Silence prominent in new Mass instructions

  • October 30, 2009
{mosimage}If it’s been a while since your mother asked whether you could just be quiet for a minute, get ready. Mother church is about to start asking again.

Catholics have been fighting over the words in the 2008 amended typical edition of the Roman missal, but perhaps the most noticeable change will be in the  non-speaking parts. Before the opening prayer, after each of the readings and after communion, the new instructions for how to celebrate Mass will ask for a period of silence.

“There’s an increased call for reverence, an increased call for a sense of transcendence, an increased call for unity,” explains Fr. Bill Burke, general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Liturgy and the Sacraments. “Within that you will have these issues of posture and silence to express that.”

The silence envisioned in the new Missal is not some extended incursion into the land of deep meditation, said Burke.

“It should be a minute or so. Not 10 seconds,” he said.

Though the Latin texts have been confirmed, the English translations of the revised missal are still waiting for the Vatican’s final approval or recognitio. Burke won’t guess when that will happen.

“I would rather predict the date and consequences of the next federal election,” said Burke. “We hope that it’s all in place within the next two years.”

Meantime Burke and his team are preparing materials to help parishes teach people about the changes and their meaning. People need to be ready for silence.

“If the priest just decides to do it because it’s in the book and people have no idea what’s coming, they’re going to be looking at each other saying, ‘Did he fall asleep? Did he lose his page?’ ” said Burke.

Proper catechesis should make these changes to the liturgy much smoother  and less contentious than the post-Vatican II switch to the vernacular and the priest given the option of facing the people.

“The surprise in liturgy is not creative innovation. The surprise in liturgy is the experience of the presence of God,” said Burke.

Burke also points out that the coming changes are much less rocking than the post-Vatican II changes. Most Sunday Masses will still be conducted in English with the actions of the priest visible and his words audible.

The 85,000 subscribers to Living With Christ monthly missalettes will be ready for the changes in wording, said Living With Christ editor Louise Pambrun. Pambrun plans to introduce the changes with a series of short articles explaining what the changes are and their rationale. Since the magazine is monthly, the new wording will be there in people’s hands as soon as the changes are implemented.

“The last time we went through major liturgical changes, after Vatican II, it wasn’t explained to the general populace and people were very upset as I recall,” said Pambrun. “This time Bill Burke and his office, they’re trying very hard to make sure people understand what’s going on.”

There has certainly been some rancour in the English speaking world as ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, has produced new translations of the revised Roman Missal.

This summer a substantial minority of American bishops objected to the florid, Italianate vocabulary and grammar of some of the new translations.

On the words, there’s no avoiding controversy, said Pambrun.

“Inclusive language or non-inclusive language, they’re all such hot button issues,” she said.

Some are already perverting the true purpose of the added silence in the revised missal, said Burke.

“Some people will use this — there are some people already I have seen on blogs — who will use this as a goad to return to a day when people said and did nothing at Mass, were passive,” said Burke. “That’s not the intention of the general instruction.”

The silence which is envisioned at the beginning of the Mass is something the whole assembly shares, said Burke.

“The purpose of the silence at that point is to allow people to collect their own prayer, to recollect their minds in terms of what they have brought to this celebration in prayer,” said Burke. “And then (the priest) concludes it with the collect prayer. He gathers up their prayers in the collect.”

The idea of shared silence and collected prayers is in keeping with the collective, shared nature of public worship, according to Burke.

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