“Be still and know that I am God.” Thus does the LORD instruct us in Psalm 46, verse 10. The stillness to which we are called in Holy Scripture is a letting go of actions and words that yields silence, both interior and exterior, and such silence is essential for every disciple of the Lord Jesus. We need times of exterior silence in order to cultivate interior silence, and without interior silence we make it very difficult to hear the Word of God. For this reason, silence is indispensable to authentic and mature Christian faith and life.
Our Evangelical Protestant brethren often emphasize the need for a daily “Quiet Time,” which is accompanied by reading the Bible and keeping silent. This is nothing other than the ancient Catholic practice of lectio divina, or divine reading, which is a meditative reading of the Scriptures in a quiet place. Divine reading is understood to have four parts: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Reading leads to meditating on what is read, and our meditation leads to prayer that culminates in the contemplation of the beauty of God. Understanding the parts, though, is not essential to the practice of lectio divina: simply set aside time each day, go to a quiet place, open the Sacred Page and read. “Be still and know that I am God.”
Exterior and interior silence is also essential in the sacred liturgy. We come to the church from a life filled with action and noise, and when we enter the sacred space of the House of God, we need to be quiet. Conversations should end in the vestibule, so that by the time we reach the pew, we are on the path to being still. Prayerful readings of the Scripture lessons appointed for that Mass might be helpful, or perhaps it would be well simply to kneel in silent adoration of the Lord Jesus present in the tabernacle. “Be still and know that I am God.”
Once the celebration of Mass begins, the liturgy will be punctuated by several periods of sacred silence: at the penitential rites, as we remember our sins and ask for mercy; during the Liturgy of the Word, to ponder the Scriptures; after the homily, to consider the instruction given; before the end of the Communion Rite, to give thanks for the gift of grace we receive in the Most Holy Eucharist. During these times of silence, we are not waiting for the next thing to happen; instead, we are waiting together upon the LORD. “Be still and know that I am God.”
When Mass is ended, our need for silence does not end. The church is always a place of prayer, even after the procession leaves the sanctuary. For the sake of those who want to linger in adoration; or, of those who are arriving to visit (or tour) the church need stillness to gain full appreciation of the experience, we should save our conversations until we reach the vestibule or, even better, have walked outside the church, preferably unto the lawn areas which is designed for fellowship after Mass. With such reverential silence, we can begin to fulfill the precept: “Be still and know that I am God.”