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Vol. VII, No. 9: December 2001 - January 2002 

Silence and the Sacred

Can we recover a sense of awe, of mystery at Mass?

By Father Ralph Wright, OSB

There has been much written and many words spoken about the new General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) in recent months.

I am, chronologically speaking, a good example of a post-Vatican II priest. My studies for my license in theology took place at Fribourg University in Switzerland from 1966 to 1970, when I was ordained and came to Saint Louis. Liturgy was taught by Professor Hanggi, who was at the time the Secretary of Consilium, the Liturgy Commission created by the Council to put the liturgical reforms into practice. That commission presumably was involved in the preparation of the new Roman Missal and GIRM One, as it might now be called.

What has been one of the overall criticisms of the new Mass has been referred to in various ways by different people -- from Cardinal Ratzinger to the ordinary lay person in the pew-- impoverishment of the holy; the absence of the sense of awe; the replacement of adoration of our God in the sacrifice of the Mass by the celebration of Christ's presence in the community and a focus on the different modes of presence.

The new GIRM seems to be trying to make adjustments some thirty years later where, for any number of reasons, an imbalance has crept in at the expense of the holiness dimension of the sacred mysteries. The New Roman Missal, when it eventually appears, and the new translations for the Liturgy, influenced by the new directive, will be bringing those concerns into focus from the perspective of language. "Solemn", "dignified", "noble"; "hieratic" may be some of the words to describe the new direction, nudging into the background the more conversational language of the classroom, the workplace, or the street.

But there is one rubric that I believe could help us regain the intimacy-with-Our-Lord dimension that is at the heart of the mystery of our creation and our redemption.

From the moment that distribution of Communion has been completed and the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist return quietly back to their pews; from the moment that the Communion hymn or musical accompaniment has been completed, a silence of sixty seconds should descend on the whole congregation.

This silence will be for the experience of union: union with our God, the purpose of this great Sacrament; union with our neighbor, a byproduct of our union with God; union with ourselves, a byproduct of the above two a taste of the peace that comes from God's gift to us of His own integrity. This minute will be concluded by the priest celebrant standing and bringing everything together with "let us pray", followed by the concluding prayer.

I believe that such a rubric -- once integrated as an essential feature of our Roman Liturgy -- will contribute a whole lot to what we are seeking: a worthier way of adoring our God and of letting His creative love come down upon us.

Father Ralph Wright, of the Saint Louis Benedictine Abbey, teaches English at the Priory School in Saint Louis. His article, "Infelicities in the New Lectionary for Mass", appeared in the November 2000 issue of the Adoremus Bulletin. Father Ralph also contributed an essay to The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and The Worship of God, edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock (Ignatius Press).

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