Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the President and Chief Operating Officer of EWTN News, Inc. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
A consistent thread in the resulting dialogue from my post “The Devil’s War On Silence” was on the common problem of the disturbing absence of silence in Mass. This is clearly a challenge that is very familiar to the majority of faithful Catholics.
Frequently, the noise assaults us right when we enter the church — from the choir, the parishioners and other sources. This despite the fact that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) clearly outlines the critical importance and specific instructions for the place of sacred silence in the Mass:
"Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times," the GIRM says. "Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts.
Even 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." (#45)
The most important portion of this instruction is contained clearly and elegantly in the last line, and it’s worthy of repetition: We need silence “so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” Here we have the wisdom of the Church, as the Holy Spirit leads us to eschew all human priorities outside of God and to draw our hearts to the reality of this sacred encounter. The Mass finds its ultimate purpose in the condescension of God to meet with us and nourish us — and for us to respond in a manner worthy of this gift of all gifts.
It stands to reason that our behavior at Mass will be proportionally devout to the degree we believe this meeting of heaven an earth is actually happening. In contrast, those that see the Mass as a kind of religious social gathering — and harbor disbelief or lack proper instruction — will see no need for such formality, and will act accordingly.
What Is the Answer?
Those who do know the proper reality should lead by example and teach it in a way that is focused first on the reality of God present, and then on how we should respond. This cannot be done in a spirit of condescending traditionalism that worships tradition (as did the Pharisees). Instead, it must be done in a spirit of love that recognizes the power of liturgical tradition to aid and order the heart of the believer toward offering just praise to our most merciful and deserving God.
Those who are not called or able to teach (Note: almost no one in the Church falls into this category) should emulate the behavior they desire, but without the negativity often flowing freely from those who worship at the altar of traditionalism. Yes, we must live out our love for God in our reverent worship and love those who have yet to know the benefit of sound formation or maturity. For those who turn others away from God by their bad attitudes will be judged by a higher standard than those who know far less or who have yet to effectively live out what they know. Need convincing? Take a look at Matthew 18:21-25 for a glimpse at Jesus’ perspective on the wrong approach to this kind of situation.
So What Does the Devil Have to Do With All of This?
A few key ideas come to mind regarding how the enemy of our souls wants to neutralize those who understand and thus carry the obligation to pay a role in solving this problem. First, the devil wants to make you mad, irritated or frustrated at those who don’t understand or share your convictions about these realities. This alone will suffice to get your mind off of the Lord during Mass and to begin to see people (bishops, priests, and the laity), rather than the devil, as the problem. Second, he wants you to be a ranting, snarky, self-centered passive aggressive coward in how you respond. He wants create a division between you and “them” so that you are focused on them instead of correctly identifying the work of the enemy and then properly enaging the battle there. Third, he wants your anger to lead you to the delusion that this is all the result of the Second Vatican Council and use you to obstruct the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church through the distortion of the proper place and exercise of magisterial authority (thus you become a high Church prostestant). Fourth, he wants you to become angry enough to shift your worship from God to tradition such that it is all you are concerned with. And fifth, he wants you to join groups that spend all their time complaining about these things so that he can take you all on the same fiery journey to the place where all unrepentant idolaters end up.
Those who know and love the liturgy and the transcendent reality that materializes when heaven meets earth, must conquer this problem with love, not anger, vitriol, and frustration. Traditionalists who are well grounded in the faith, who have not succumbed to the lies of traditionalism, have a great gift to give to the Church. However, it must be given as a gift, and not a hammer.
Ok, enough of my own rant against ranting traditionalism. So what about ideas on how to effectively and positively influence a change in our parishes in this area? What are your ideas? How can we cultivate silence in our parishes? How can we lead people to the beauty found in a Mass that is faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit as expresed in the GIRM? What are you doing or what is working in your parish?
PS: Just to help those who may get stuck on one aspect of this post regarding my definition of "traditionalism." Traditionalism in my use here is the worship of tradition in contrast to the proper and good appreciation of tradition. Traditionalism and traditionalists only describe the same person when the traditionalist gives undue place to tradition. Traditionalists who do not worship tradition are generally speaking, good for the Church and for tradition. Traditionalists who do worship tradition do more damage than the banners and baloons crowd just as the Pharisees did more damage to faith than those who clearly opposed the people of God from outside the camp.