“Silence is not a virtue, noise is not a sin, it is true,” says Thomas Merton, “but the turmoil and confusion and constant noise of modern society,” or of some African Eucharistic liturgies, “are the expression of the ambiance of its greatest sins—its godlessness, its despair. A world of propaganda, of endless argument, vituperation, criticism, or simply of chatter, is a world without anything to live for…. Mass becomes racket and confusion; prayers—an exterior or interior noise” (Thomas Merton The Sign of Jonas [San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1953, 1981], passim).
As it was true for 1953, it is today.
We run the real risk of leaving no room for God in our celebrations. We fall into the temptation of the Hebrews in the desert. They sought to create for themselves a form of worship on their own scale and of their own stature, and let us not forget that they ended up prostrate before an idol, the golden calf.
As I mentioned yesterday, there are two forms of silence. One happens when other people have their turn and the rest of the aseembly attends in silence. The other is when it’s God’s turn and everyone is silent. Both are important. Good leadership at the local level sets the tone. The factor Cardinal Sarah misses here is the need of the learned and leaders to fill every open space with something. Think about it–which is better: a ten minute speech with no silence, or an eight-minute oration with two minutes of quiet?
Notes: I’ve used an “early” translation, attributed here to Michael J. Miller at Catholic World Report. I wasn’t able to find the original essay on the L’Osservatore Romano site. Reader comments, however, are most welcome.