One of the most moving moments in my life came while visiting Yad Vashem; the holocaust museum in Israel. As I considered that overwhelming encounter today, what struck me was the memory of the profound silence of the experience – what it was like to be among crowds of people from all different backgrounds, religions, ages, and maturity – all in silence.
People were not talking or bantering about as they ventured through the horrific memories. The silence was as pure and perfect as is humanly possible. Why such perfect silence? There are many reasons. Awe is one. Deep sadness another. The place is sacred to all who visit, and thus the instinct to silence is universal.
The silence of Yad Vashem reveals another important truth – an authentic recognition of the sacred draws the heart to awe and to silence. The greater the experience or understanding of the sacred, the more instinctive the draw to silence and reverence. The overwhelming clarity of Yad Vashem pierces the heart and mind of every participant and speaks the words, “You are in a sacred place. Absorb what you see. Pray. Give your heart and mind to this experience so that you might gain wisdom.”
Tragically, some hearts are so diseased that they can miss the sacred reality before them no matter how profound. This was painfully illustrated by a group of young people who used one of the Yad Vashem displays as a stage for a light-hearted photo shoot. The appropriate outrage expressed words like “sacrilege” and “blasphemous” and reflected the deepest possible offense at the violation of this sacred place.
Unfortunately, the idea of the sacred has almost completely faded in our society. One of the most tragic places this has happened is in our parishes. This is common even among those who would normally be considered the most devout among us – those who attend daily mass or regular adoration. This violation of the sacred or lack of reverence in any worship space is always reflected in one irreverent behavior, the tendency to disrupt the silence of worship with whispers and social interaction.
Why does this happen? There are external and internal reasons for this tragedy. Externally, the more clearly sacred the physical environment is, the more people act in concert with what the architecture and accouterments signify or communicate to the soul. So, architecture and art can play a powerful role in encouraging or discouraging appropriate reverence. Unfortunately, our time has revealed some of the most wretched and even sacrilegious architecture in Church history. This has dealt a crushing blow to the sacred nature of our worship spaces and our instincts to recognize them as sacred and set apart for the most important activity of our lives – the worship of God.
Internally we experience the violation of the sacred when we fail to align our actions with our beliefs. Do we really believe the Lord is present among us in the sanctuary? If so, do our actions clearly reflect that belief? Are we quick to speak about things that have nothing to do with worship, ready to interrupt someone in prayer as if they were not actually speaking to God Himself, or slow to keep silent to avoid any possible disruption of the worship of God?
Do we rob the attention of others from God? This is a grave injustice! This sin is particularly amplified by the fact that, as a norm, we spend relatively little time in life actually paying attention to the One to Whom we owe everything. How is it that we could then profane this time with trivial matters that are easily dealt with in the fellowship hall or other spaces dedicated to social interaction?
Another internal reality is that our belief or faith is often lacking or waning. If we don’t truly believe that God is present our participation in worship will be easily disrupted and we will tend to be very cavalier about disrupting others. Is our participation in our Catholicism just something that makes us feel good? Does our “faith” merely reflect some kind of nebulous notion of God that fails to impact who we are or how we act, especially in a sacred space dedicated solely to the worship of God? Our outward actions can reflect deep spiritual sickness that requires repentance and reparation through reconciliation, study, and a significant change in our actions.
As participants in the charism of Apostoli Viae, what can we do about this situation? First, we should prayerfully examen our consciences to determine the state of our belief and its congruity with our actions. Second, we should purpose to remedy whatever hinders our own embrace of the sacred internally, and then do the same in the way we engage externally. As we do this we should also take care to avoid a common distraction of the devil that seeks to engage us in judging others rather than giving our energy to joyfully bearing witness to the reality and purpose of our worship space through our own expression of reverence.
Practically speaking, all of us can pursue some or all of the following practices proposed as a norm for Apostoli Viae members:
- Arrive early and prepare for Mass in silent prayer. The prayer of St. Ambrose in the Apostoli Viae prayer book is a beautiful devotion for this time of preparation.
- Refrain from any conversion before, during, or directly after Mass and while in the nave.
- Arrive early and prepare our hearts through kneeling in prayer and silence.
- Receive the Eucharist on the tongue.
- Receive the Eucharist kneeling (unless impossible due to physical limitations).
- Spend time in prayer of thanksgiving after Mass. If possible, directly after receiving communion, pray the Litany of the Most Blessed Sacrament in reparation for sins of irreverence against our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Prepare and mentally rehearse respectful and gentle responses to those who might interrupt you or who are used to your availability in the nave by offering to speak to them in a moment after you finish praying (offer to meet them in the narthex or outside).
Above all, and most importantly, draw your heart and mind ever more deeply to the sublime mystery of Christ present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Give him the praise, honor, and reverence due to Him. He loves you and longs to meet you there and impart all the graces you are prepared to receive and more. He also desires that you bear witness to this sublime reality to the world.
Unum est Necessarium – Dan