It is time to start listening to the Council. The liturgy is “above all things the worship of the divine majesty” (no. 33). It has instructional value to the extent to which it is completely ordered to the glorification of God and to divine worship. Liturgy really places us in the presence of divine transcendence. True participation means renewing in ourselves that “amazement” that Saint John Paul II held in high regard (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 6). This sacred wonder, this joyful fear, requires our silence before the divine majesty. We often forget that sacred silence is one of the means noted by the Council for promoting participation.
The citation in SC 30 is, “And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.” This seems to suggest a corporate silence of the entire body assembled for worship. Is it a respectful silence accorded the royalty or aristocracy in a position of submission? Is it a listening stance, seated and receptive?
Without minimizing that impulse, I might suggest that different people respond to God in different ways. The liturgy itself encourages different kinds of silence. For example, consider the gratitude of the time after receiving a sacrament (which itself is rather different for the Eucharist and some forms of Penance). Consider the difference between silence after a reading or psalm and the silence of processions on Good Friday.
As for Cardinal Sarah’s interpretation of silence as a way to promote participation, my sense of the only mention of silence in Sacrosanctum Concilium 30 is that it more endorses a liturgy less full of “stuff” and more of a spiritual and mystical opportunity, if not experience. The constitution seems to presume a liturgy with ample silence. Perhaps that was and is overly optimistic.
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.