March 2011, SPI Newletter: The year 2011 has begun with a great sense of expectation for us here in the Catechetical Office of the Pastoral Institute. This year we want to focus on the Liturgical Year as a rich source of the Church’s catechetical work. With Christ as our Teacher who invites us to collaborate in His salvific work, we want to deepen our craft of catechesis so that we can transmit the Christian faith through the very rich life of the Church. In this article, I would like to reflect on the meaning of speech and silence in the Liturgy. The objective of this article is to help us catechists especially to further deepen our vocation as ‘Stewards of the Mystery‘ (1Cor.4:1).

The liturgy of the Roman Rite consists largely of words. Yet a mere recitation of words without a profound sense of recollection or periods of silence which leaves no time for interiorization is hardly what the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council envisaged or intended. The words of the liturgy have been carefully chosen over centuries of Church history as a vehicle for communicating the sense of the sacred. However in order to fully appreciate this fact, there is a need to balance the many words of the liturgy with sufficient time, space and opportunity for silence; in order that the meaning of the words and gestures we pray may be appreciated, contemplated and interiorized.

There are numerous forms of speech in the liturgy: conversational, invitational, dialogical, etc. all these different forms of speech require different tones of voice and different gestures. When the tone, rhythm, and intensity of the speech accompany the liturgical gestures, the power of God is present and effective in the word-act that changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Another example would be the preface-dialogue which reflects the reciprocal exchange between the presider and the assembly. If there is too long a pause between the elements of the dialogue, its rhythm is interrupted and it does not ‘work‘ as intended. This point will become especially important when we will be praying the new translation of the Roman Missal, as this text is unfamiliar both to presider and assembly and requires a concentrated period of adjustment.

Now one might object and say that however we pray the words of the liturgy – our Catholic theology tells us that Christ does become present at every Eucharist, regardless of the disposition of the presider (CCC 1128). So why do we need to become so insistent on this point? Are we splitting liturgical-theological hairs here? I believe that we need to make a distinction here between the gift bestowed by God and the fruits cultivated by our inner disposition towards the celebration. This point is made by CCC 1128 towards the end of its statement as if it is a warning lest we become too lax in our liturgical celebrations:

From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

Now why is all this reflection as important to us as catechists? Because we too, my sisters and brothers share in the common priesthood of Christ and as Stewards of the Mystery we also pass on the Word of God in a ‘quasi-sacramental‘ setting. Our setting is the weekly gathering of our young people whom we initiate into the mysteries of faith by using the rich ‘pedagogy of signs‘ (GDC 143). If we are to truly help the young person to have an intimate encounter with Christ, it begins with the way we present our catechetical session in the form of a celebration that is inspired by the Word of God and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the current training we offer catechists in parishes every month, catechists are slowly becoming familiar with how they can present complex mysteries of the faith in a simple manner that uses the liturgical language of the church accompanied by sign, songs, silences and gestures that help to communicate the inner meaning of faith directly to the heart of the young person.

Silence, for the catechist, is not a blank space but rather it is ‘charged‘ with the intangible, intimate, loving relationship between Creator and created, as God reaches over the chasm of the Fall, eternally extending an invitation back into right relationship if only the human might reach out to accept the divine. As catechists, the silence we engender in our sessions is also ‘charged‘ with the intention and purpose we offer it, through word, song, gesture and silence.

The ‘harmony of signs‘ – song, music, word and action, (CCC 1158) is what makes the celebration of the liturgy and the presentation of catechetical encounters such a beautiful craft that needs to be mastered over a period of time. Let us commit ourselves to re-discovering this wonderful craft of initiating persons into the ancient and rich faith of the Catholic faith.

– Fr. Erbin Fernandez
March 2011, SPI Newletter

Read more about Liturgical Catechesis in ‘Speech and Silence in the Liturgy‘ by Clare V. Johnson found in The Summit, vol.37 #4, November 2010, pp.7-8. Available in the SPI Library.