Why Silence is Important to the Mass


I remember the general quiet and stillness associated with test taking back when I was in school. Everyone understood the necessity of maintaining silence in order to allow for each student to achieve his or her best possible results. Teachers for their part facilitated this by establishing an atmosphere conducive to learning through limiting noise and movement.

Schools of Prayer

What do you experience when you participate in the Holy Mass each Sunday? Do you enter into the sacred, thereby experiencing the same comparable stillness that you would expect to have in a classroom at school? Is noise and motion minimized so that concentration and silence can be maximized? Does your parish allow for the necessary environment that is conducive to deep prayer?

In his 2001 Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Inuente Pope St. John Paul called for our christian communities to become “genuine schools of prayer”. He continued:

Learning this Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer and living it fully, above all in the liturgy, the summit and source of the Church’s life…is the secret of a truly vital Christianity, which has no reason to fear the future, because it returns continually to the sources and finds in them new life. (NMI, 32)

Our Sunday liturgy should indeed create an environment for “learning”. The motion, noise and atmosphere of the profane must give way to the silence and mystery of the sacred.

At times in the past my family and I have experienced a liturgy that fully embraced the concept of the Holy Mass as celebration. By this I mean that the typical commotion we might usually associate with a party environment has been transferred to the sacred space of the Mass. In these instances the imposition of the temporal and visible are so aggressively incorporated within the liturgy that the sacred and invisible becomes nearly impossible to “see”. What you then have, as noted by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his memoirs, is a community which is celebrating only itself.

Unfortunately, I have seen this much more prevalent among communities that exclusively offer the Ordinary Form of the Mass. From my experience, the Extraordinary Form better establishes and sustains a prayerful environment through such means as the use of Latin, Ad Orientem worship, the use of Chant and frequent kneeling on the part of the faithful.

The Spirit of the Liturgy

Our schools (parishes) need to rediscover an environment conducive to prayer so that we the students (laity) can deepen in our relationship with the Lord through participation in the Holy Mass.

Five years before he was elevated to the Chair of Peter, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote his seminal work The Spirit of the Liturgy. With regards to silence he noted:

“We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us. Such stillness…a time of recollection, giving us an inward peace, allowing us to draw breath and rediscover the one thing necessary, which we have forgotten. That is why silence cannot be simply “made”, organized as if it were one activity among many…One of man’s deepest needs is making its presence felt, a need that is manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy. For silence to be fruitful, as we have already said, it must not be just a pause in the action of the liturgy. No, it must be an integral part of the liturgical event.”

The Consequences of a Failing School and Things You Can Do

Is there a real danger when our “genuine schools of prayer”, our parishes, are not facilitating the needed silence for the faithful to hear our Lord and respond to Him? Later in Novo Millennio Inuente Pope St. John Paul warns that we are wrong if we believe that “ordinary Christians” can sustain simply with shallow prayer. Without a deep prayer life, he argues, we will only be “mediocre Christians” at best, but more likely “Christians at risk”; at risk to lose our very faith when confronted by indifference or even outright hostility from a hyper-secularized culture.

There are some things that we the laity can do, however, to help strengthen our “schools of prayer”:

We can educate our own immediate family on the need to remain quiet and prayerful while in Church, instructing our children that the Lord is in the tabernacle before, during and after Mass and that conversation should be reserved for outside.

We can also utilize our time before Mass to prayerfully place ourselves in the presence of the Lord to better prepare for the Holy Sacrifice. If you have a longer drive to get to Mass then pray your family rosary in the car. If you have a shorter commute, arrive early and spend that time in prayer, particularly if your parish offers a rosary before Mass begins.

Incorporating the wisdom and pastoral advice of Pope St. John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI, may we seek to foster genuine schools of prayer by instilling silence in our churches and restoring a sense of the sacred to the liturgy.

An earlier version of this article was posted on July 21, 2013.

Photo Credit: John Cosmas

Posted on January 12, 2016, in liturgy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. MicheleMariePoetry

    Great post~ A reminder to be reverent, recollected during the mass…

  2. michaelpadi2000

    It is good to remain silent when it is time to remain silent, especially in the church, as stated and also at meetings where there is order. This will show a kind of maturity and education embeded in you.
    There was a time I was at a weekly Monday meeting at the Kotoka International Airport, Accra and during a presentation by the main presenter, a participant interrupted without notifying the moderator to be given the go ahead. And in fact, I did not understand anything that day because I was confused of the way he interrupted, and also the time he interrupted was a time of high thinking for me, trying to understand the complex presentation at the moment. Sometimes some people think they are more than the moderator and bypass these rules.
    There was also once a national concern to me. I watched on TV, in parliament when the President of Ghana was giving the ‘state of the nation’s address’. I saw parliamentarians talking, in fact shouting, in order to disrupt the activity of the president. Through that, some parts of his speech was not heard well.
    Try and keep silent in church so that the Almighty God will listen and answer your prayers.

  3. We still attend the Novus Ordo Mass during the week, but on Sunday we assist at a TLM. Time constraints do not allow me to justify the 60 mile trek to a Latin Mass during the week. And while I sense that the author of this piece would actually appreciate a return to the Extraordinary form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I’m a bit disconcerted that more emphasize was not afforded to that idea.

    Nevertheless, and with that caveat, what strikes me as odd about this article is the fact that what is absent is a failure to acknowledge that the entire intent of the creators of the Novus Ordo celebration appears to have been to underscore our relationship with one another, and very much minimize the fact that we attend Mass for the purpose of praising and adoring God.

    First (and I’m only speaking of the church I attend), the Tabernacle is not even located in the church; it is positioned in an out-of-sight chapel located nearby. Second, there are no kneelers in the church (and for reasons known only to this elderly priest who often celebrates the weekly Mass), every now and then he simply decides to “sit it out” while “Extraordinary Ministers” distribute the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Needless to say, those of us who recognize this action as a profanation, do not receive.

    As for the Mass itself, at the very beginning of the liturgy the “presider” greets everyone warmly and invites us all to “greet our neighbors” before we begin “our Celebration of the Eucharistic Supper”. The “Sign of Peace” invites another round of handshaking, handwaving and general welcoming on behalf of the congregants and the priest (presider) who occasionally walks over to shake hands with those seated in the front pews.

    And, somewhat rarely I’ll concede, whenever there is a matter of parish significance that is worthy of a spontaneous announcement (50 year anniversary of certain parishioners who are present, for example), the presider leads the congregation in a hearty round of applause.

    And, of course, one of the popular entrance and exiting modern hymns are always sung by the parishioners, selected and led, naturally, by the presider. So with all this going on regularly, while I personally remain silent from the time that I leave and enter my automobile on the parking lot of a church, I am less than impressed by a suggestion that remaining quiet in the “nave” (which we used to call the vestibule or back of the church) as being all that important.

    • Tom, I believe the Novus Ordo mass is not flawed. I believe it’s fitting for a world that has left Christendom. With Christendom gone, the simple idea of reverence has no cultural reinforcement. The culture we live in promotes the opposite, and it seems that the secular world encourages every profanity that has happened at mass. Furthermore I believe this article addresses one core problem that there is a widespread lack of deep personal prayer in today’s church. Liturgy was never intended for poorly chatechised people with little to no personal prayer, at least thats what I’ve learned. And these poorly chatechised people are distributing holy communion everyday!?! Its madness and I agree with you, but I think the problem has nothing to do with the Novus Ordo. I think there’s still a lot of hype crap going on at mass, and it’s just going to take some more time until we’re out of this mess. I could go on forever about this stuff. Anyways, onward and upward.

  4. I have always been aware of the sacredness of the Catholic Mass.i stay kneeling from the Sanctum until I go up for Communion.I find the ‘kiss of Peace for the congregation distracting while God is literally present. I kneel just before I ŕeceive Jesus and always receive front the Priest and on the tongue.

  5. Priest addresses the children during homily,” why is it important to be quiet at church?”
    Child,” so you don’t wake up the people who are sleeping. ” true story, just happened the other week.
    Great post! I think silence now makes us feel vulnerable because we aren’t used to it. It’s like there is something wrong if the entertainment stops. Comedian Jim Gaffigan puts it best when he jokes about a parishioner asking another parishioner to take his prayer outside the church because it makes him uncomfortable. Funny, but sadly true.

  6. Michael F Poulin

    Interestingly, with respect to noisy sanctuaries – a similar situation here:


  1. Pingback: Why Silence is Important to the Mass | Solutio Problematis Omnes (aka "The Catholic Linker")

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