There’s a recording in Lourdes, France that they play at night by the Grotto (especially after the candle-lit rosary procession) that’s just a man saying “SHHHHHH.”   They have good intentions playing it, I know, but it threw me into a fit of giggles every time (and I was certainly helped into those giggles by a certain priest).  Anyway, when I wrote that title tonight, that recording immediately played in my head.

I was thinking today during Mass about silence.  Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception, by the way!  The patronal feast of the United States!  (we need her help right now, too, don’t we??)  Anyway, I was thinking about silence.  And how we need more of it.

After the Responsorial Psalm, as the cantor walked back across the sanctuary, the organist played a soft little melody until the lector was in place for the second reading.  I thought to myself, Is that really necessary? Do we really need background music?  Are we that afraid of silence?  I guess the thought occurred to me then because shortly before that, right after Father asked us to call to mind our sins, the deacon immediately launched into his invocation, leaving me no time to come even remotely close to beginning to examine my conscience.  I wanted to ask the people around me, “Did you have time to do what Father asked?”  I mean, what’s the rush here?  I know we don’t have time to wait for me to examine my entire conscience, but give me time to at least call to mind one sin.

Are we that afraid of silence?  Or is it… dead air?

And there’s the real question.  When (if) there’s silence at the Mass, is it pregnant silence?  Is it full of prayer?  Or are we spending the silence uncomfortable and wondering why something isn’t happening?

As I pondered these things after the homily, someone’s cell phone went off.  (it was the third cell phone to go off, and two more went off later during the Mass.)  What is wrong with us?  Can’t we just sit at Mass and be?  Why do we always have to be doing something or talking or singing or listening to music?  Can’t we just pray in silence?

Of course, as soon as Mass ended, everyone turned to their neighbor and started talking to them.  I’ve begun putting my head in my hands while I pray in such a way that I can stick my thumbs in my ears without being too noticeable.  I don’t want to make a big deal of the fact that I want my silence… but I do want it.

Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy.  These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active.  In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.

-John Paul II (emphasis mine)