Silence in the Novus Ordo: Disguising the profane

The increasing cultural diversity of the Catholic community in Philadelphia is one of the takeaways from a census of Mass attendance taken last October in parish of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Such diversity was on display at the annual Cultural Heritage Mass in March (above) in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia. (Photo by Sarah Webb)Last Wednesday, Francis continued his “catechesis” on the Mass by addressing the Gloria and the Collect, with a particular focus on the necessity of silence.

This topic has been all the rage among conservatives for some time now.

In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger stated:

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.

How can it be that, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in the year 2000, “we” were just then realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy?

Was not the contemplative aspect of the sacred liturgy so entirely obvious to Roman Catholics of previous centuries that it simply went without say?

Of course it was, but Cardinal Ratzinger was not referring to the Traditional Roman Rite, which for more than a millennia-and-a-half has been providing the faithful with ample opportunities to enter into sacred contemplation.

Rather, he had in mind the “banal on the spot production” that was thrust upon the unsuspecting faithful by the soon to be “canonized” Pope Paul VI.

As such, Ratzinger had a point: After suffering for more than three decades under the weight of the hyperactive, manmade, man-centered Novus Ordo Missae, even the most poorly formed and undernourished laity couldn’t help but come to the realization that something is missing.

Insisting upon silence in the bastard rite, however, isn’t the answer; in fact, it’s really little more than a dash of lipstick on a Protestant pig.

Be that as it may, Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say:

Silence cannot be simply “made,” organized as if it were one activity among many.

And yet, in the Novus Ordo, that is precisely what it is; forced and full of pretense.

I remember well the days of my conservative adolescence…

After delivering an earthbound homily on some social justice topic or another, the priest-presider would often take his seat and silently bow his head (as if to contemplate the wisdom of his own words); leaving the faithful to shift about in the pews for a roughly sixty second period that always felt like an eternity.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, another “hero” of the neo-conservatives (and even some self-identified “traditionalists”), has been speaking of the need for silence quite a bit lately as well, most notably in his recent book, The Power of Silence.

In January of 2016, Cardinal Sarah penned an essay on the topic of liturgical silence that was published in L‘Osservatore Romano. In it, he stated:

Many Catholics rightly complain about the absence of silence in some forms of the celebration of our Roman liturgy.

Elsewhere in the text, he pointed out, “The Latin Mass has always included times of complete silence.” In other words, “the absence of silence” in some forms refers to the so-called (all too) “ordinary” one.

Most noteworthy, however, is the following from Cardinal Sarah:

Of course the Eastern rites plan no times of silence during the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, when the priest himself does not chant … we can note that the deacon, the choirs, or else the faithful chant without interruption. Nevertheless, they are intensely aware of the apophatic dimension of their prayer, which is expressed by all sorts of adjectives and adverbs describing the Supreme Master of the Universe and Savior of our souls.

To illustrate the point, he continued:

For example, the “preface” of the Byzantine rite says this: “You are God—ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible….” Moreover, in its essentials, the Divine Liturgy is something of a plunge into the “Mystery,” which means, concretely, that it is celebrated behind the iconostas, and the priest, who stands at the altar of Sacrifice, often prays in silence.

Get that? The Divine Liturgy – the very rite itself, even apart from silence – plunges those present into Mystery and makes them intensely aware of the unspeakably Holy presence of God.

The point is apparently lost on Cardina Sarah and many others:

The issue at hand with the Novus Ordo isn’t the absence of silence; it’s the absence of the sacred! In other words, the rite itself is deficient!

Even so, Francis stressed the necessity of silence in the new Mass, saying:

The priest says “Let us pray”, and then comes a moment of silence, and each one thinks of the things of which he is in need, what he wishes to ask for in prayer. The silence isn’t reduced to the absence of words, rather it disposes oneself to listen to other voices: that of our heart and, especially, the voice of the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that many will find this exhortation unobjectionable, but note the subtleties:

Here, Francis is suggesting that silence during the liturgy is a suitable time to think and to listen to our own hearts.

This sounds an awful lot like an invitation to interior chatter to me; the antithesis of silence. What’s more, it raises a question:

How is one to discern between the voice of one’s heart and the voice of the Holy Spirit?

Let me guess: If one should hear, Go ahead, take Communion, as it can no longer simply be said that fornicators and adulterers are guilty of mortal sin, (cf AL 31) it must be the God of surprises!

Yes, Francis does say that one is to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit “especially,” but just a few sentences later he states:

Here then is the importance of listening to our soul and then opening it to the Lord.

In other words, we must first listen to ourselves!

But how often does the seductive sound of our own voice drown out the voice of God?

If nothing else, Francis is consistent. After all, this is the same guy who stressed the primacy of conscience in Amoris Laetitia writing:

We find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. (AL 37)

Francis went on to clarify that “as best they can” really means falling short of the demands of the Divine Law, as if it is just too difficult for some to keep.  

He also stated that the civilly remarried are “sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid” (AL 298)

How convenient; a self-administered annulment courtesy of the voice of one’s heart!

He even said that “conscience” can “recognize with sincerity and honesty” that persistence in adultery “is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits.” (cf AL 303)

With all of this in mind, while some are applauding Francis’ call for silence in the Mass as if it is one of his rare “Catholic” moments, it’s nothing of the kind.

At the end of the day, it’s just one more way of disguising the profane and fooling the faithful; ultimately confirming man’s place in the very center of the Novus Ordo Missae.


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