|Bishop Hugh Gilbert|
Monday, 30 January 2012
The beauty of silence before Mass
I read a fine pastoral letter on silence today from the relatively recently ordained Bishop of Aberdeen, Bishop Hugh Gilbert, OSB. He explored the need that each of us has to be silent if we are to be able to receive the gift which Christ wishes to communicate to us in the Eucharist. The motif running through the letter was a quotation from the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard: "Create silence!" Bishop Gilbert noted how noisy congregations often are immediately before and after Mass. He invited Catholics to consider how they might reserve for another place their conversations, whose importance in building up the community he recognised.
I go to lots of churches round the diocese, preaching on vocations, and I have found that it is quite rare for there to be a truly reflective quiet before Mass. In the chapel at Leeds Trinity by contrast the congregation is always silent before our Sunday evening Mass. This is not something that I have especially promoted; just a circumstance that I have happily inherited. Mass-goers here can tranquilly prepare themselves for God to address them. The children in the congregation take the lead from the adults. It's truly delightful. I think that the reason why silence has been effectively abandoned in many parishes is relatively easy to identify. A mistaken ecclesiology has crept in, based on a partial reading of Vatican II, which has, at the practical level, accorded a higher value to the group of people gathered for worship rather than to the God whom we worship. God dwells in mystery whereas my fellow parishioner is present beside me and therefore, we have fallen into thinking, I must salute my neighbour in Christian charity, effectively ignoring Christ present in the tabernacle. I speak as a fellow sinner: a brother priest upbraided me recently when, after we had said Evening Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament together, I began to talk to him instead of refraining for a minute until we had left the chapel. When I was a boy, everybody who entered a church blessed themselves with holy water, genuflected and then knelt down to say a prayer before sitting in the pew. Those repeated acts of simple reverence happening all around me fascinated me as I grew through my childhood and more than anything else probably made me appreciate what a fine thing is to be a Catholic.