The Silent Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

The Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite does not represent the past for me all; it represents eternity—and the adoration of the Mystic Lamb.

Jan van Eyck, detail from the Ghent Altarpiece, c. 1431
Jan van Eyck, detail from the Ghent Altarpiece, c. 1431 (photo: Register Files)

A few weeks ago, during the Friday Noon Mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, I was concerned for the lady in the pew in front of me. The Mass was in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite and she hadn’t picked up one of the nice new red missalettes. They were displayed on the Altar Rail on either side of the Sanctuary and at the back of the Church with a sign encouraging their use. I thought I needed to do something to help her but I restrained myself. By the time I noticed it would have been too disruptive to race up or down the aisle to get her a little red missalette.

After the prayers at the foot of the Altar at the end of the Low Mass and after the candles had been snuffed out, she turned around to me and said, “This was my first Latin Mass.” I nodded and she continued, “That was wonderful!” And I agreed with her: it was full of wonder. She had been silent throughout the Mass and outwardly it seemed like she had not participated at all, but she had really participated in a greater way, because I think she’d glimpsed the great mystery of the Mass through that silence.


Sacred Silence

Sacred or reverent silence is supposed to be part of our experience of Mass in what Pope Benedict XVI called the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite when he issued Summorum Pontificum. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2003) gives some guidelines on when there should be silence during the celebration of the Latin Rite:

Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. 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 to 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.

The footnote 54 cites two documents from the Second Vatican Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium, paragraph 30 (“To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.”) and Musicam Sacram, paragraph 17 (“At the proper times, all should observe a reverent silence. Through it the faithful are not only not considered as extraneous or dumb spectators at the liturgical service, but are associated more intimately in the mystery that is being celebrated, thanks to that interior disposition which derives from the word of God that they have heard, from the songs and prayers that have been uttered, and from spiritual union with the priest in the parts that he says or sings himself.”)

When even singing hymns after Communion interferes with that silence, our ability to concentrate our prayers on what we have received and experienced may be lessened. Sometimes our fear of silence can impact our celebration of the Mass. Silence at Mass does not mean that there is no activity; silence means that we can more actively, prayerfully participate in the Mass.


Silentium est Aureum

At Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite as the priest offers the Sacrifice of the Mass to God the Father, everything is quiet. He speaks the words of the Roman Canon for God to hear; the congregation does not hear them. At the moments of Elevation of the Host and the Chalice, the bells ring for each gesture of the priest, as he genuflects, raises the Host and then the Chalice, lowers them and genuflects again. And the clink of the thurible against the chain is the only other sound in the Sanctuary as the perfume of incense wafts through the church.

Our Latin Mass community at St. Anthony of Padua is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. After Pope St. John Paul II issued various documents allowing local bishops to give permission to priests to say Mass according to the 1962 Missal, our Bishop Emeritus Eugene Gerber gave that permission in 1992 on a six month trial basis. Bishop Gerber celebrated the first Traditional Latin Mass September 6 that year, assisted by Father James Jackson. Father Jackson left the Wichita diocese to join the order of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and he will return to celebrate this anniversary.

The Latin Mass Community at St. Anthony of Padua has continued for the past 25 years; sometimes the Mass was offered only every other Sunday, but there has been a core of laity who have served, sung, and attended Mass there ever since, long after the six month probationary period. We have raised money for vestments and other materials for the Altar and for the congregation. Several priests of the diocese have offered either the Missa Cantata or Low Mass on Sundays.

My husband and I came late to the Latin Mass community in 2005. We attend both Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Mass. The labels so often applied to those who attend the Traditional Latin Mass are bemusing to us. We aren’t rigid traditionalists or sedevacantists. We’re just Latin Rite Catholics trying to participate in the Sacrament of our redemption the best we can, responding to its graces.

Like many of the much younger people attending the Extraordinary Form Mass each Sunday at St. Anthony of Padua, I’m not there out of some misplaced nostalgia. I don’t remember the Mass before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. I don’t think of them as either the “good old days” or the “bad old days.” The Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite does not represent the past for me all; it represents eternity—and the adoration of the Mystic Lamb, when all mortal flesh keeps silence.