"By way of promoting active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 34).
Before the Second Vatican Council issued its mandate for liturgical reform, Sacrosanctum concilium, in 1963, “reverent silence” characterized the layperson’s participation at Mass. Except in those few progressive parishes where the “dialogue Mass” had taken hold, the congregation remained mute throughout the liturgy. Forty years later, silence at Mass, although specifically called for in the conciliar decree, has nearly vanished.
A friend recently described the liturgy at her suburban parish as follows: “There is no such thing as silence. Not a single pause anywhere during the celebration. Even after the homily, you aren’t given a moment to think about it. At Communion, they go quickly through three or four hymns (singing faster than Catholics are known for), and then right into the final prayer and blessing.”
This woman’s experience is not atypical. The council’s call for “full, conscious,...