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Learning to Pray Liturgically

by Fr. Paul Schmidt

Father Paul Schmidt has served as the priest personnel director for the Diocese of Oakland, California, and also as diocesan director of religious education and as pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Concord. He holds a master's of divinity degree from St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park and a master's degree in English from California State University, Hayward. He was a columnist for The Catholic Voice, the Oakland diocesan newspaper, for many years. Father Schmidt is author of the book Buried Treasures: A Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

This article, which has appeared in The Voice (Oakland), is reprinted from The Catholic Herald, the newspaper for the Diocese of Sacramento, with the kind permission of Julie Sly, Editor.

Part I: Introduction

Ocean liners to Hawaii used to advertise: "Getting there is half the fun." Anticipation can be very exciting. It can also set us up for disappointment. The wrapped package has infinite possibilities; unwrapped, it can only fulfill one of our dreams.

Anticipation can help our participation in Sunday Eucharist. We can look forward to hearing the Word of God — and look over the readings beforehand. We can join groups such as the choir or the planning committee, which prepares the liturgy. This anticipation will help us pray better.

But great expectations can also turn out to be let-downs. If we have unrealistic or misdirected expectations, we will be disappointed. Take, for example, the matter of silence or sound in church.

Some people expect Sunday worship to provide a time of peace and quiet after the noise and bustle of the week. In the days of the silent Mass, when the priest prayed quietly in Latin, this was possible. There was time to say one's prayers while the priest said his. There was an intense silence surrounding the consecration. There were quiet moments after holy Communion. If there was music, it provided an unobtrusive background. Before and after Mass no one talked in church.

Popes, beginning with St. Pius X at the beginning of the 20th century, asked us to start making noise in church. Most of these noises were still in Latin, and some of them were set to Gregorian chant. Because the liturgy is the worship of the whole mystical body of Christ, the whole family of God, the popes wanted us to worship as a body, as a family. They asked us to express our unity in communal prayer and song. Pope Pius XII outlined various levels of participation in the Mass prayers. Pope John XXIII told us not to sit in church like telegraph poles. Even if there had never been a Second Vatican Council, the days of the silent Mass were ended.

Did this development do away with our need for silence? Of course not. But it did lessen the time available for silence during the liturgy. The few opportunities for silence which still remain do not satisfy our need for individual quiet prayer. We must find time to do this elsewhere. We cannot expect our celebration of the Eucharist to fulfill this need.

 Back to Liturgy Index

Part II: Balancing Silence and Sound

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