Taste and see: Silence and the word of life

Scriptures enthroned.jpg

Alleluia, alleluia!
Open our heart, O Lord,
to accept the words of your Son.

The Gospel Acclamation on Sunday, the 13th in Ordinary Time, had us turn to the Lord and ask for openness of heart to accept the words of his Son.

There is a prior stage to acceptance, and that is the hearing and pondering, the meditation, that is expected to characterise the Liturgy of the Word. And this requires a certain time of silence for us to achieve that attentiveness and receptivity.

The proclamation of the word is the first stage of our responding. The word needs to be proclaimed clearly and audibly and sensibly. Then there needs to be a pause for us to consider what we have heard and what it might say to us, and then to begin to ponder and determine how we might respond.

This is a process for which each of us has some responsibility, but clearly a mjor responsibility lies with the ministers of proclamation and of shaping of the performance of the Liturgy of the Word.

  • What helps your receptive hearing of the word?
  • What thwarts it?
  • What are the strengths of your community’s celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, and what are its weaknesses?

The Scriptures enthroned. Bethlehem. (c) 2017, Allen Morris


The Place of Silence


The Liturgy Committee of the Department for Christian Life and Worship has produced a document The Place of Silence  which explores how silence is an integral part of any liturgical action. It looks, in particular, at the celebration of Mass and how silence is expected in different ways.

It is likely to be especially helpful to those with responsibility with preparing the Liturgy for celebration, and for those who work with readers and other ministers of the word.

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

St Teresa of Calcutta


Speak Lord: and help us to listen

The Good Shepherd II by Duncan Grant

The Gospel reading on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter, speaks of unity. Of unity between the shepherd and his sheep, and the Father and the Son, a unity which offers safety and eternal life.

Jesus said:
‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

John 10:27-30

There are two sources, two causes, of the unity. The most fundamental is the relationship of Father and Son, united in strength and power, compassion and mercy. The second is the readiness of the ‘sheep’ to listen.

Listening is much, much more than hearing. Hearing is a more or less physical act only. We hear all sorts of things – the hum of a central heating system, the song of birds, the rumble of traffic. These noises may be pleasing or not, reassuring or not, but they do not detain or engage us. When we listen, something more is going on. We do engage, reflect, consider: there is an openness to understanding, to responding, and – as here – to following.

It is for this reason that at Mass, in the Liturgy of the Word especially, the quality that is expected to characterise our participation is meditation – not just the word read, and listening, but hearing and, even more, pondering. This requires a certain silence and space. It means that after a reading there is a pause for us to consider what we have heard, and for us to respond in silent and personal prayer together before we proceed.

  • How much silence/ how much space for listening is there in your parish’s celebration of the Liturgy of the Word?
  • Where recently have you been moved to safer pasture by listening to the voice of the shepherd, the word?

Christ the Shepherd. Duncan Grant. Lincoln Cathedral. (C) 2010, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The sound of prayer – a sound in silence?

Mary Maryvale

The First reading at Mass on Sunday, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, set before us the image of Lady Wisdom, a challenge to the motivation and end of much human endeavour.
In the upturning of values is found the way to godly life.

I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,
for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside her silver ranks as mud.
I loved her more than health or beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
In her company all good things came to me,
at her hands riches not to be numbered.
Wisdom 7:7-11

The evocation of wisdom is so striking, one might miss that the writer’s encounter with her is both gift of God and fruit of prayer.

In popular discourse prayer is is often about petition and intercession. There are other characteristic activities in prayer – one of which is the practice of stillness out of which – as here – may come meditation, insight and praise.

Stillness and silence are too often absent from contemporary celebrations of Mass. Perhaps this is because of a desire to conclude the celebration within a set period of time, while at the same time (still) wishing to squeeze in hymn singing as well as the singing of the songs of the Ordinary of the Mass (the first priority for singing at Mass.) St Augustine famously said to sing is to pray twice. Hmmm. Sometimes hymn singing is not prayer – not for all the assembly anyway. Regular review of practice at Mass is a responsibility entrusted to liturgical ministers. Ensuring our celebrations are prayerful and (appropriately) meditative (as well as tuneful and sung) is high among the purposes of such review.

  • Pray for those responsible for preparing the liturgy for celebration
  • Pray for those who celebrate it
  • Pray for the leadership of the Spirit of Wisdom in your prayer and your life.

And, if you’ve not done so for a while, why not have a read of Celebrating the Mass or the more technical General Instruction on the Roman Missal, for a reminder of the Church’s expectations of all things regarding the Mass

Photograph of carving of Our Lady, from Maryvale, Old Oscott. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: We hear him in loud silence



The first reading at Mass this coming Sunday, the 19th Sunday of Ordinary time, describes a process of deepening encounter with the living God.

When Elijah reached Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, he went into the cave and spent the night in it. Then he was told, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ Then the Lord himself went by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

1 Kings 19:9,11-13

One of the most successful spiritual books of recent decades has been The God of Surprises by Gerry Hughes SJ.

Much of the book, unsurprisingly given its title, is given over to exploring how God, the real and living God is beyond the images we have of him. Time and time again our preconceptions are challenged by surprising encounter with the living God who longs to reveal more of his truth and beauty and power and mercy to us.

There is surely something of that taking place in this episode on Mount Horeb.

Elijah is used to the Lord’s manifestation of himself in power and strife, but here he finds him only in the sound of a gentle breeze.

  •  Where/ how has God surprised you recently?
  • what change has that brought about in your live? How have you responded to him?

Image from here.