God has to say, ‘the voice that speaks of peace’? Being together in this way can make us one – the Body of Christ – quite as effectively as words.
A wise elderly priest of the diocese said recently, ‘Two people talking stop forty people praying.’
‘Create silence!’ I don’t want to be misunderstood. We all understand about babies. Nor are we meant to come and go from church as cold isolated individuals, uninterested in one another. We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming places. We want to meet and greet and speak with one another. There are arrangements to be made, items of news to be shared, messages to be passed. A good word is above the best gift, says the Bible. But it is a question of where and when. Better in the porch than at the back of the church. Better after the Mass in a hall or a room. There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be. At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries. And then the Mass, with its words and music and movement and its own moments of silence, will become more real. It will unite us at a deeper level, and those who visit our churches will sense the Holy One amongst us.
‘Create silence!’ It is an imperative. May the Word coming forth from silence find our silence waiting for him like a crib! ‘The devil’, said St Ambrose, ‘loves noise; Christ looks for silence.’
Yours sincerely in Him,
+ Hugh, O. S. B.
Bishop of Aberdeen
7 December 2011

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