“If someone were to ask me what does the liturgical life begins with,” says Fr Romano Guardini, “I should answer: with learning stillness.” Stillness is the foundation of entering into what the Second Vatican Council calls the “full and active participation by all the people” in the Mass. In this is found, the Council says, “the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (Sancrosanctum concilium, 14).
This stillness is not simply an absence of movement or sound. We find that when it is unwanted, silence or stillness makes us uncomfortable. The sound of rustling paper, fidgeting, or light coughing during a pause in a concert or at Mass can be an indicator of our discomfort - of restlessness. This is a product of feeling pressured to be quiet or still when we are not quiet within ourselves.
The stillness that allows us to enter fully into the Holy Mass comes from within. Though it is accompanied by being physically quiet and still as we are able, it is first and foremost a quietness and stillness of the mind and soul. This profound stillness that is not simply an exterior quieting is an inward attentiveness. This stillness is an inward quieting of ourselves that might be called an attentive waiting, a waiting for the Lord’s gentle movement inside of us. “Be still,” the Lord tells us, “and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Fr Guardini points out that moments of stillness and quiet are built into the Holy Mass for this purpose, to pause and refocus our attentiveness on God. “When Holy Mass is properly celebrated,” he points out, “there are moments in which the voices of the faithful and the priest become silent. The priest continues to officiate as the rubrics [instructions] indicate, speaking very softly or refraining from vocal prayer; the congregation follows in watchful, prayerful participation.” These moments are part of the Holy Mass because the liturgy is time when grace is most abundantly flowing from heaven to earth - the more attentive and receptive to that grace we are, the more we receive.
This stillness and attentiveness, however, is not easy. It takes work. It takes intention. “We must earnestly desire stillness and be willing to give something for it; then it will be ours,” Fr Guardini tells us, “Once we have experienced it, we will be astounded that we were able to live without it.” Without this stillness, we cannot go deep into prayer and the inner life of God; “everything remains superficial” in our faith life.
Moving past the superficial and entering into the deep (Luke 5:4) is where we find the fountain of joy: intimacy with Jesus. If we desire to live this true happiness, we have to be willing to pay the price. Start small - simply by arriving early to Holy Mass and praying in silence, asking God and Our Lady to help you be still and attentive. It is well worth it.
“Ezra read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.” -Nehemiah 8:3 (1st reading this Sunday)
In Christ, our Hope,