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Liturgy: Sound of Silence

ROME, JAN. 20, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: What is the role of silence in a Mass? When should there be silence? -- J.C., Perth, Australia

A: Silence has a very important role to play in the celebration as indicated by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 45.

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

To this we would add that silence should also be observed after Mass until one is outside the Church building, both for respect toward the Blessed Sacrament, and toward those members of the faithful who wish to prolong their thanksgiving after Mass.

The specific periods of silence recommended in the GIRM encourage a general atmosphere of interior and exterior silence for all the participants at Mass.

This silence should be sought while listening to the readings, the homily, or the proclamation of the eucharistic and other priestly prayers. This helps quiet our imagination, our worries and our toils so as to join our hearts to the prayers and be fully attentive to whatever the Holy Spirit should inspire in us. Thus silence at Mass is an active, not a passive disposition.

This form of interior silence does not impede, and indeed favors, full and active participation in those parts of the celebration where the community is united in acclamation and song, for each person is more fully aware of what he or she is doing.

Our modern world is starved of silence and Holy Mass should be a privileged moment to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and, through worship and participation in Christ's eternal sacrifice, become capable of giving an eternal value to these same daily and transitory activities.

To help achieve this, we should foment by all available means the spirit of attentive and active silence in our celebrations and refrain from importing the world's clamor and clatter into their midst.

* * *

Follow-up: Exposition by a Layperson

Some readers asked for clarifications to my response regarding exposition by a lay person (Jan. 6). A reader from Memphis, Tennessee, asked if a deacon should have led my list of those suitable for the role of extraordinary ministers.

It would not have been correct for me to have included the deacon because he is an ordinary, not an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and, except for the celebration of Mass, in the absence of a priest he can perform most of the liturgical rites involving the Eucharist, such as solemn Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

Even when a priest is present it is liturgically preferable for the deacon to expose the Blessed Sacrament at the beginning of adoration and repose it after the priest has imparted Benediction.

The same correspondent also asked what is an "instituted acolyte," and how he differs from altar servers who are also sometimes called acolytes.

The ministry of acolyte, alongside that of instituted lector, is an instituted ministry of the Church. These ministries replaced the former minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte) and the order of subdeacon. These minor orders were reserved to seminarians but rarely -- or in the case of exorcist, never -- exercised. Rather, they served as different stages leading up to the reception of major orders.

Pope Paul VI abolished the minor orders and the order of subdeacon in 1973 and replaced them with the two ministries of lector and acolyte.

All seminarians and candidates for the permanent diaconate receive these ministries before ordination to the diaconate, usually during the period of theological studies.

These ministries, however, are no longer reserved to seminarians, but in virtue of their connection to priestly formation, may only be received by laymen.

The rite of instituting a lector or acolyte is usually reserved to the bishop or to a major superior in the case of members of religious congregations.

Their functions are superficially similar to those of an altar server during Mass but with the important difference that when he exercises his ministry the acolyte is acting as a minister of the Church.

His functions are also broader; he must be chosen first whenever an extraordinary minister is required to either give out communion or expose the Blessed Sacrament.

In the absence of a deacon an instituted acolyte may also purify the sacred vessels, an action which is usually not permitted to extraordinary ministers.

Because a period of specific liturgical training is required before institution the acolyte is often responsible for training and organizing other altar servers.

This ministry, although open to many adult laymen, has been used in relatively few dioceses as a stable institution.

Another reader, an authorized eucharistic minister from Maryland, presented a particular case of a pastor who, in order to promote frequent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, instructed the laity to expose anytime they came by the chapel for prayers -- with little solemnity, only genuflecting and lighting candles.

He comments and then asks: "This to me seems to breed an unhealthy familiarity with Most Blessed Sacrament among the laity. I like to have at least a little more solemn exposition and reposition with the prayers from the rite and incense at the beginning and end. A seminary liturgy professor said he thought a layperson exposing could wear a cope for exposition/reposition. Altar servers are frequently called upon to use incense in the Latin rite to incense the people during Mass or to incense the Most Blessed Sacrament during the benediction. Would it be allowable for me to use incense for exposition and reposition? Also do you have any other suggestions to promote solemnity while avoiding over familiarity?"

While the desire to promote eucharistic devotion is laudable, it must be done with full respect for liturgical norms.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament should always be something special and never a casual affair -- indeed, the Lord is no less present because the tabernacle doors are closed.

It is at least as important to foster frequent visits to our Lord in the tabernacle as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, for this option is far more widely available. In this sense, familiarity with the Eucharist is most desirable but you are quite correct in lamenting any practice that might diminish the sense of wonder before the mystery.

In an emergency a priest may authorize a layperson to act as an extraordinary minister of Communion. But only an acolyte or another person duly authorized by the bishop may act as an extraordinary minister of exposition. Therefore, while well intentioned, the actions of the priest you mention contravene liturgical norms.

By the way, the liturgy distinguishes between brief and prolonged expositions.

Brief expositions are normally held when there is a group of people who gather for a reasonably extended period -- say a minimum of about 30 minutes -- during which they may sing, read Scripture, pray together and above all dedicate some time in silent prayerful conversation with Christ.

In prolonged expositions, people usually take turns in adoration although this does not exclude periods of community prayer.

In both cases exposition should ordinarily be carried out by an ordained minister and conclude with Benediction.

If a prolonged exposition is to be temporarily interrupted -- for example, during the night or to allow some other celebration -- the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and later exposed anew with no special ceremonial whatsoever except the usual reverence attributed to the Eucharist.

If an ordained minister is impeded, then for a just cause the bishop may authorize an extraordinary minister to expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament. This faculty has allowed many parishes to foment prolonged exposition even on a daily basis.

However, the exposition and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament carried out by a layperson is always simple with reduced ceremonial.

The extraordinary minister may wear an alb and a eucharistic hymn may be sung during the exposition or reposition. But in this case incense is never used. I fear I must disagree with your seminary professor as to the propriety of a lay minister using the cope as it is a liturgical vestment reserved to the ordained minister.

Although incense may not be used it is possible to emphasize the exposition and reposition in other ways. There is no reason why you may not use some of the prayers provided in the ritual, unless they are explicitly reserved to an ordained minister.

You may lead one of the offices of the Liturgy of the Hours immediately after exposition or before reposition. Or you can lead those present in the Divine Praises or use some other booklet prepared for eucharistic adoration.

I hope I have not dashed your enthusiasm for using incense, which may still be used in many other contexts and adds solemnity to the sacred rites.

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