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Liturgy: Sound of Silence

1/22/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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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 ...

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