Last month on BBC 4 there were three excellent programmes entitled “Meditations from a monastery.” These had no spoken commentary and the hour-long programme followed the routines of certain monks in each of the three monasteries. What struck me was the silence in their lives, Silence was a key part of their life. The first word of St Benedict’s rule is ”Listen”. Sister Jeremy Hall OSB writes in her book, “Silence Solitude Simplicity” “ I must be silent enough to truly hear. Out of our wordiness there now seems to have developed a thirst for solitude and silence again. We have begun to realise that dialogue of itself is not the total solution. It is in fruitful, reflective, and prayerful silence that we come to some real measure of depth, clarity, rootedness, and cohesion. Otherwise, we are battling for air.” In the Bishops of England and Wales Guide to Catholic Spirituality, we read that real silence is not merely the absence of noise. We can be quiet in a noisy world. Real silence helps us to get in touch with our real selves and opens the path for us to hear the still small voice of God. However noisy and busy our lives are we need to create moments of silence in our day. As we wake, do not switch on the radio or immediately look at our emails. Sit on the edge of the bed and drink in those first moments. When you are in the car or on the bus be aware of the present and create an inner silence. There is one event in which we all participate where we can create moments of silence and that is the celebration of Mass. In the Liturgy, silence has an important part to play. Let’s look at some of the places where we can be silent. There are different types of silence at Mass. Silence expressing a break, giving a short pause for clarity of structure and flow e.g., before the Liturgy of the Word) Silence as a pause for recollection such as a pause before the Opening Prayer, at the Penitential Rite, and at the end of the Readings. There can be silence at our preparation for communion and at the prayer after Communion. We also need to be silent while something happens; while we listen to the readings, while we pray at the Eucharistic prayer. We also have opportunities for silent reflection when there is a more extended period after the Homily or after Communion (leading to prayer and praise).
Coming together in Church before Mass is both a personal and communal time. This is the one time when we meet each other but at some point before our opening hymn, there needs time for personal preparation, to recollect in prayer. Pope Benedict in his letter, “Sacramentum Caritatis” says “Active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy can hardly be expected if one approaches it superficially, without an examination of his or her life. This inner disposition can be fostered, for example by recollection and silence at least a few moments before the beginning of the liturgy”. Saint Teresa of Calcutta wrote: 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.
This Sunday afternoon I am representing the Archbishop, Peter Smith in the Luther Quincentenary Choral Evensong being held in Canterbury Cathedral. The last day of October is the 500th anniversary of the occasion when Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk wrote to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Magdeburg. He criticised the way the St Peter’s indulgence was being promoted and preached. Pope Julian II began to rebuild St Peter’s basilica in Rome and he announced an indulgence to help finance the costly project. Luther enclosed with his letter a copy of the 95 Theses which he offered as a way of clarifying the teaching on indulgences and other theological questions that he regarded a doubtful. As Holmes and Bickers wrote in their book “A Short History of the Catholic Church”.
“These theses, written in a polemic and provocative way, touching on questions and grievances long felt, became the symbol, and Luther, the spokesman, of all those who were disillusioned with the present state of the contemporary Church. The historical importance of this whole episode lies in the Church’s failure to respond because of both the inability or unwillingness to accept the seriousness of Luther’s complaint, and to recognise the number of those who supported him.”
What began as a justified reaction to corruption in the Church spiralled into schism and division and destruction. I strongly agree that, at the time of Luther, reform was vital but obviously do not agree or condone the change and rejection of Catholic teaching that followed.
Much dialogue and progress has been made since those days of the 16th Century, especially in the last fifty years. In 1999 a joint declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was agreed between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
Last October the Pope travelled to the Lund cathedral to commemorate the Reformation with Bishop Munib Younan and in our own Cathedral of St George, Southwark there was a joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation hosted by our Archbishop, Peter Smith. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, said, referring to this commemoration,
“It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal open to enable ships to navigate at a higher water level. The situation has changed dramatically since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him. Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church – and with more vigour than ever. Not in opposition to good works – the issue is already settled – but rather in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves thanks to their science, technology or man-made spirituality, without the need for a redeemer coming from outside humanity