You may not have guessed this, but when I was a child I was notorious for falling asleep at Mass. The people who sat in the pew behind us would watch and guess how long it would take (usually by the first reading!). With a few unintended exceptions, this stopped when I began my preparation for first Communion. The silence we have at times in Mass is not intended to give us snooze time or mind-wandering time, but is meant to be “pregnant silence.” It’s meant to be a time of prayer and reflection.
Here are some ways to use the silence at Mass well:
1. The first moment of silence during Mass comes when the priest says, “Let us acknowledge our sins…” You may wonder what to do when there is that short pause. Actually, it’s pretty simple – we think about our sins! We do this to remember that we are imperfect and yet loved by a merciful and good God. We also do this to prepare our hearts for the Word of God in the readings and in the Eucharist.
2. The second time we encounter silence in the Mass is after the priest says “Let us pray.” You may have noticed a little pause between that and when he starts praying from the book. This is not just so that he can catch his breath or find his place on the page (although, that happens sometimes too). The purpose is spelled out in the Instruction on the Mass: “All, together with the priest, observe a brief silence so that they may be conscious of the fact that they are in God’s presence and may formulate their petitions mentally.” So, after the priest says, “Let us pray,” we’re invited to do two things: 1. Call to mind the presence of God. This is big. We should take this moment to remember that GOD IS WITH US. And 2. We also should take this moment to lift up any prayers that we have in the silence of our hearts. The priest then offers all of our prayers up to God with the prayer he says out of the book.
In addition to silence at Mass, I would like to encourage you to set aside 10-15 minutes of silent prayer every day. If you do this for a few months, you will quickly want to do more. Once we have a little time with God, we can’t help but desire Him more and more.