Entering silence we open ourselves to the presence of the Lord

“Quiet, please! Can we have a moment to pause and reflect?” These phrases come to my mind during many of the Masses I celebrate throughout the diocese and even in my recent trip to Europe. I am referring to the pace of praying at Mass. We move from one prayer and action to another with little or no pause. This is not true in all parishes but is, nonetheless, a common occurrence.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) invites us to pause at specific times during the Mass. These moments occur just after the introduction to the Penitential Act; just after the priest invites the congregation to pray before the Opening Prayer (the Collect); during the Liturgy of the Word (after the first reading, the second reading and the homily); and following the reception of Communion. Many of these moments of prescribed silence are frequently ignored. You might be asking what difference that makes. Let me venture an explanation grounded in our understanding of the Mass and my own experience.

The general guidelines for the celebration of the Mass are deliberate and purposeful. There is a reason for each aspect of these guidelines. According to the great spiritual masters of the Catholic tradition, silence is the place where God speaks to our hearts. That is not the only way God can reach us, but it is indispensable.

If the purpose of the Mass is to encounter Jesus risen and present to us, then silence is an essential element of that encounter. By entering silence at certain times, we are being invited to open ourselves to the presence of the risen Lord. We are invited into a relationship with Jesus that is a true dialogue. We believe that Jesus wants to speak to us, and the silent moments are among the key ways to allow that communication to happen.

During the Penitential Act, we are asked to acknowledge our sin and reminded that Jesus is waiting to offer his mercy. Before the Collect, we are invited to pray, and to bring our petitions to the Lord, knowing that he wants to receive them and respond. We allow Jesus to speak to us in the scripture readings and the homily, but also in the silent pauses which allow that message from him to sink into our hearts. After all of us have received Christ in Holy Communion, we are asked to be still — to be present with the Lord so that he can truly enter our lives and transform us. Taking this time to truly be silent will open the doors to a fuller encounter with Jesus. I know this on a personal level, and at any Mass where this silence is missing, I experience a sense of loss at the absence of that encounter.

In the liturgy, silence means stillness, no sound and no movement. As meaningful as it can be at times, background music is not silence and lacks the solitude that pure silence offers. Certainly, silence can be uncomfortable for those who are not used to it. To a certain extent that would be all of us in our culture.

We are a people whose lives are filled with noise and movement. When we first encounter significant silence in the Mass it might be uncomfortable or even jarring. There is a need for formation — to explain that the moments of silence are carefully chosen and deliberate. It is also important for each of us to be prepared for the encounter that silence is intended to facilitate. Those who are responsible for liturgical ministry must be trained in the mechanics of how this silence is structured during the Gathering Rites, the Liturgy of the Word and the Communion Rite. Above all, it is important to simply do it. Be silent.

Some months ago, the Diocesan Liturgy Commission developed a video that explains the purpose and value of silence in the Mass. The video also suggested ways to develop this practice in the parish setting. It is available on the Office of Worship page of the diocesan web site. I would encourage pastors, lectors and all the faithful to review this presentation. I would encourage parish liturgy committees and liturgical ministers to explore this aspect of the Mass. Work together to figure out how to best achieve these moments of silence and explain them to the people in the pews.

The Diocesan Liturgy Commission also produced a worship aid for silence in the Mass. These were made available for pastors to use in their parishes and can be downloaded from the Office of Worship web page.

I would invite you to make Sacred Silence a priority in this Year of the Eucharist. This is an essential element in the encounter with the risen Lord that is at the heart of this yearlong effort. Once you become accustomed to these silent moments in the Mass, you will cherish them. Then, when you are in a setting where the words all run together, you will, like me, hear yourself say, “Quiet please! Can we have a moment to pause and reflect?” And you might add, “I think Jesus wanted to share something with me in that silent moment, and I lost it.”

Links to the video and the prayer cards are on the liturgy page: www.rapidcitydiocese.org/office-worship-liturgy.

‘I have grown in my appreciation of the people’

Life is not dull in the driver’s seat. For all of you that are wondering or curious, it has been a great ride thus far. The challenge is non-stop. There is something new each day. Thanks for the privilege of serving you as the diocesan administrator. Let me share some observations from this side of […]

Let ‘Sede Vacante’ be a cry for a new bishop

I was asked last week by the editor of the West River Catholic what we should call this column that I am now writing. I decided to call it Sede Vacante. That is a Latin term which means “vacant seat.” It refers to the fact that as a diocese, we have a vacant seat in our midst. That vacant seat is the bishop’s chair, or cathedra, located in the cathedral. The light over that chair is not lit right now and the coat of arms is missing. More importantly we are missing someone who is very important for any diocese.

The Bishop is the Vicar of Christ for our local (diocesan) church. As a successor to the apostles and a member of the college of bishops, he is a visible connection to Jesus Christ and the church he established on earth. The bishop is also our direct link to the Holy Father and the universal Catholic community.

In the meantime, we are called to continue our mission, the mission of Jesus Christ. The “vacant seat” does not mean that we stop being disciples of Jesus Christ, called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly live and proclaim the Gospel.

All these connections are very important to being Catholic. We are a universal church which has a local expression in western South Dakota. We have our own unique experience of church, but our experience is not so unique that we are separate from other expression of the Catholic Church elsewhere. We are not a “congregational” form of governance. We belong to each other. We are brothers and sisters of one another because we are all joined to Jesus Christ who is our brother. We are sons and daughters of one Father, and we are bound together by the Holy Spirit. The bishop is our diocesan father and our family is not complete without our father sitting at the head of the Eucharistic table, leading us into a deeper relationship with our brother Jesus and his Father. We should be praying daily for our new bishop, longing for him to come, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the choice of our Holy Father, to be seated among us.

That is where I come in. Elected, I said yes to assuming this mantle of leadership temporarily. It has been interesting and challenging from the first day. I am learning and growing in ways that I have not been asked to do in the past. Most importantly I have come to appreciate the ministry of a bishop in a much deeper way. I have not prayed enough for our bishops and for all the bishops of our country and the world.

During my short few weeks, I have come to understand the burden of a bishop’s ministry. This was made especially clear when I had the privilege to attend a meeting of the bishops of our province (North and South Dakota and Minnesota). Their responsibilities would be a challenge during any era, but our own time has made their ministry particularly heavy to bear. Gratefully they do not carry this load alone. The Lord is yoked to them on the journey. Our prayers on their behalf, raised to the Father, will lighten that load, for the Father bends down to listen to the cry of his children.

In telling you all this, you should not feel sorry for me or for our bishops. As I often tell people, every appointment on my calendar was put there by me. Likewise, this responsibility of diocesan administrator was something I accepted. I am willing to do this, to serve the Lord and his people as we continue to grow in holiness and prepare for the leadership of a new bishop.

I am finding this new assignment challenging but also so interesting. I am learning and growing. I enjoy the support of the clergy and laity of our diocese. That is a great blessing. As much as I miss having a bishop in our midst, I know the Lord is present. The mission of our local church continues. While there will be no new initiatives while the cathedra is vacant, we will continue to bring to fulfillment the great work that we have already begun. The Lord is calling all of us to do our part so that when a new bishop arrives, he will find us ready and willing.

We are so blessed in our diocese. We have wonderful priests and deacons in roles of leadership. Many talented lay men and women are involved in our parishes, serving the Lord is our ministry together. We have a hard-working and generous chancery staff. There is much to be grateful for, and we are not finished. I know there is much more that the Lord wants to give us. There is a legacy of faith that is waiting to be lived. We have only begun to discover the blessings God wants to pour into our lives through his beloved Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let Sede Vacante be a joyful cry for a new bishop, a cry to spur us on to continue the great work we have been given until we stand together with our new bishop to rejoice in all that will be given to us by our gracious and loving God.