Saturday, February 12, 2011

Liturgical and Private Prayer

I had a discussion with a group of priests recently on silence in the liturgy. We all thought it was necessary but for the most part absent, certainly at Sunday Mass. Most of the priest suggested adding pauses in the Liturgy, even to the point of saying, "We are going to have 30 seconds of silence before ...". I couldn't help reflecting that imposed silence was used as a punishment in schools when I was a child. In the Liturgy one priest's silence becomes a whole congregations waiting.

I must admit to personal problem I have of integrating personal prayer with liturgical prayer. I think it all hinges around silence, and yes, a problem with actuoso participatio. I suspect in the minds of most people there is little integration between private prayer and liturgical prayer, at best the liturgy is a form of lectio divina but isn't really what most Catholics would identify as "prayer". It is a problem, a very serious one. Personal prayer for most people under a certain age is silence. Sitting on one's own, meditating, silent reading or reflection has replaced family Rosary, Litanies, the Angelus and all those things which where the mainstay of Catholic prayer and although they are not liturgical, they certainly are corporate and vocal and therefore akin to the liturgy.

My friend Fr Michael Hollings used to tell the story of the shock of the Abbot of Caldey who had a group of 6th Formers staying in the monastery for a week, they joined the monks for the Liturgy and everything else, at the end of the week one lad asked the Abbot, "When do the monks actually pray?" The same question surely can be asked in most parishes: When does prayer actually take place? The readings can be read in a non-didactic prayerful way, there sermon can be preached to speak more of God than the preacher, intercessions can be announced in such a way that the lead us to prayer, we can use the preferred silent option for the Offertory, all this should lead to Church gathering for the most profound prayer of all, the Canon or the Eucharistic Prayer but as the Pope says in the Spirit of the Liturgy "the Eucharistic Prayer is in crisis", his suggestion is not only a re-orientation of the Mass but also a return to the silent Canon or even silence but a with few key words as subject headings for prayer.

I have a suspicion that in ancient times, when silent reading and probably silent prayer were unknown, that the Canon was quite a noisy affair with everyone quietly vocalising their own prayer along with the priest.

One of the things that caused comment during the Papal visit was the quality of the silence at the Masses one of factor that was not commented on at the time was the Pope's use of Latin for the Eucharistic Prayers. The use of Latin has a tendency to veil the liturgy, its incomprehensibility helps the liturgy become a sort of focused silence. There is a good article by Fr Christopher Smith over at Chant Cafe on the use of Latin.


Richard Collins said...

Father, the silence at an EF Mass is, of course, beautiful but it can appear alien to Catholics who have not experienced this form before.
Apparently, in the Middle Ages, the Latin Mass was a shade more the Consecration the congregation would erupt and literally throw their hats in the air to cries of "Higher, My Lord, higher".
I'm OK with things as they are by the way!

Anonymous said...

I try to compare these things with the Eastern practice not because the Byzantines 'do it better' but to see if the Byzantine liturgy can help me understand the Roman liturgy better. There is no built-in opportunity for silence in the Eastern liturgy, which makes me wonder what 'silence' means in the West. In the East there are times when the people aren't singing anything, but it is because they are listening.

It seems to me that silence in a Western liturgy should be that silence against which God's voice is all the clearer, not a silence so we can do our own private moment of prayer.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I do not normally publish comments without a name!!!

In the East, at least generally, during the Anaphora there is silence at least outside of the iconastasis.
The use of chant in ancient languages tends, as in the TLM, lead to silent prayer by the congregation.

Total silence seems to be alien to liturgical prayer.

berenike said...

Things like St Francis de Sales prayers for Mass help to get one into praying the Mass (I found, anyway).

nickbris said...

It might be just my age but I find the long silences a bit disconcerting.

If my memory serves me right Mass never used to be quite so boring and I never felt so left out of it.

Michael1 said...

As far as we can tell, the use of silence is something that grew in the later Middle Ages. There was a profound social change which is related to the availability of books. It was only in the mid-1100s that silent reading became widespread, a time roughly contemporary with the development of cursive script which enabled books to be copied more quickly. Subsequently, private prayer became more common (more common yet with printed books) with the development of private spaces, not only in private houses but within monasticism. But there was a downside. If I can pray personally and privately, then I can decide for myself, without an intermediary Church, what is the truth God teaches me? One can see quite clearly how individual prayer in the devotio moderna or such movements as the Beguines contributed - as one factor among many - to the claims of the Reformers.

But, of course, the clock cannot be put back. The question - to which I do not have an easy answer - is how to combine the experience of personal prayer with the communal prayer which is at the heart of the Catholic way. To what extent is the Mass about private prayer, or is this best encouraged in other forms of devotion? Pre-Vatican II, there was more private prayer during Mass; but I still wonder whether the Gardens of the Soul and the clatter of Rosary beads were not, for some people, a way of distracting from the Prayer which is the Mass, or even just a way of passing the time.

Anagnostis said...

This post, with several of the comments, confirms me in the suspicion that something we have grown to accept and appreciate as essentially part of "liturgical" piety and culture isn't really anything of the sort. I have the same suspicion about "simplicity", prompted most recently by pictures on NLM of the kind of cold, cavernous, stripped stone interior that's becoming so typical of modern "traditional" monasticism, especially in France. In both cases, a virtue or theological value is being conferred on things that entered the liturgy from "outside" as a consequence of unrelated historical events and cultural developments. In both cases, there seems to be something worryingly disincarnational (if not functionally Manichaean)creeping in - the idea that silent perusal of texts, or mental activity is somehow "purer" or more "spiritual" than chant or movement, or that colour and imagery are something to be left behind in the spiritual ascent, with the children the women and the illiterate.

Yes, the practice of silence is indispensible to an authentic spiritual life - but the Liturgy, I am convinced, is NOT essentially the proper place for it.

Latin Mass Bendigo said...

The General Instruction for the Ordinary Form (OF) suggests silence at various times in the Mass but these suggestions are often ignored; Before the collect, after each reading, after the homily, after Communion, before the prayer after Communion. We're in such a hurry and because almost everything is proclaimed aloud, we feel we need to fill up the gaps.

If I'm proclaiming a reading or taking up a collection in the OF, I usually try to employ a pause long enough to pray a Pater Noster. I don't feel the need in the Extraordinary Form (EF).

In the EF, I don't feel the need to deliberately pause; I think we're never "silent", rather I think we're quiet. "Silence" suggests nothing and this is in great contrast to "Quiet" which suggests prayer contemplating mystery. It lends me to quote the hymn, "the voice of prayer is never silent".

To put it in perspective, I think quietness is the fourth of the lost. The first three are: (1) facing east, (2) the use of latin, and (3) the use of Gregorian Chant.

Bryan said...

"I remember talking to the Abbot of Caldey years ago, who had had a group of teenagers living with the community for a week or two, sharing in the offices and Mass, he said he was shocked when one of them asked, "Father, when do the monks actually pray?" "

Fr Ray Blake said...

Both are true. Fr Hollings spoke to me about it, it came up in convesation when the Abbot and I were talking about Fr Hollings.

RR said...


Re: architecture. I think you're making an either/or of a both/and. Seems to me our tradition sees a place both for Cistercian-like buildings which were plain and yet beautiful, as well as baroque and gothic revival bursts of colour.

We have a wonderfully broad tradition that way.

So too, I think there is need for both silence and chant.

pelerin said...

Anagnostis mentions the 'cold simplicity' of some churches being built today. They do not seem to be able to replicate the simple simpicity of ancient monasteries. Perhaps it is because concrete is used instead of stone or perhaps it is because everything seems to be designed today in straight lines - angular, white and grey which tends to give a feeling of emptyness not conducive for prayer.

I had recently watched on the Internet the consecration ceremony of a brand new church just outside Paris. I was curious to see what it looked like in reality and when I was there last week I went to see it.

The new church which can only be described as 'concrete bunker style' has been built next to the one it has replaced and I was able to visit both. The old one was indeed in a dilapidated state having been built in 1887 as a temporary church. But even having by now been stripped of much of its interior I could still 'feel' the prayers of the people who had worshipped there for over one hundred years. The sacristan was present and I was able to ask him a few questions. 'Where were the Ex voto going to go when it was demolished?' 'In the town archives.' Ditto for the beautiful statue of 'Our Lady and St Dominic' above the altar. However three of the statues from the old church have been placed in the new church in three curved alcoves which do help to relieve the angularity of the whole design.

Entering into the new church next door was certainly a different experience. Yes it was light and airy - it even had a 'benitier' (oblong design next to a flower arrangement in the middle of the church!).A plain cross stood behind the angular altar whilst an extraordinary disjointed lumpy ghost-like figure rose up on the wall. Christ in Majesty perhaps?- I don't know. A rectangular tabernacle stuck out from the wall. There was no sanctuary lamp - I was told that there was plenty of light there so there was no need.

Because it was new there were many visitors wandering over the Sanctuary and behind the altar discusssing the church's merits. Two elderly ladies were seated in a front pew chatting away. There did not seem to be anyone actually praying at all. But then if a church does not look like a church it will not be treated as such. It seems to me that similiar modern churches may indeed be acceptable for Liturgical Prayer and yet not at all conducive to Private Prayer. But then perhaps that is the point? Should we be observing private prayer only in our homes and public prayer in our churches?

Anagnostis said...


I take your point - I'm perhaps too ready to see a pattern where there mightn't be one, and I certainly wouldn't deny the austere beauty of these ancient monastic churches, happily restored (many of them) to their rightful occupants; however - this isn't simply about colour (and it certainly isn't about the baroque!), but about the essential and necessary place of imagery in Christian worship. These ancient temples weren't ever intended to look as they do now. By attaching a "positive" theological note to what is really a loss and a lack, we're in danger of falsifying the Tradition.

Anagnostis said...

PS: I think Fr Bendigo has it exactly right: it's quietness of certain moments and actions that's properly liturgical, rather than "silence".

Fr Kevin O'Donnell said...

Many issues are at play here. Let me mention something that struck me on Sunday morning After celebrating the 9.30 Family Mass with all its bumptiousness, I came to the altar for the 11.30 Missa orbis factor setting, novus ordo. I relaxed immediately. Here was a prayerful, mature setting where things were done automatically with reverence. Beautiful. However, the bumptiousness of the Family Mass was also necessary, children being children, but you were aware that some are not as catechised or switched on. The big challenge is to develop these virtues in the midst of the clamour and make them contemporary and accessible. All power to the traditional style masses, though, They provide balance and a respect for Tradition.
Fr Kevin O'Donnell

berenike said...

Apropos plain churches - a tres thoughtful post, with some actual historical facts and everything, by a Cistercian monk: Industrial versus Cistercian Austerity.

Cetti's Warbler said...

Fr Kevin, I take your point but as someone who is at the heart of a bumptious, positively happy-clappy mass every Sunday I can assure that my friends and I are still praying. We mean every amen and we pray every response with our hearts turned towards God (even if one eye is on the next page of music)! In our case silent prayer is something we do at home.

Anagnostis said...

re: "Saint" Bernard of Clairvaux - I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

It is not private prayer, it is pace. Short periods of silence tend to slow the pace of Liturgy rendering it more prayerful. There are points where a person might add a personal intention. This is great. Personal devotion does not happ;en at the moments of silence. This was what we had when I was a kid and a Rosary was the way to "hear Mass."

Using silence for doeion is an art form which needs to be learned, just like the Monks on the headline- photo learn it. It is never easy and these days near impossle. Most devotion now seems to involve a lot of talking and a lot of sound. We cannot stand exterior silence and so cannot learn interior silence.
Fr. Mike Forbes

mcgod in aus said...

In practice I attend OF on weekdays and EF on Sunday, (have to travel to get to it) I can accept the continuous "participation" of the OF though I reckon the parroted petitions , psalms read without understanding or preparation don't really come up to participation standard, but the awful lack of silence as the congregation chatter about everything else but the Mass is deafening. The EF at least has a semblance of reverence in its silences underpinned by the latin. What seems to me in the OF is the lack of consistency - either we believe in the Real Presnceor we don't , if we do then the ad orientem , and the silences for private prayer occasionally make sense, if we don't believe then what are we doing there - go to the local Baptist church! McGod in Aus

Dawn K. Yadao said...

I am right now of a certain insomnia which is when I sometimes think more than during a common daily environment-except for my time in church. “Prayer” can be broadly defined as a devout petition (to God or an object of worship.) Prayer to me is both by the words of the service/Eucharist as well as “silence” when I pray for forgiveness as well as pray for those in difficulties or needs. And most importantly I claim gratefulness.
Silence is more personal and exposing before, during, and after Eucharist. I gladly spend the times on my knees for further supplication. I commonly speak to God as I know He is above, around and within me. But I do see a difference between prayer and silence; the first is a noun, the latter an adjective. Of how it may seem less common that silence is promoted for prayer, our exposure (interdependency) as a community preserves and/or actuates faith. I can still recall when my children would be “testing” me with their attention span during service when they were so young! This had brought an extended meaning of the final response to “Let us go forth in the name of God”: Thanks be to God! But I would return. I think I wish to say we are individually responsible for what we open to or wish to extend in understanding of. I try very hard not judge or criticize how others may present their faith in (or not in) church. My father is an Episcopal priest (now retired.) My mother was never the role of a “preacher’s wife” (yet grew up in a Catholic family.) My younger sister is somewhat charismatic. And on and on… Me? I have been through everything from PK (preacher’s kid), to agnostic, to Bishop’s Committee and youth group coordinator, to now a simple (and happy!) parishioner. And God has always been patient and kind with unconditional love. Well, before I cater to how my mind is racing, I would simply like to say how prayer is an amazing power sometimes seeming weak, yet silence may also be a purposeful counsel.