Silence! Why is this a Church Tradition?
July 13, 2015
Apocalypse 8. “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven… and another Angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer: and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God, from the hand of the Angel….”
Churches have always been places where glorious Liturgies take place. Sometimes with huge four-voice choirs, sometimes with bold congregational singing. Sometimes the event is joyful sometime very solemn. Occasionally churches even serve as venues for a concert or a retreat or even a location-appropriate lecture. Councils and synods have been held right inside churches themselves. [Perhaps this was simply because the church was the only venue large enough at the time to hold the large crowd of bishops and delegates, but perhaps also because the sacredness of the place would promote an atmosphere of reverence and respect and purpose.]
However, the bottom line is that a church is a building erected by the People of God in order that they would have an appropriate place to worthily worship God. The church is all about God. It is built according to a certain layout conducive to liturgical needs. It is decorated and supplied with the very best that the local community is able to put forward. The end goal is to do something that would glorify the greatness of the Lord and, at the same time, cause the hearts and souls of the faithful to be moved beyond themselves and toward the majesty of the Lord.
Because the edifice is “all about God” there is always a sense of awe associated with visiting a church. Respectful silence was always an immediate reaction when spending time in church. The respect is for the Lord for Whom the temple was erected as well as for the other faithful that have come to be, above all, with the Lord.
For reasons, not at all understandable, some congregations seem to be losing the sense of the exceptional nature of the place where they are at. This is both odd and sad since if there was ever a time in history where people needed a truly sacred place where they could go to find peace and solace and tranquility – it is our day. It is also particularly odd for a Ukrainian Church. Why? Because our churches are truly unique, especially in our western world – for God is truly present in a real and Mystical way in what we call the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus Christ, the Son of God is truly present upon the altar. The living Christ, “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.” Our natural response when finding ourselves in the presence of God is silent awe (Zechariah 2:13; Zephaniah 1:7; Habakkuk 2:20). When we do open our mouths in church, and there is ample opportunity for that, it is to sing God’s praise, to raise our petitions, to give thanks to the Lord and to read the Word of God and to preach about His Word.
We might observe that we have visited other Christian churches and the people there seem to have no qualms about socializing and chatting right up to and immediately after their prayer services. The non-judgmental answer is very simply that they have a different concept of what their house of prayer is all about. It is surely a place for worship, but also perhaps a setting for fellowship. For our part, we have ample space where we enjoy fellowship in our halls and auditoriums and foyers. On summer days, we gladly gather around the church outside to chat and visit (and even have picnics and dance haivky, etc.). We might also argue that we have been to other Catholic churches and they seem to conduct themselves in a similar garrulous manner. Again, it may be pointed out that they too may have a different understanding of their churches. More often than not, in those churches the tabernacle, in which they would also ‘reserve’ the Blessed Sacrament, is not front and centre as it is in our churches,* but far off to the side or even in a separate chapel. Therefore, perhaps they do not attribute the same sacredness to the central part of their churches in the same way that we do.
We have an opportunity to challenge ourselves to rediscover the awesomeness of entering a place where heaven and earth meet. We have an opportunity to reclaim the sense of sacredness that is proper in our beautiful house of God. This offers us a wonderful occasion to delve deeper than ever before into the great Mystery of the Holy Eucharist which is Christ present in our midst.
If we want to make any progress in the Christian life we have to: decide to do so, ask our Lord for the grace and then work on it day by day. Our task with regard to our church is to make an effort to be more conscious about where we are when we come to church and to be respectful of the presence of God and also respectful to the people around us who have come to communicate with the Lord and not to chat with anyone or hear the chatter of others. There will be a lot of time and opportunity to socialize over a coffee downstairs, outside in the sun or at parish events.