Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Identity: Reverent Silence

As I thought about the various elements that I associated with Catholic Identity, one of the many things that comes to mind is what I call “Reverent Silence”. I am sure that formal liturgists or folks more scholarly than me would argue that that term does not exist or means something else. I will be the first to admit that I read a lot, but retain very little, but often I remember key terminologies that then I attach my own meaning… not ideal, but hey, I remember the term at least!

When I speak of “reverent silence” I am speaking of something, perhaps similar to the expression “sacred silence” that I believe others have used, most especially in the context of the quiet moments in the Extraordinary form of the Mass. But specifically, I remember the silence from my Italian parish in the North End of Boston… San Leonardo.

And not really just at San Leonardo, but it was at many of the parishes that I would have occasion to attend in the Northeast, albeit most of them of ethnic in composition (i.e. Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Irish, Portuguese, etc.)

Walking into any of these churches was as like walking into another world. They had a special aura about them that would immediately jog ones mind into the very clear and obvious sense that you had entered into a different place… a holy place.

My writings will never be confused for Dante’s, but allow me to try to “set the scene/mood” for what was different about these churches. Upon entering, the first thing you would notice was that it was dim! The lights were almost never on, but rather the natural light streaming through the stained glass windows and the flickering glow of candles around the entire perimeter in front of the many statues of the saints… the most noticeable candle being the “big red one” next to the Tabernacle… the one that told the world that God is here!!

As your eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, the second thing that you would sense was the smell… that amazing smell of a hundred years of burning candles and incense that has permeated every surface of the interior. Not unlike that special smell that grandma’s house always had from the decades of cooking sauce and baking cookies! That smell that if you were even blindfolded and had no idea to where you were being taken, you would know it immediately by the smell.

Then you would feel it… and it was absolute silence! This is the “reverent silence” of which I am talking. But it goes with all the elements that I have aforementioned. For entering into this holy Domus Dei, you dare not speak, for there was no reason. The environment would immediately make you want to kneel and speak to God, for you could feel His Presence and nothing could be more important than to begin your prayer.

Anyone that has been to a Eucharistic Adoration, you know that feeling of which I speak, but imagine having that feeling simply walking into the church and having that same sense of God’s Presence. And it mattered not how many were in the church, whether one person or full, the silence was always the same.

So continuing our journey into the “reverent silence”, one takes their place in the pews and begins their prayers, most with their Rosaries, silently passing the worn beads through their fingers, focused solely on the silence of moment and the Real Presence in the Tabernacle.

Then, the silence would be some what broken by sound of the bells in the tower outside calling the faithful socializing in the garden to enter. This was followed swiftly by the slow clicking of the lights, first beginning to light the Sanctuary, then wave after wave though the nave until the interior was transformed before our eyes, with the now clearly seen frescos and colorful statues and glittering gold!

As the echoes of the bells fade away, the silence returns but now with a sense of anticipation. Something special was about to happen. The strong smell of frankincense raises from the rear as the silence is again broken as the organ bursts forth its strains like the choir of angels over the Bethlehem plains. The Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has begun!!

I am not sure if I have captured the scene well or not for you, dear Readers, but I hope that you can get a sense of what we are clearly lacking in many of today’s churches, especially here in the Charlotte area. I must sadly say that I have been in quieter train stations and airports than some of our local churches. I have long since given up trying to pray my Rosary before Mass since I can hardly hear myself praying due to the cacophony of noises from folks whom I can only assume have no true believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Tabernacle.

I must be careful here for not crossing over into a venting of my frustration and not being judgmental, sinner that I am. But I do not think I am crossing a line when I point out facts and let you Readers draw upon your own experiences to come to your own conclusions; however, some of the loudest people that I have heard shouting their Sunday greetings across the pews to each other also have displayed blatant disregard for even the slightest acknowledging of the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament with a bow, let alone a genuflection.

I sincerely believe that this loss of ‘reverent silence’ has been one of the direct reasons for the lack of believe in the Real Presence by so many modern “Catholics”. I would also not disagree if one wanted to argue the converse, that the loss in Real Presence believe has lead to the loss of reverent silence; but without the silence, when can they even begin to ponder the great mystery of the Eucharistic Presence?

It is the silence that is needed to hear God’s voice whispering in the wind. It is the silence that is needed to “focus” our attention that the church is different building than a coffee shop or social hall … it is for the worship of our God, truly present!

Lastly, of all the elements of Catholic Identity that I hope to write about, this is one of the easiest to change, but it takes the courage of the priests to tell their flock that the church is a place of silence and worship, and to socialize before or after Mass in the “designated” areas. Believe me, nothing was a more social environment than the outside Peace Garden of San Leonardo. It was busy before Mass, and an absolute zoo after Mass, with the chatter of passion-filled Italians who had just had to be quiet for an hour… no easy task to keep us Italians quiet that long!

Please pray for a return of reverent silence... "Hear in silence, and for thy reverence good grace shall come to thee." (Ecclesiasticus 32:9)

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